Pregnancy is a period of both joy and discomfort for women. Over 9 to 10 months, pregnant women are responsible for the well-being of a developing baby while maintaining their own health.
Week by week, mothers experience new symptoms and physiological changes as their babies achieve new milestones in the womb.
It is essential for women to rest well throughout pregnancy, although this is often difficult. Women often sleep much better during the second trimester but may start snoring during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester.
Causes of Snoring During Pregnancy
Snoring during pregnancy can be attributed to several factors:
- High estrogen levels cause swelling of the mucous membranes, leading to congestion of the nasal passages. During pregnancy, estrogen levels surge, triggering the development of the fetus and its vital organs. Estrogen is also responsible for the pregnancy glow but also for nausea, changes in skin pigmentation, and spider veins.
- A pregnant woman’s blood volume will increase 40 to 50% during pregnancy to support her growing baby. As blood volume increases, blood vessels expand as well. This growth can occur in the nasal passages, leading to snoring.
- Weight gain occurs rapidly during pregnancy. Extra growth of tissue in the neck and throat can constrict airway passages, causing breathing or snoring problems at night. Women with a body mass index of 30 or higher are more likely to develop sleep apnea.
- Unpreventable physiological changes occur during pregnancy to accommodate a growing baby. A pregnant woman’s abdomen and uterus grow rapidly, and this can press on the diaphragm, causing discomfort during day-to-day breathing.
- Some women develop gestational diabetes or insufficient insulin production during pregnancy. When this occurs, glucose cannot exit the blood, leading to hyperglycemia. Women with gestational diabetes are at risk of experiencing sleep apnea.
- Cold symptoms and allergies can exacerbate snoring issues. Pregnant women should relieve any nasal congestion as soon as possible. Those who experience severe congestion should consult their doctor before taking any medication.
Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy
Pregnant women should ask their partners to note if they observe any signs of sleep apnea. Typically sleep apnea will manifest as increasingly heavy snoring, followed by a short gasp or snort. This is when airflow stops, often for 10 seconds or more. This can be dangerous during pregnancy. Any cutoff in oxygen supply can be debilitating.
One study conducted at the University of Michigan showed that pregnant women with sleep apnea were more likely to require a Caesarean section and have a higher risk of poor delivery outcomes. Those who snored before and during pregnancy were more likely to give birth to a baby below the 10th percentile for weight and twice as likely to require a Caesarean section.
Chronic snoring can also lead to preeclampsia or high blood pressure during pregnancy. Blood pressure exceeding 140/90 mmHg on two separate occasions may indicate preeclampsia. Uncontrolled preeclampsia can lead to poor fetal growth, insufficient amniotic fluid, and placental abruption.
Since sleep apnea can reduce the quality of sleep, pregnant women experiencing the condition can feel poorly rested and worn out during the day. This can affect the quality of life during pregnancy, as prolonged sleep deprivation can affect the mood and cognitive function.
Treating Snoring During Pregnancy
Pregnant women who have gained more weight than expected can minimize their sleep discomfort by eating healthily and exercising according to their doctor’s recommendations. Other simple remedies for snoring include:
- Sleep on the left side to promote blood flow to the uterus, kidneys, and fetus.
- Avoid sleeping on the back.
- Breathe through the nose during the day as conditioning for nighttime breathing.
- Use a pregnancy pillow to support the back and limbs.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and sleeping pills (all of which should be avoided during pregnancy anyway).
- A humidifier, nasal saline spray, mouth guard, or snoring strips—all of these can help expand the nasal passages.
- Unwind with a soothing bedtime routine—warm bath, chamomile tea, or meditation.
For severe, persistent sleep apnea, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine may help. A CPAP machine consists of a mask and small pump to provide gentle air flow, helping the airways open continuously. Most individuals experience immediate relief with a CPAP machine, which can be used safely during pregnancy.
Pregnant women should ensure they receive quality, uninterrupted sleep. Those experiencing prolonged discomfort should consult a doctor as soon as possible.