Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy

Sleep apnea is when a person stops breathing for short periods of time in their sleep. 

Either they spontaneously stop, or are unable to breath and then suddenly start breathing again. This happens many times throughout the night, often in an uncomfortable and continuous cycle.  This results in thunderous and irregular snoring that is well-known for disturbing sleeping partners. 

Those suffering from sleep apnea often wake up many times during the night as they suddenly choke or resume breathing. You may experience sleep apnea as waking without awareness or waking with a cough over and over again.

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, when something from the sinuses to the esophagus clogs or compresses the airway until breathing stops. Often, coughing or gasping are the only way to restore breathing, or breathing restores on its own when the recurring obstruction fades. 

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

If you are experiencing sleep apnea, the symptoms can be recorded in two ways. You can examine your own experience or you can ask your partner what they experience when you're asleep. Both sets of observations provide important information about your symptoms.

You Will Notice

  • Extreme Daytime Sleepiness
  • Waking with Headache or Drymouth
  • Nighttime Heartburn
  • Frequent Nighttime Urination
  • Waking Constantly in the Night 

Your Partner Will Notice

  • Periods of Not Breathing
  • Loud Snoring
  • Irregular Breathing or Snoring
  • Choking Sounds During Sleep
  • Coughing or Sputtering after a Pause

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

Check with your doctor if you suspect that you have sleep apnea because of your pregnancy. They can medically diagnose you by examining your sinuses and airways, and by conducting sleep studies.

ENT Examination

An ENT (Ears Nose Throat) examination will include looking through your sinuses and throat to determine if there are any direct physical causes to your sleep apnea. Women with deviated septums are much more likely to develop sleep apnea, as your airways are very easily blocked. If the ENT finds a cause, they may suggest a specific treatment

Sleep Study

A sleep study is when you spend the night in a clinic connected to sensors that monitor your sleep. The sensors and a monitoring medical staff will measure how much air you're getting and whether you stop breathing in the night. This is the most reliable way to confirm a case of sleep apnea.

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can be caused by a variety of different things.


Sleep apnea has shown to have congenital patterns. If you have a parent that suffered from sleep apnea at any stage in life, you are universally more likely to experience sleep apnea. If you do not normally experience sleep apnea and have a parent who has it, then you are more likely to have sleep apnea during pregnancy and after menopause.


Pregnancy changes a woman's body enough that if she had a risk of sleep apnea, it becomes much more likely while pregnant. Pregnancy drastically increases a woman's chances of experiencing sleep apnea, in part because it increases your mucus production.

Congested Mucous Membranes

Congestion is one of the leading causes of sleep apnea. This happens when your airways temporarily clog and unclog over and over again due to congested mucus production. It is also the most frequent root cause of sleep apnea in pregnant women who experience mucus changes with response to hormone changes.

Obesity and Obstructed Airway

Obesity also drastically increases the chances of sleep apnea with or without a pregnancy. Obesity combined with pregnancy, therefore, makes sleep apnea much more likely to occur. Obesity causes sleep apnea because additional neck weight can compress the airway during sleep.

How Sleep Apnea Affects Pregnant Women

Sleep apnea usually appears with other types of pregnancy complication, though the root cause is not always known. Women who experience sleep apnea during pregnancy are more likely to experience preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and cesarian section births.

Preeclampsia is high blood pressure during pregnancy that can put the mother at risk.  

Gestational diabetes is when the mother experiences diabetes-like blood sugar symptoms during the pregnancy. Due to these and other complications, women who experience sleep apnea are more likely to go through a cesarean section to give birth instead of a natural birth.

One study on obese pregnant women concluded that pregnant mothers with sleep apnea are 26% more likely to experience preeclampsia and 32% more likely to go through a cesarian section.

How Sleep Apnea Affects Your Baby

Sleep apnea can also have implications on the health of your baby. When a mother has sleep apnea during pregnancy, infants are more likely to have low birth weights and have a 28% higher chance of needing to spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) immediately after birth due to fragility.

How to Treat Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy

Preventing sleep apnea is often not practical or possible, especially in the brief duration of your pregnancy. But you can treat it. 

For most pregnant women, a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine will work wonders to give you full nights of snore-free sleep you've been missing. The CPAP machine uses air pressure to essentially clear your throat for you all night long.  

You wear a mask connected to a hose connected to a small air pump, which keeps your airways open while you sleep.

Another way to treat sleep apnea during pregnancy is to supplement with magnesium. Applying a magnesium sleep lotion before bed-time is a great way to get your body the appropriate amount of magnesium needed to promote a good night's sleep.