More than a third of pregnant women snore, even if they didn't before pregnancy. While snoring may seem like a minor annoyance, the noisy nighttime condition may raise your risk for complications, including slowed fetal growth. In a recent Swedish study, pregnant snorers were more than twice as likely as non-snorers to develop hypertension or preeclampsia, and their babies had lower birth weights and poorer Apgar scores.
Snorers may be prone to these complications because during sleep, their upper airways relax and partially close, preventing them from inhaling enough oxygen and exhaling enough carbon dioxide, says Natalie Edwards, PhD, a researcher in the department of medicine at the University of Sydney in Australia. The excess carbon dioxide in their system triggers blood vessels to constrict, raising blood pressure and reducing blood flow, including to the placenta.
Unfortunately, the hormonal changes, weight gain, and fluid retention (which can swell the upper airways) that come with pregnancy put moms-to-be at higher risk for both snoring and sleep apnea, a related and more serious condition in which a person momentarily stops breathing up to 800 times nightly.
Aside from a complaining spouse, the major clue that you snore or suffer from sleep apnea is daytime sleepiness, says Edwards. Both conditions can repeatedly stir you from deep sleep, leaving you exhausted. Of course this fatigue can be tough to distinguish from the usual fatigue of pregnancy, but if you nod off within minutes of lying down, regardless of the time of day, it could be a red flag.
A nondrug treatment for sleep apnea and snoring, called continuous positive airway pressure, can help to lower risks for snoring pregnant women with hypertension or preeclampsia, up to 90 percent of whom snore, says Edwards. During sleep, the snorer wears a nose mask attached to a machine, which blows a constant flow of filtered air through the nose and throat, keeping the upper airways from narrowing or collapsing, says Edwards.
Don't bother with over-the-counter nose strips such as Breathe Rite. They aren't effective for pregnancy-related snoring. The remedy only works when snoring is caused by a blocked nose, such as from nasal congestion, says Edwards.