In this article, we’ll discuss why it’s important for women diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) to keep up with their CPAP therapy during pregnancy—and ways to make it more comfortable. We’ll also talk about some of the pregnancy complications that can come up if you had OSA before your pregnancy began.
What should pregnant women know?
OSA can develop during pregnancy due to a few different factors such as:
- weight gain
- increased hormone levels
These issues can cause softening of the tissues in the neck and airway leading to an incidence of OSA. Developing apneas while pregnant is more common than you may think, as we note the findings of the following study:
Research published in Contemporary OB/GYN shows that about 3 to 10 percent of women experience sleep apnea during their first trimester, and about 26 percent of women experience sleep apnea by their third trimester1
For more information on how pregnancy can lead to someone developing apneas, we’ve created the following helpful resource that goes into greater detail: Sleep Apnea and Pregnancy – The Overlooked Risk to Mom and Baby
Other Health Issues that Coincide With Sleep Apnea
If you have sleep disorders like OSA, be on the lookout for other health issues such as:
- Gestational Diabetes
Preeclampsia is a condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, which can lead to kidney failure and serious or even deadly consequences for the mother and the baby. The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby.
Preeclampsia develops in about 3 to 10 percent of all pregnancies, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation. Other research shows that women with OSA may be at a higher risk of developing the condition.2
Risk Factors for Preeclampsia
According to the American Pregnancy Association2, Preeclampsia is a condition that often develops later in pregnancies. Women with the following risk factors are more likely to suffer from preeclampsia than others:
- Previous experience with high blood pressure
- family history of preeclampsia
- Women carrying multiple babies
- Women aged under 20 or over 40
- Women who had kidney disease prior to pregnancy
- Women who have a BMI of 30 or greater
Sleep apnea is associated with a higher risk of gestational diabetes, which is a condition characterized by high blood sugar levels. Gestational diabetes develops in about 7 percent of pregnancies, according to research; sleep breathing disorders increases that risk by as much as two to three times.3
Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes
Some women are more prone to developing gestational diabetes than others. According to the National Institutes of Health4, here are some common risk factors to look out for:
- High BMI or Obesity
- Over 25 years old
- Prior Problems with High Glucose or Blood Sugar
You may also be at risk if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease.
Untreated Sleep Apnea Can Cause Complications
Women diagnosed with apneas before pregnancy are at higher risk for complications while pregnant. Research shows that women who go untreated are at higher risk of:
- high blood pressure during pregnancy
- preterm births
- caesarean section
- admission to neonatal intensive care/special care nursery
Mothers who had OSA prior to becoming pregnant also had a higher risk of having babies that were either larger for their gestational age or small for their gestational age.
Importance of Continuing CPAP therapy while Pregnant
Because of the complications associated with sleep conditions during pregnancy, CPAP therapy is essential. Depending on the individual woman and her symptoms, a medical professional might prescribe CPAP therapy with a CPAP machine to reduce the negative effects apnea has as on the baby and the mother.
A case study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology describes how the use of CPAP therapy reduced the signs of preeclampsia in women diagnosed at 30 weeks gestation. Use of a CPAP machine allowed her to continue her pregnancy safely for another 30 days and deliver her baby.5
In another larger study, researchers found that CPAP therapy could improve how much the baby moves inside the womb, known as fetal movement. Preeclampsia reduces healthy fetal movement and even reduces fetal hiccups, which are the normal movements a baby makes when practicing breathing in the womb. The study found that CPAP therapy increased the number of fetal moments and fetal hiccups in patients who had preeclampsia.
Comfort Tips on Improving CPAP for Sleep Apnea during Pregnancy
Many women have trouble getting comfortable while sleeping, especially in the third trimester. While using a CPAP can help mothers-to-be sleep better, it may take time for some expectant women to adjust to sleeping with the use of a CPAP machine.
Fortunately, CPAP users and CPAP manufacturers have developed tips and remedies for improving CPAP use during pregnancy.
The dry air produced by the CPAP machine can dry out the nose and mouth at night. The body tries to return moisture by producing mucus, which can cause nasal congestion by morning. Using heated humidification prevents drying out of nasal passages to prevent the development of a stuffy nose.
You may not realize this, but several CPAP and APAP machines have heated humidification built-in at no extra cost. Here are some popular models:
Aromatherapy features the use of pleasant scents to bring pleasure and relaxation. The fragrances can help improve comfort and help support nightly use. The scents found in CPAP aromatherapy are similar to the scents found in traditional essential oils.
Pro Tip: Even though it may be tempting to put essential oils in your humidifier water, don’t. Putting scents in humidifier water can cause damage to your machine. Instead, consider using an aromatherapy product specifically designed for CPAPs.
CPAP pillows are specially designed to accommodate the mask and hose of a CPAP machine, which allows the wearer to get into her favorite sleeping position without breaking the mask seal. These pillows are also great for side sleeping because they allow a person to wear a more traditional mask and sleep in a new position.
Between 18 and 42 percent of women develop nasal congestion while pregnant, according to Healthline6. People with nasal congestion often breathe through their mouths while sleeping, which means that they may not gain the full benefit of CPAP therapy when they use nasal CPAP masks. Full face masks deliver therapy air to both the nose and the mouth, allowing the wearer to breathe how it’s most comfortable.
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1. Lewis, Judette Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Pregnancy: What You Need to Know. Published on the official website for Contemporary Ob/Gyn. Accessed on Mar. 5, 2019
2. Whitehead, Claire. Treatment of Early Onset Preeclampsia with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. Pulbished in the Medical Journal “Obstetrics & Gynecology” in May 2015. Accessed on Mar. 5, 2019.
3. UCSF Hospital. Diabetes in Pregnancy Published on the University of California San Francisco Hospital’s Official Website. Accessed on Mar. 5, 2019.
4. National Institutes of Health. Am I at Risk for Gestational Diabetes? Published on the NIH Official Website. Accessed on Mar. 5, 2019.
5. American Pregnancy Asssociation. Preeclampsia Published on the American Pregnancy Association Official Website. Accessed on Mar. 5, 2019.
6.Healthline. Natural Ways to Clear Up Rhinitis of Pregnancy Published on Healthline’s Official Website. Acceessed on Mar. 6, 2019.
Daniela has researched and published over 60 articles covering topics that aim to inform and empower people living with Sleep Apnea. As an avid reader and researcher, Daniela continues to grow her knowledge about Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy everyday with the help of coworkers, CPAP.com customers, and members of other CPAP communities online.