Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy

Many women find getting a good night’s sleep difficult during pregnancy for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s due to waking up in the night to go to the bathroom, the inability to find a comfortable position, the baby is kicking, or some other reason, pregnant women often suffer from sleeping difficulties.

One such sleep disorder that happens during pregnancy and shouldn’t be ignored is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is less common in women who have healthy pregnancies. But women who struggle with pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, eclampsia, gestational diabetes, or other problems, may be at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea as a complication during pregnancy. It is estimated that up to 10% of pregnant women have sleep apnea, but many times it goes undiagnosed.

A sleeping disorder in which the affected person’s breathing pauses at night, sleep apnea can be very dangerous and lead to many other health problems if left untreated. This may happen between 5 times and more than 30 times per hour, depending on how severe your case of sleep apnea is. And when sleep apnea happens during pregnancy the risks are even greater, because what impacts the mother also impacts the unborn baby.

If your partner or other family members have noticed that you’ve been snoring a lot and very loudly, whether it started during your pregnancy or otherwise, this may be your first clue that you have sleep apnea.

Some of the other common symptoms of sleep apnea, whether or not the person is pregnant include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Waking up with a choking or coughing sensation
  • Breathlessness
  • Waking up feeling unrefreshed or tired
  • Extreme daytime sleepiness (dozing off while driving)
  • Headache upon waking
  • Depression and irritability
  • Waking up with a dry or sore throat.

Sleep Apnea and Pregnancy

One of the most common versions of this sleep disorder is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), meaning that breathing is paused during sleep due to a physical blockage of the airway. Various risk factors and causes of sleep apnea during pregnancy may include a large neck, obesity, extra fatty tissue at the back of the throat, or even thyroid problems that contribute to an enlarged tongue. As the airway is blocked during sleep, pauses in breathing happen and the body eventually can become starved of oxygen which contributes to a variety of other problems.

Another form of sleep apnea is caused by the brain failing to trigger the body to breathe during sleep. This type is much less common and is not typically triggered by pregnancy or weight gain.

Sleep Apnea and Pregnancy Complications

Pregnancy can bring along with it a whole host of problems including a risk of high blood pressure and diabetes that may be related to sleep apnea. The rates of incidences of sleep apnea in pregnant women seems to have increased in the past 20 years, also strongly linked with the possibility of preeclampsia, eclampsia, and cardiomyopathy in pregnant women. It is even possible that the excessive hormones produced in a woman’s body during pregnancy may cause congestion in the mucus membranes, clogging the upper airway and increasing the risk of developing sleep apnea.

Other problems related to sleep apnea in pregnant women may including metabolic changes, cardiac dysfunction, insulin resistance (gestational diabetes), and inflammation that may cause damage to the lining of the blood vessels or to the organs. These various factors can also contribute to the need for a caesarean section delivery, which adds to recovery time and is not ideal.

Many of the complications related to pregnancy are associated with obesity as well, such as high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. The problem is that a woman may have a difficult time losing weight during pregnancy and a doctor should certainly be consulted to make sure the baby and mother are safe and healthy.

While sleep apnea probably will not directly harm your baby if you are pregnant, it can obviously contribute to some health conditions that can make your body less able to care for yourself and your child. One of these results could be a baby with low birth weight as your body is not able to act as an effective host for your baby. Extreme fatigue, high blood pressure, and a variety of other problems can certainly inhibit your ability to have a healthy pregnancy. If you are pregnant and suspect that you have sleep apnea, you should check with your doctor or midwife right away in order to keep yourself and your baby safe.
Treating Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy

The good news about sleep apnea related to pregnancy is that the condition is able to be treated with very minimal invasiveness. A medical professional may recommend the use of a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine which forces the airway open in order to keep the oxygen flowing into the body. Some oral appliances may be recommended by your physician in order to keep the airway open during sleep so that your body can absorb the optimal amount of oxygen.

Other minimal changes in lifestyle may be recommended, such as sleeping on the side instead of the back, or even just getting a new that will help to open up the airways. You may find that you sleep more comfortably and safely on an adjustable mattress or with a specialized pillow that is made just for treating those with sleep apnea. Some women who have trouble with their breathing during the night may feel better when they use a cool mist humidifier to keep their throats from becoming dry and sticky during sleep.


Many people can have sleep apnea without knowing it, so it’s very important to get a diagnosis and treatment if you are having sleeping problems during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and also diagnosed with sleep apnea, there is hope for relief of symptoms and reduction of related complications. As you check with your medical practitioner and apply their advice, remember that you have many different options to choose from in order to protect your health and the health of your baby.

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