Pregnancy is a time of profound physiological changes in the body, and amidst the excitement and anticipation, ensuring a good night’s sleep becomes more critical than ever. However, as many as 80% of pregnant women report experiencing sleep disruption and poor sleep during their pregnancies. The barrier to attaining a good night’s sleep can be even higher for those with sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, poses unique challenges during pregnancy, affecting both maternal health and fetal development. In this article, we delve into the complexities of sleep apnea in pregnancy, exploring its causes, effects, and management strategies, shedding light on a topic crucial for the well-being of both mother and child.

What are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea? 

Symptoms include excessive tiredness during the day, loud and disruptive snoring, gasping during sleep, and insomnia. Obstructive sleep apnea can be diagnosed by participating in a sleep study, and treatment can include the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) or BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) machine.

Causes of Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy

Women who become pregnant and already have a sleep apnea diagnosis should be aware that pregnancy can exacerbate some of their symptoms. However, because of conditions brought on during pregnancy, it is also possible that pregnant women who previously did not have symptoms of sleep apnea can develop the disorder themselves.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause mucus membranes in the nose to swell, which leads to a smaller airway and, therefore, more difficulty breathing. Weight gain induced by pregnancy can also worsen symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. As the fetus grows inside the uterus, increased pressure on the lungs can exacerbate breathing issues during sleep.

Risks & Treatment

It is essential to be aware of the risks of sleep apnea during pregnancy, as the disorder can have negative effects on both mother and child.

Risks to Mother

  • Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition that can develop during pregnancy, usually after 20 weeks. Symptoms include high blood pressure, protein in urine, shortness of breath, changes in vision, headaches, and nausea or vomiting. If untreated, preeclampsia can lead to organ failure and death. Studies have shown that pregnant women with obstructive sleep apnea are more at risk of developing preeclampsia.
  • Gestational Diabetes is diabetes diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy. Sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can lead to complications for both baby and mom if not properly managed, including increased blood pressure and the likeliness of developing preeclampsia. 

Risks to Baby

  • Decreased Oxygen Supply — Because sleep apnea involves repeated pauses in breathing during sleep, this can reduce the amount of oxygen delivered to the pregnant person and the developing fetus. Decreased oxygen supply during fetal development can lead to complications after birth and long-term health effects for the baby, including low birth weight. 
  • Preterm BirthSleep apnea during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of preterm birth. Preterm birth occurs when the baby is delivered before 37 weeks of gestation and can lead to various health issues for the baby, including developmental delays, respiratory problems, and long-term health complications. Premature babies are also more likely to develop sleep apnea.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Fortunately, there are ways to diagnose and treat sleep apnea, which can help mitigate some of the risks to fetal and maternal health caused by the condition.

Diagnosis involves participating in a sleep study or polysomnogram. Studies can be performed on-site at a lab or via an at-home sleep test. During the sleep test, sensors attached to the body record data on breathing, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, limb movement, and more. A sleep medicine doctor will then evaluate the study results and make a treatment plan based on their findings.

The most commonly prescribed treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP or BiPAP machine. These machines work by delivering oxygen to the patient via a mask that fits over the nose and mouth. The continuous supply of oxygen ensures the airways stay open during sleep.

Other methods of managing the disease include weight loss, positional therapy, including sleeping on the side instead of the back, and oral appliances that can help position your mouth to increase oxygen to your airways.

DreamZz Sleep Center Can Help Your Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy

It’s crucial for pregnant individuals with sleep apnea to work closely with their healthcare providers to manage their condition and ensure good health outcomes for both mother and baby.

If you are pregnant and suspect you might have sleep apnea or are worried about developing the disorder, the sleep medicine professionals at DreamZz Sleep Center are here to help. While some sleep centers have long waits for patients to receive treatment, we guarantee an evaluation within one to two weeks of your initial contact.

Contact us now to schedule your consultation.