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Pregnancy can certainly have a negative impact on your sleep, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have sleep apnoea.

Some of the symptoms of sleep apnoea, such as feeling sleepy during the day, are similar to experiences that can affect pregnant women. As a result, many women won’t even consider the possibility that they have sleep apnoea.

However, if you know what to look out for, you might be more likely to seek help from our doctors, who can provide the advice and treatment you need.

Symptoms of sleep apnoea

Snoring

This is the most recognisable symptom of sleep apnoea. For obvious reasons, it’s something that your partner is more likely to notice than you.

If you didn’t snore before you were pregnant, or your snoring has become much louder, it’s worth seeing a doctor about it.

Feeling sleepy during the day

It can be hard to tell whether this sleepiness is caused by a sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea, or general pregnancy exhaustion.

Gasping, snorting and noisy breathing while asleep

Sleep apnoea is mainly caused by your airways becoming blocked during sleep. As well as snoring, this also causes a frequent gasping sound as your body wakes itself up in order to return your breathing to normal.

Mood swings

Whatever the cause, a lack of sleep can put you in a bad mood and make it difficult to concentrate on things.

What causes sleep apnoea in pregnancy?

Being overweight

Being overweight is one of the most common reasons for sleep apnoea, as it means you have more flesh in your neck that might block your airways while you’re lying down.

If you were overweight before you became pregnant, it could increase your likelihood of sleep apnoea symptoms. However, while you will gain weight during your pregnancy, this won’t cause sleep apnoea.

Sleeping on your back

As your bump grows, it can be difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position. If you have sleep apnoea, sleeping on your back makes it more likely that your airways will become blocked.

Investing in a good pregnancy pillow will provide your body with the necessary support to sleep comfortably on your side, reducing the likelihood of snoring.

Nasal congestion

There are all sorts of reasons why you might feel like you have a blocked nose. While a cold will pass in a few days, problems such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps can cause chronic nasal congestion that can trigger sleep apnoea.

Fluid retention

Hormonal changes during pregnancy, particularly higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone, can lead to fluid retention.

While this is normally associated with the ankles, it can affect the neck too.

Family history

If any of your close relatives have suffered from sleep apnoea, it increases the chance that you will too.

Can sleep apnoea in pregnancy harm your baby?

During pregnancy, it’s common for many areas of your body to become swollen. Commonly, this includes your hands and your feet, but it can also affect the soft tissues in your nose and throat, which can lead to sleep apnoea.

Although not conclusively proven, early studies suggest a link between sleep apnoea and an increased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and low birth weight. There is also a possibility that it may increase the risk that you’ll give birth prematurely.

However, if caught early, you can get treatment that will reduce these risks.

Diagnosing sleep apnoea in pregnancy

Our doctors can refer you for specialist tests that will track your sleep and spot any signs of sleep apnoea. These tests are non-invasive, so there's no risk to your baby.

You’ll be asked to attend a sleep centre, where special sensors will be attached to your body in order to monitor your breathing, heart rate and oxygen levels. This is known as a polysomnography.

Treating sleep apnoea in pregnancy

Sleep apnoea is treated without medication, so there’s no reason to worry about whether your treatment could harm your baby.

Often, it is treated with lifestyle changes, such as changing your sleeping position and adopting a careful pre-sleep routine.

You might also be given a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, which passes air into your airways to keep them open. If you have already been given a CPAP device before you were pregnant, it’s safe to continue using this throughout your pregnancy.

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