What You Should Know About Sleep Apnea And Pregnancy?

June 26, 2020

What You Should Know About Sleep Apnea And Pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a wonderful time in any woman’s life but with it can come some health issues due to new or pre-existing conditions. Sleep Apnea can develop at any time during a person’s life and it is not uncommon for this sleep disorder to develop during pregnancy. That is why it is important for new moms-to-be to understand what this health condition is and how it can impact their sleep quality during each of the trimesters. 

Additionally, for those women who have been diagnosed with OSA prior to becoming pregnant, it is essential to understand why CPAP therapy shouldn’t stop during pregnancy and how you can make it more comfortable during this time. 


Sleep Apnea And Pregnancy: What Women Should Know

Sleep disturbances during pregnancy are not uncommon. As the body changes to accommodate the development of the baby, many women find it more difficult to achieve good quality sleep. Whether it is due to heartburn, restless legs or nasal congestion. However, one sleep-related disorder that can develop during pregnancy is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). 

If you are not aware of what OSA is, essentially it is a sleep-related breathing disorder that causes an individual to stop breathing intermittently during sleep. This is caused due to a softening of tissues within the neck which causes an obstruction in the airway passages. For many, the onset of this sleep disorder is related to excess weight gain and increased hormone levels. 

Sleep Apnea and pregnancy should never be ignored especially as apneic events starve your body of oxygen which is both harmful to you and your baby. 

That’s why it is important that if you suspect your sleep disturbances are due to this sleep disorder that you seek advice from your physician. If you have been diagnosed with OSA before, make sure that you talk with your doctor about how to stay compliant with PAP therapy throughout your pregnancy. 


Why Are Pregnant Women More Prone To Sleep Apnea? 

The answer is linked to hormone levels. During pregnancy, women experience higher estrogen and progesterone levels which causes fluid retention. When going to sleep, that extra fluid then redistributes itself around the body and can accumulate at the neck area. Fluid retention also can cause the nasal passages and mucous membranes to swell which increases the likelihood of snoring. 

In addition, as muscle tone relaxes to accommodate a changing body,  this along with fluid retention can contribute to the upper airway becoming smaller, therefore, increasing the risk of having apneic events. 

Sleep Apnea and pregnancy also share many of the same symptoms which can often make it hard for women to determine that they are suffering from OSA. Instead, they write it off as being part of the pregnancy experience. These symptoms include: 

  • Snoring
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Breathing pauses while sleeping
  • Feeling excessively tired during the day 

As the pregnancy progresses, many expectant mothers will notice that these symptoms become more pronounced towards the end of the pregnancy. However, this isn’t always a normal sign. If you are experiencing excessive tiredness along with forgetfulness that is more than just ‘baby brain’ make sure to follow up with your doctor. 

If Sleep Apnea is left untreated during pregnancy, research shows that these women are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, preterm births and requiring admission to neonatal intensive care.


Other Sleep Apnea Related Health Conditions That Happen During Pregnancy

If you have been newly or previously diagnosed with OSA, it is essential to be aware of the other health conditions that can arise during pregnancy as a result of Sleep Apnea. These are preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. 



This condition is caused by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. It develops in about 3 to 10% of all pregnancies and can be highly dangerous for the health of mother and baby. The only known cure for this is to deliver the baby. Many women who are diagnosed with OSA are at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy.


Gestational Diabetes

As OSA is associated with a higher chance of developing diabetes, in pregnancy it can lead to the development of gestational diabetes. 

This condition is characterized by high blood sugar levels and can develop in up to 7% of pregnancies. According to research, having a sleep-related breathing disorder can increase your chance of developing gestational diabetes by up to three times. Having high blood pressure or high cholesterol can also be risk factors.  


CPAP Therapy: Why It’s Important When Expecting

Sleep conditions during pregnancy can present many complications to both expectant mother and baby. That is why it’s important to get treatment for Sleep Apnea during pregnancy. 

Depending on the severity of the condition that you have, your doctor may prescribe you with a CPAP machine. For many years, CPAP therapy has been considered the gold standard for treating OSA and this applies during pregnancy too. CPAP therapy has been found to be beneficial for not only improving an expectant mother’s sleep quality, reducing signs of preeclampsia and has been known to improve fetal movement (how much the baby moves in the womb). 


How To Increase CPAP Therapy Comfort While Pregnant

Finding a comfortable position to sleep in while pregnant can be a struggle within itself, let alone throwing a CPAP mask and machine into the mix. While it may be hard to adjust to wearing at night, the good news is that there are ways you can increase your comfort at night while staying compliant with therapy. 

Finding it difficult to sleep during pregnancy with a CPAP machine? Try out these tips: 

  • Use A Heated Humidifier: Oftentimes, people can find that the air delivered by a CPAP machine dries out their mouth and nose. Using a heated humidifier can be a great way to prevent nasal passages from drying out and improving comfort. 
  • Try A CPAP Pillow: If you aren’t able to sleep in your favourite position because your mask keeps getting in the way, try using a CPAP pillow. These kinds of pillows make sure that you don’t experience any mask leaks and are great for sleeping on your side. 
  • Wear a Full Face Mask: Many pregnant women can often get congested when they are pregnant. If you have noticed a lot more nasal congestion during your pregnancy, wearing a Full Face CPAP mask delivers air both to your nose and mouth ensuring that you get the full benefit of CPAP therapy while achieving more comfortable sleep. 

For more questions on Sleep Apnea and pregnancy, we urge you to speak with your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms or if you feel that your sleep quality hasn’t improved.

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