For most women, being pregnant is an incredibly exciting time in their lives. You’re envisioning your future child and loving the opportunity to bring this tiny life into the world. But, even if you’re newly pregnant, you already know that pregnancy can lead to other medical concerns if not monitored and checked up on properly.
What you may not know is that being pregnant could possibly have an impact on your sleep--and not only because you can’t seem to find a comfortable spot with your baby bump. We’ve compiled a list of facts you should know about the potential for developing sleep apnea while pregnant and the best ways to handle diagnosing and treating it.
Pregnancy Can Cause Sleep Apnea
Yes, it’s true that pregnancy can lead to the development of obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. OSA is a sleep disorder where your airway gets blocked during sleep. While it is common for people to experience one or two of these events normally, OSA is marked by a spike in breathing pauses, called apneas. Those with mild OSA can experience about 5-14 per hour but those with severe OSA can experience over 30 per hour.
It’s a well-known fact that those who experience weight gain are at increased risk of developing OSA, and pregnant women are no exception. If you gain excessive weight during your pregnancy (20-35 pounds), then you could be at risk for developing OSA even if you did not have it before. Higher levels of estrogen during pregnancy can cause swelling in your mucus membranes, putting pressure on your airways.
But don’t worry! Not all pregnant women will develop sleep apnea. It’s simply good to be aware of the potential so you can address the issue later on if need be.
Sleep Apnea Could Contribute to Other Complications
If you are living with undiagnosed OSA during your pregnancy, it’s important to note that it could lead to other problems down the road. It’s possible that, if left untreated for a long period of time, you could develop medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. And pregnant women are also at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes or preeclampsia--both of which can be problematic for the mother and the fetus.
OSA leads to decreased breathing during sleep which, in turn, leads to lower blood oxygen levels. These lower levels can exacerbate other conditions or lead to developing new ones. In fact, one study found that pregnant women with OSA were 3x more likely to require a C-section than those without. And, of those women, their newborns were more likely to require care in the NICU.
It’s important to be aware of your potential for OSA and to get the testing and treatment you need as soon as possible. Treatment of sleep apnea is an incredible way to manage the condition without putting yourself or your unborn baby at risk.
Home Sleep Testing is a Good Option for Pregnant Women
Especially right now, the idea of getting tested in a hospital can be anxiety-inducing. You know you’ll likely have to be in the hospital to deliver the baby, but limiting your exposure to other potential viruses is very important. In-lab sleep testing is a surefire way to identify obstructive sleep apnea, but you do have other options.
If you believe you are at risk for OSA, it’s important to consider a home sleep testing option, like those from ApneaMed. Home sleep tests happen in the comfort of your own home and your own bed. This is an excellent option for those who are fairly certain they may be suffering from sleep apnea based on their on-going side effects or risk factors--like pregnancy.
The HST unit will come with three sensors that track your sleep and collect a variety of data. The first sensor is a nasal tube that can monitor airflow and breathing patterns at various levels of sleep. The second sensor is a chest strap that tracks how hard you’re breathing or if you’re breathing too heavily during sleep. The last is an easy finger sensor to monitor your blood oxygen levels.
Once you’ve finished your in-home sleep test, it’s time to send it out for analysis. Simply, mail back your testing unit in the included shipping materials and your data will be downloaded and assessed by board-certified sleep physicians. They will report back with in-depth insights into your sleep patterns and determine if you are suffering from OSA.
Receiving OSA Therapy is Safe During Pregnancy
If you learn that you are suffering from mild sleep apnea, then your provider may only recommend you make some lifestyle changes that can help you lose weight. Again, if you’ve gained more than 20-35 pounds during pregnancy, then you could be putting yourself at increased risk. A healthy weight management plan would include dietary recommendations and suggestions for pregnancy-safe exercises. It’s also possible to try other options, like humidifiers or essential oil diffusers.
However, moderate and severe sleep apnea require other forms of treatments--most commonly CPAp or AutoPAP treatments. These are machines that use a hose and mask to gently apply air pressure into your nose and throat as you sleep. This ensures that your airways are open and free of obstructions so you do not experience frequent apnea events. Most with sleep apnea find that these therapies provide them with the most immediate and effective relief of their sleep apnea symptoms. Plus, treated OSA drastically reduces, or can completely eliminate, your increased risk of developing other, more serious medical conditions.
Pregnancy is an exciting time in your life! You have so much to look forward to and prepare for, but it’s important to also take steps in the here and now to ensure that your future is as healthy and happy as possible. If you believe you may be developing sleep apnea as a result of your pregnancy, be sure to reach out to a trusted provider, like ApneaMed, to see if home testing is the next step for you.