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Sleep Apnea and Pregnancy

The second you get pregnant, the advice seems to flow in from everywhere. What to eat, what not to eat; exercise tips for your rapidly growing body; how to prepare your home for your bundle of joy’s arrival.

Funny enough, sleep doesn’t seem to come up very often in these conversations – yet it is one of the most important factors in staying healthy (whether you are pregnant or not!)

Signs of Sleep Apnea

From the ages of 15-30, I was very sick. I had out-of-control fatigue that crept into every crevice of my life.  Finally at the age of 30, I was sent for a sleep study, convinced that I had narcolepsy. The sleep study finally offered an explanation for my fatigue, but the diagnosis that I received was much different than I expected.

My husband and I now.

“Sleep apnea?” My then-boyfriend (now husband) said incredulously as I walked in the door after my appointment with my new CPAP machine. “You don’t have sleep apnea!”

But I did. It was hard to believe, of course, as a woman of an average age and weight who didn’t snore. But there it was, right on my sleep study results. I was waking up an average of 30 times per hour – just about every two minutes!

Many people would not be so excited for a diagnosis. After all, the gold standard of sleep apnea treatment is having to wear a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which doesn’t go over well for many people. It didn’t bother me, though. In fact, I was ecstatic to finally know what was going on with. And to have a working solution to go along with it? Priceless!

Time passed, I started using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, and I began to feel great. I had energy again. I could get more done. My business was thriving. I was ready for the next step: to start a family!

I feel so lucky that we were able to conceive within a couple of months of trying. Funny enough, after years of being overtired, I got bouts of insomnia in my first trimester – again, a common pregnancy symptom that no one ever talks about!

Pregnancy-Induced Sleep Apnea

Though I have full-time sleep apnea, it’s also common for women to develop it during pregnancy:

“Some experts believe that pregnancy may also make you more susceptible [to sleep apnea], The heavier you are to begin with heavier you are to begin with and the more weight you gain during pregnancy, the more likely you are to have trouble breathing at night because of the extra tissue in your neck and throat.

 

Other factors that make you more likely to snore during pregnancy, such as swollen nasal passages, may also put you at a higher risk for sleep apnea. Higher levels of estrogen during pregnancy contribute to swelling in the mucous membranes lining the nose and can even cause you to make more mucus.

Also, the amount of blood in your body increases and your blood vessels expand during pregnancy. This can lead to swollen nasal membranes as well” From the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board.

Sleep apnea for pregnant women sounds somewhat harmless, but it’s not. One study found that instances of sleep apnea during pregnancy are increasing over the years, causing serious problems for new parents:

“Researchers found that the chances of developing preeclampsia and eclampsia, two conditions involving hypertension associated with pregnancy, increased by a factor of 2.5 and 5.4 respectively. The chance of developing cardiomyopathy, a significant and dangerous weakness of the heart muscle, was nine times more likely in pregnant women with sleep apnea. Finally, pregnant women with sleep apnea were five times as likely to die while hospitalized for their pregnancy. In all cases, obesity made matters worse, and may have contributed to the rise in sleep apnea.”

Pretty scary stuff, yes?

But don’t panic! Like I mentioned before, sleep apnea is completely treatable. However, it is up to you to be tuned in to your body and to advocate for yourself and your baby as your pregnancy progresses.

TheBump.com lists snoring, choking to get air at night, extreme daytime sleepiness, headache, dry mouth, nighttime heartburn, and waking at night to urinate as common symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important that you mention it to your prenatal care team as soon as possible to screen for sleep apnea.

Though there are many options for addressing for sleep apnea, a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is considered the gold standard of treatment and has the highest success rates when it comes to treating sleep disordered breathing.

Here are a few tips if your doctor does refer you for CPAP therapy:

  • Sleeping on your side is usually the best position in which to wear CPAP – so you’re already all set with that, as sleeping on your stomach during pregnancy doesn’t work too well anyway. Try out different masks to be sure that the mask that you choose is comfortable for side sleeping.
  • Don’t be intimidated by a mask that is a little bit bigger. When starting CPAP therapy I really wanted this petite little nasal pillow mask to work, however, after trying it on I immediately knew that it wouldn’t be enough air for me. I now have a mask that covers my entire nose and it works great! If you breathe out of your mouth, you may need a full-face mask that covers both your nose and mouth. Really, the best mask is going to be the one that helps you breathe and sleep better, no matter the size.
  • Try wearing your mask while reading or watching TV to get used to it. A lot of people use this trick to get acclimated to their mask.
  • Keep a positive mindset. Yes, it sounds cheesy, but it’s the ONLY thing that got me to even try CPAP. Know that your life will get better with it and that it is an important tool in maintaining your health.

Though treating sleep apnea might not sound like the most fun thing in your already-uncomfortable pregnancy sleep, I cannot stress how important it is to address. As I know now, healthy sleep is essential to a happy and healthy life – both for you and for your baby.

 

Stacy Erickson Edwards is a sleep apnea awareness advocate and the main babe of CPAPBabes.com. She loves working to create positivity around PAP therapy and empower other CPAP Babes. She lives in Seattle with her husband, Dave and their two cats, Darby and Momo. In addition to running CPAPBabes.com, she owns a home organizing business and a social media company.

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