Pregnancy and Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Risk for Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes

“Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common sleep-related breathing disorder, is characterized by recurrent collapse or blockage of the pharynx during sleep that causes intermittent cessation of airflow and a hallmark snoring gasping pattern” (Chen et al., 2011, p. 136 e1).  This is important to recognize and treat in any person.  Focus should be on pregnant women as OSA can affect the pregnant woman’s health as well as the health of her newborn.

Fox News highlighted information from an article- Perinatal Outcomes Associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Obese Pregnant Women from Obstetrics & Gynecology.  Sleep apnea in pregnancy may harm mom and baby.  “Pregnancy complications linked to obesity; such as high blood pressure and gestational diabetes — are better understood than sleep apnea, which is an understudied and under-diagnosed condition in pregnant women” (Fox News, 2012). Obesity increases the risk for obstructive sleep apnea because the extra fat tissue can narrow the inside of the windpipe.  The researchers from Obstetrics & Gynecology analyzed information from obese pregnant women. About 15 percent of participants had obstructive sleep apnea. Those with sleep apnea were more likely to be obese, and have chronic high blood pressure compared with those without sleep apnea. Among the study participants with sleep apnea; about 65 percent required a C-section, compared to 33 percent of those without sleep apnea. 42 percent of those with sleep apnea had preeclampsia, compared with 17 percent of those without sleep apnea. The rate of premature births was similar between the women with and without OSA (Fox News, 2012).

According to an article from the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, “Pregnancy causes anatomic, physiologic, and endocrinologic changes, including narrowing of the upper respiratory tract, which may increase the risk for OSA or worsen preexisting sleep apneas” (Chen et al., 2011, p. 136 e1).  In a 2011 Taiwan study Chen et al found that women with OSA had higher prevalence of low birth weight infants, preterm births, small for gestation age infants, cesarean sections and gestational hypertension than women without OSA.

According the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approximately one in five women are obese when they become pregnant. Obese is a body mass index of 30 or greater. Newborns of obese pregnant women suffering from obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to be admitted to neonatal intensive care units than those born to obese mothers without the sleep apnea (Baier, 2012). Dr. Judette Louis, from the University of Florida and co-author of Perinatal Outcomes Associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Obese Pregnant Women from Obstetrics & Gynecology emphasizes that there is a need for better ways to screen and treat this common form of sleep-disordered breathing during pregnancy (Baier, 2012).

 If you are interested in more on the diagnosis and treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea:

Contact the Sleep Institute of New England at 603-347-8810 or check our website at for an appointment.



Baier, A. D. (2012). Sleep apnea in obese pregnant women linked to poor maternal and neonatal outcomes.
University of South Florida.
Chen, Y-H, Kang, J-H., Lin, C-C., Wang, I-T, Keller, J.J and Lin, H-C. (2011). Obstructive
      sleep apnea and the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. American Journal of Obstetrics &
      Gynecology, 206 (2), 136 e1- 136 e5.
Sleep apnea in pregnancy may harm mom and baby (2012). Retrieved from
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