The dangers of snoring and sleep apnoea during pregnancy

The period of time between conception and birth is a critically important one for the lifetime health of the easily influenced growing human baby. During this 35-40 week pregnancy span an expectant mother must be in optimal health so that she can adequately supply her unborn child with the nutrients needed for healthy development, including oxygen.

Pregnant woman with doctor . Isolated.

Oxygen is a primary resource necessary to make a healthy baby possible and if oxygen is cut off from the baby, they are at risk for any number of health complications.

Snoring and sleep apnoea a common problem in pregnancy, and nearly 30% of all pregnant women experience a worsening of OSA during their pregnancy. However, OSA is not commonly assessed during routine prenatal care. In one study, although 32% of patients reported snoring, less than 3% of physicians and nurses asked about snoring during a prenatal visit.

According to findings presented by researchers to the Australian Sleep Association, 50% of pregnant women will develop snoring by their final trimester – bringing dangerous health problems for both mother and baby.

The 2 main factors causing this are related to Hormones and Weight gain.

Changes in hormone levels dilate blood vessels, and cause the mucous membrane to swell in the nose, causing congestion and a narrowing of your nasal passages that results in forcing you to breathe through your mouth as you sleep, with the outcomes being snoring.

“As you gain weight in pregnancy, your lungs have less space and also a build-up of fat in the neck tissues narrows your airways which can cause more throat breathing – in other words, snoring,” says Professor Advisor of Education for the Royal College of UK Midwives, Michelle Lyne. She adds, “If snoring began during pregnancy, then it will almost definitely stop soon after you’ve had the baby. Your hormones settle down and you lose the excess weight and fluid you’ve been carrying for 9 months – which are the main causes for starting to snore when you’re expecting”.

According to US scientists, chronic snoring may be a sign of breathing problems that could possibly affect your oxygen supply to the baby. However, chronic snoring refers to women who snore regularly and badly both before they get pregnant as well as during their pregnancy.

The study showed that a chronic snorer might be up to two thirds more likely to have a low birth-weight baby, and twice as likely to need a C-section. Chronic snoring can easily be treated,” says lead researcher, Dr Louise O’Brien, from the University of Michigan’s Sleep Disorders Centre.

Sleep apnoea is at epidemic proportions in many countries and has become increasingly common among pregnant women. Oxygen restriction places the intrauterine baby at risk for: growth restriction (IUGR), diabetes or a stillbirth. Sleep apnoea and pregnancy share a few similar symptoms, blurring the line between healthy and unhealthy body changes.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) during pregnancy presents significant potential risks to both the mother and her foetus.  Symptoms of OSA in pregnant women should not be ignored.

There are four things that make OSA during pregnancy unique:

  • It affects not just one but two patients – the mother and the foetus.
  •  Pregnancy itself is often associated with symptoms that might mimic OSA, including sleep disturbance and daytime fatigue
  •  Sleep apnoea can worsen as pregnancy progresses and changes in the condition can occur rapidly. OSA should always be diagnosed and treated promptly.
  •  OSA may be temporary, and in those cases it should end after the birth. Women diagnosed with OSA during pregnancy should be checked again following the birth as the problem with all its associated health dangers may continue undiagnosed otherwise.

Approximately 85% of adults who have sleep apnoea are undiagnosed but Sleep apnoea during pregnancy is something that can be treated and the harmful effects to the baby from lack of oxygen can most certainly be prevented. There is no reason for a mother or her baby to have insufficient access to oxygen. Instead of worrying if her baby is getting the nutrients needed for healthy development, an expectant mother can prepare for an exciting future.

John Redfern