We know that many women who don’t otherwise snore will snore during pregnancy. This snoring may be a sign that they are experiencing sleep apnea. Now a new study shows that these sleep breathing problems also affect the baby’s oxygen supply.

Pregnant woman sitting on the grass

The Effects of Oxygen Shortage on the Fetus

In this study, researchers looked at a total of 148 pregnant women who had sleep apnea (23 women), were habitual snorers (78 women), or who were healthy controls (47 women). Women with sleep apnea had been diagnosed before their pregnancy, but snorers were identified by answers to questions at the time their baby was born.

Data about the health of the fetus were obtained from the placental slides that had been preserved when babies were born. For some tests, sections of the placenta were rehydrated. This included all the women with sleep apnea, but only 27 snorers and 40 controls.

The data showed that women with any type of sleep disordered breathing had elevated risk for fetal normoblastemia. While only about 6% of healthy controls had evidence of normoblastemia, 35% of snorers and 57% of women with sleep apnea had evidence of this developmental condition.

Normoblastemia is a condition in which blood cells with nuclei are seen in circulation past the initial days of development. It occurs when the fetus experiences an oxygen shortage and releases immature blood cells into circulation. It is considered a sign of fetal distress, and may hint at bone marrow disease or brain development irregularities.

Researchers also identified the presence of carbonic anhydrase IX was found in the placentas of 82% of snorers, 92% of women with sleep apnea, compared with only 58% of controls.  Carbonic anhydrase IX is another marker of oxygen shortage.

Breathing for Two

Although snoring and sleep apnea are less common in women of childbearing age, when it occurs it can be serious. And since sleep disordered breathing can develop during pregnancy, it’s important for women to be aware that snoring isn’t just a benign side effect of maternal weight gain, it’s a sign that you might not be getting enough oxygen. And if you’re not getting enough, neither is your baby. Along with data about the risk of gestational diabetes and maternal hospitalization associated with sleep apnea, this is a call to do something about snoring and sleep apnea.

If you want to learn more about snoring and sleep apnea treatments appropriate during pregnancy, please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.