The Dangers of Low Oxygen During Pregnancy

The period of time between conception and birth holds tremendous power for the life-time health of the easily influenced growing human. During this 35-40 week pregnancy span an expectant mother must be in optimal health so that she can adequately supply her child with the nutrients needed for healthy development
03/22/2016 04:32pm ET | Updated March 23, 2017
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Pregnant woman asleep in bed

Health Complications of Sleep Apnea
Co-authored by Keelyn Ross

The period of time between conception and birth holds tremendous power for the life-time health of the easily influenced growing human. During this 35-40 week pregnancy span an expectant mother must be in optimal health so that she can adequately supply her child with the nutrients needed for healthy development. Sleep apnea is an epidemic and has become increasingly common among pregnant women. The disorder is often characterized by a small airway, flaccid soft-tissue of the throat or underdeveloped anatomy. Oxygen restriction places the intrauterine baby at risk for: growth restriction (IUGR), diabetes or a stillbirth. Sleep apnea and pregnancy share a few similar symptoms, blurring the line between healthy and unhealthy body changes. Identifying the difference between the two will empower the mother to read her own body with higher precision and, if needed, take action toward a cure. A sleep study will place her on the fast track to making this happen. Once the issues are determined, oxygen treatment solutions are available.

7 Warning Signs From The Body That It's Low On Oxygen
1. Fatigue
2. Snoring
3. Gasping while trying to sleep
4. Excessive daytime sleepiness
5. Irritability
6. Excessively dry mouth
7. Asthma

What do sleep apnea and pregnancy have in common?

One of the primary similarities between sleep apnea and pregnancy involves fatigue. Pregnancy requires certain physical changes that come with growing new life; often including shortness of breath, due to the baby pressing against the mother's diaphragm. The dividing line between both conditions determines how much oxygen the baby has access to and the level of restorative sleep the mother is able to achieve. Pregnancy without sleep apnea allows for adequate oxygen to get to the growing baby and provides an opportunity for the mother to benefit from deep sleep. Sleep apnea works against pregnancy in that it places a roadblock for oxygen or sleep to happen. This is because when the mother lies down to go to sleep, gravity paired with facial/airway obstruction make it impossible for her deeply inhale and exhale, the foundation of peaceful sleep. Her body instinctively keeps her awake or sends a clear alert signal such as snoring, indicating it is dangerously low on oxygen. A sleep study will be able to differentiate between the two.

What prevents people from getting treatment?

With the negative impact sleep apnea can have on an expecting mother and her intrauterine fetus (until 24 weeks), it would seem swift action toward cure would be second nature; unfortunately this is not the case. Many healthcare practitioners view snoring and fatigue as normal and therefore do not assist the mother-to-be toward gaining a sleep study. Instead, she is pointed toward the bedding section of a department store and/or given sleep aids. It is important to recognize that just because something is common does not make it acceptable. Another reason why sleep apnea is disregarded as a real threat is because it is difficult to detect without knowing what signs to look for. Snoring is an obvious red flag, but not always an accessible clue, especially if someone lives alone. Fatigue might be a sleep apnea sign, but it could also be the result of a difficult pregnancy.

What will a sleep study do?

A sleep study is a fast and effective way to expose sleep apnea. It is a pain-free test that can be taken at home or in a clinic. A mother that wants to have peace of mind, knowing her baby is oxygenated, will gain effective results by taking one right away. Due to the time sensitivity of getting the baby oxygen, it is crucial a mother align herself with sleep specialists who understand the urgency of her situation and guide her in a solution-oriented direction. One quick way to do this is to go to, where a list of accredited sleep labs can be found. Once a quantitative measurement is taken, it will be easier to know what steps need to be taken to get back on the path to wellness. Depending on the severity level of her sleep apnea, some effective, professionally assisted solutions range from continuous airway-pressure masks (C-PAP) to oral orthotic therapy.

Approximately 85% of Americans who have sleep apnea are undiagnosed; additional research is needed for among pregnant women. Sleep apnea exacerbates current conditions or creates a pathway for new ones making a sleep study that much more of a priority for an expectant mother and her intrauterine child. A sleep study is a fast way to measure the amount of oxygen a mother has access to and serves as a compass in knowing what intervention methods are needed. Sleep specialists understand the importance of her situation and will be able to assist with the process. Sleep apnea during pregnancy is something that can be treated and the harmful effects to the baby from lack of oxygen can most certainly be prevented. With what we are learning in the realm of sleep-disordered breathing, there is no reason for a mother or her baby to have insufficient access to oxygen. Instead of worrying if her baby is getting the nutrients needed for healthy development, an expectant mother can prepare for an exciting future.

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