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The Lungs in Pregnancy

Respiratory system

The respiratory system is made up of the organs involved in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The system includes:

  • Nose

  • Throat or pharynx

  • Voice box or larynx

  • Windpipe or trachea

  • Lungs, which contain:

    • Airways or bronchi

    • Smaller airways or bronchioles

    • Tiny airways or alveoli

The lungs

The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped organs made up of spongy, pinkish-gray tissue. They take up most of the space in the chest, or the thorax (the part of the body between the base of the neck and the diaphragm). The lungs are surrounded by a membrane called the pleura. The lungs are divided into sections called lobes.

When you breathe, the air:

  • Enters the body through the nose or the mouth

  • Travels down the throat through the larynx and trachea

  • Goes into the lungs through the bronchi:

    • Then bronchi divide into bronchioles

    • Bronchioles end in the alveoli

The gas exchange takes place between the alveoli and nearby blood vessels.  

Change during pregnancy

Due to pregnancy hormones and the growing fetus, there are many changes in the respiratory system. Some changes include:

  • Stuffy or runny nose and nosebleeds

  • The chest increases in size  

  • The diaphragm, the large flat muscle used in breathing, moves upward toward the chest

  • Increase in the amount of air breathed in and out

  • Decrease in amount of air the lungs can handle 

  • Increase in oxygen use

Because of these changes, many women feel short of breath or have some difficulty breathing during pregnancy. If a woman has a lung condition, such as asthma, before pregnancy, it may be necessary to change treatment to control symptoms and prevent complications.


The Lungs in Pregnancy - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 2014-07-22T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2014-08-01T00:00:00
Posting Date: 2008-11-30T00:00:00
Published Date: 2016-02-04T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2007-03-30T00:00:00
© 2016 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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