Sleep apnea isn't good for anyone, but it might be especially risky for moms-to-be, according to new research from the University of South Florida that says pregnant women diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (in everyday language: difficulty breathing during sleep) are more likely to develop preeclampsia and require delivery by C-section.
One of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea? Loud, heavy snoring.
In the new study, researchers analyzed information from 175 obese pregnant women. It's known that obese women are more likely to develop sleep apnea, and about 15 percent of moms-to-be in this group ended up being diagnosed. Following these women through childbirth, about 65 percent of the moms with apnea ended up having a C-section compared to 33 percent of moms without the condition. Additionally, 42 percent of those with sleep apnea had preeclampsia, compared with 17 percent of those without. The percentage of newborns requiring NICU admission was 46 percent for mothers with sleep apnea, compared with 18 percent for those without sleep apnea, though researchers say this may be due to the higher rate of C-sections in the apnea group.
Snoring is a common side effect of pregnancy, so how do you know if your snoring is really sleep apnea? As Dr. Lev Grinman, sleep specialist and medical director of HomeSleep Medical in Paramus, New Jersey, tells BabyZone, other common symptoms of sleep apnea include observed pauses in breathing during sleep, awakening with a sensation of gasping or choking, frequent nighttime urination, waking up unrefreshed and feeling tired throughout the day.
Pregnancy may make women more susceptible to developing apnea. According to Dr. Sunita Kumar, a Loyola University Medical Center sleep specialist, fluid retention and an expanding belly make apnea more likely. "Studies have found an increase in apnea during pregnancy, and a decrease three months postpartum," Dr. Kumar tells BabyZone.
Mild cases of sleep apnea can be treated with lifestyle changes while moderate to severe apnea usually requires the use of a machine called C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure).
"CPAP is the gold standard. It's a small machine that pressurizes room air, which is then delivered through a mask worn by the patient during sleep to to keep the airway open," explains Dr. Grinman.
If you are concerned about sleep apnea, Dr. Kumar recommends sharing any unusual symptoms with your provider, especially if you are feeling a great deal of fatigue.
"In some cases," she says, "fatigue in pregnancy may be due to undiagnosed apnea."