Obstructive Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy - All You Need to Know

Topics: Sleep Apnea, Snoring, Pregnancy, obstructive sleep apnea

Do you feel difficulty in sleeping during pregnancy? Becoming a mother is a journey and not an easy one at that. During these nine months, women experience several mental, physical, and emotional changes that can be scary.

Sleep Apnea during Pregnancy.

Getting sleep also becomes difficult at this time. Even if you feel tired and exhausted, you don’t doze off as soon as you hit the bed because of early pregnancy insomnia or difficulty getting comfortable. And when sleep comes eventually, problems like a frequent urge to pee make it difficult to stay asleep at night.

As the pregnancy advances, some mothers also begin Snoring. In some others, another condition, namely, Obstructive Sleep Apnea during pregnancy, makes it difficult to get quality rest at night. Here is all you need to know about how OSA and pregnancy are related. Read further!

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition where a blockage in the airway leads to pauses in breathing. These can be 10 seconds or longer. When the stops in the respiratory process occur, the oxygen supply to the brain is cut off. This causes the person to get up from sleep gasping for air. Since this happens hundreds of times through the night, sleep quality gets compromised.

Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea common during pregnancy?

Doctors suggest that sleep apnea is a common during pregnancy cause of sleepless nights. A study reveals that the condition affects as many as 26% of all mothers-to-be. Sleep apnea during pregnancy develop because of several reasons, including:

  • Many hormonal changes occur in women during the nine months of pregnancy. They can cause the mucus membrane in the nose to swell and make you feel congested. This, in turn, can result in snoring and sleep apnea.
  • In some cases, high progesterone levels activate the muscles and relax the airway. This may also result in sleep apnea.
  • Another reason for OSA in pregnant mothers can be weight gain. It puts pressure on the airway and causes difficulty breathing at night.
  • Mothers-to-be have a baby developing in the uterus, which puts pressure on the lungs. It can reduce air volume and increase breathing rate, resulting in apnea.

What can Obstructive Sleep Apnea mean during pregnancy? 

For mothers:

If you have sleep apnea, you wake up multiple times at night. It makes you feel extra groggy and fatigued since you are not getting deep sleep. If left untreated, the sleep disorder can lead to serious health complications like stroke, depression, memory loss, asthma, acid reflux, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

During pregnancy, having OSA increases the likelihood of developing gestational hypertension and gestational diabetes. Moreover, health problems, like prolonged labour, unplanned caesarean sections, preeclampsia (that can cause organ injury, stillbirth, and death), and obesity hypoventilation syndrome (leading to excessive amounts of carbon dioxide and decreased oxygen levels) are also possible.

For the baby:

When you have sleep apnea, your BP increases, which causes changes in the size of blood vessels, resulting in less fluid being pumped by the heart. This may compromise the amount of blood that reaches the baby via the placenta and affect blood oxygen levels. This situation is dangerous as it causes the baby’s heart rate to drop. Moreover, it can result in foetal growth restriction, a condition where the child doesn’t develop in the uterus as expected, like normal infants.

Disrupted sleep during pregnancy can also affect the release of growth hormones causing developmental issues and growth problems. Also, there is an increased threat of preterm birth or death of newborns.

Who is more likely to develop sleep apnea during pregnancy?

Although any woman can develop obstructive sleep apnea during pregnancy, the possibility is higher in:

  • Obese women or those who easily gain weight
  • Women with a deviated septum or wider neck
  • Females with gestational diabetes

How can you know if you have OSA during pregnancy?

If you are suffering from this sleep disorder during pregnancy, you will experience the following symptoms:

  • Grogginess or irritability in the morning
  • Racing heart at night
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Morning headaches
  • Gagging or choking in sleep
  • Dry throat in the morning
  • Grinding teeth

How can you diagnose obstructive Sleep apnea during pregnancy?

If you are showing the above-mentioned signs of obstructive sleep apnea during pregnancy, you should consult your OB-GYN or healthcare professional. The doctor will ask you some questions about the symptoms and evaluate your mouth, nose, and throat. If he thinks it is a serious concern, he may recommend you visit a sleep specialist to undergo a sleep study or polysomnography test. This will help determine the severity of your condition, so a treatment plan can be developed.

What are the possible treatments for OSA during pregnancy?

Doctors recommend women suffering from OSA use adhesive breathing strips. It opens up the nostrils to help you breathe easier at night. In addition, you may be asked to try nasal sprays, saline rinses, and humidifiers to reduce congestion. In some cases, an over-the-counter decongestant might also be suggested to treat the issue.

Some doctors also ask pregnant women with OSA to make some dietary changes to gain weight at a healthy rate. They may prescribe the use of sleep apnea patches, oral appliances, and a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine to treat the condition.

What can you do to treat OSA at home during pregnancy?

In cases when sleep apnea is not severe, doctors recommend some in-home cures for managing the condition. These include:

  • Changing sleep position

Resting on the back can worsen sleep apnea. This is why doctors recommend pregnant women suffering from this condition switch to resting on their left side. Consider using a body pillow or pillow wedge to be more comfortable while sleeping in this position.

  • Healthy eating choices

Gaining weight at a pace recommended by your doctor can reduce the risk of OSA. For this, you should consume nutritious food instead of snacks. If you are gaining weight too quickly or are finding it difficult to eat during pregnancy, talk to your healthcare professional.

  • Wear nasal strips

Using over-the-counter nasal strips can effectively keep the airways open. This, in turn, can reduce snoring and help manage sleep apnea.

Does sleep apnea go away after pregnancy?

Although one cannot say with complete surety whether sleep apnea resolves after pregnancy, in most cases, the condition improves, especially if you didn’t have it before the baby. Also, since apnea improves with weight loss when the uterus shrinks back to its normal size, you should get better. If this doesn’t happen, you should consult your doctor.


Sleep apnea is a rest disorder common in pregnant women. Females with this concern should consult their doctors as this condition can cause health complications in both the mother and the infant. Your healthcare specialist may advise you to try CPAP or recommend in-home treatments depending on the severity of your condition.

Disclaimer: The article is suggestive in nature and should not be taken as medical advice. The information has been obtained from reputed medical research organisations and is not true for all individuals. Pregnant women are advised to speak to their doctors to determine whether they are at risk of developing sleep apnea and what they can do to manage the condition.

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