Sleep apnea can have serious health implications for anyone, but the risk is amplified for pregnant women if the disease goes untreated.
Millions of Americans live with sleep apnea, but many are never diagnosed. The disease is not only dangerous for the health of a pregnant woman, but also the health of their unborn child.
Causes and Risk Factors
Sleep disorders are fairly common during pregnancy. This is because of both hormonal and physiological changes.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more prevalent in women who were overweight before pregnancy because excess tissue in the airway can block airflow during sleep. High blood pressure and gestational diabetes are two additional risk factors for developing sleep apnea.
Physiological changes can contribute to sleep apnea during pregnancy. For example, excess hormones may cause congestion in mucous membranes, increasing the likelihood of sleep apnea. There is also a genetic component.
Pregnant women with sleep apnea are more likely to experience complications before, during and after childbirth. Examples include preeclampsia, congestive heart failure, pulmonary embolism, a longer hospital stay and an increased likelihood of admission to the intensive care unit. Sleep apnea may also increase cognitive decline over time.
Sleep apnea during pregnancy can affect the baby, as well. Serious complications may include:
- Preterm delivery
- Low birth weight
- A higher likelihood of admission to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit)
- Low Apgar scores
Sleep apnea is also linked to impaired fetal growth, according to a 2017 study.
Luckily, early diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea during pregnancy can mitigate these complications.
Managing Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy
Any pregnant woman who suspects a sleep disorder should consult their doctors immediately. Symptoms include snoring, pauses in breathing while asleep, and sputtering after a pause in breathing. Daytime tiredness, depression and headaches can also indicate a sleep disorder, but there are other potential causes for those symptoms. (Sleep Disorders May Affect Women Sooner than Men)
The most definitive test for sleep apnea is a sleep study. The study allows doctors to diagnose the sleep apnea and determine the best course of treatment. (5 Things to Know Before Your Sleep Study)
Most common treatments are the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine or oral appliances, but surgery is sometimes necessary.
By diagnosing a maternal sleep disorder in the early stages, both mom and baby have the best chance of avoiding complications.