You’re prepared for the morning sickness, weight gain and insomnia, but you may not have planned for one side effect of pregnancy— snoring.
Studies show that between 25 and 30 percent of women snore during pregnancy. In fact, a study in the journal SLEEP found that 35 percent of women reported snoring 3 to 4 times a week or every day. Plus, 26 percent of women only started to snore during their pregnancies.
What causes snoring?
Snoring happens when the upper airways relax and partially close which makes it more difficult to get enough air through the mouth and the nose.
There are several reasons why snoring is common during pregnancy.
For starters, as your uterus and baby grow and press on your diaphragm, it’s inevitable that it will be much harder to breathe, whether you’re sitting on the couch, working out or sleeping.
Higher levels of hormones, particularly estrogen, cause the mucus membranes and nasal passages to swell, too. Plus, your blood volume increases by 50 percent, which expands the blood vessels and also causes the nasal membranes to swell.
In the past 30 years however, snoring rates are higher than they’ve been. One of the reasons is that many women either start their pregnancies overweight or gain too much weight over the nine months. That extra tissue around the neck is what leads to snoring, said Dr. Kecia Gaither, a maternal fetal medicine specialist and director of perinatal outreach at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
In fact, more than 50 percent of pregnant women are overweight or obese, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Another often overlooked but serious factor is stress.
“Stress affects breathing and breathing affects snoring,” said Tess Graham, a breathing educator and physiotherapist in Australia and author of Relief from Snoring and Sleep Apnea.
Any type of stress on the body, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, or even “digestive” stress from eating a large meal, can elevate the breathing rate. That increase, combined with relaxed throat muscles when you sleep, can lead to snoring, Graham said.
Risks to mom and baby
Although you might shrug it off as temporary or even funny, snoring during pregnancy is no laughing matter.
Women who snore during pregnancy have an increased risk for high blood pressure, fatigue, preeclampsia, and having smaller babies.
Pregnant women with high blood pressure who also snore have an increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea, which affects up to one-third of women during the last months of pregnancy, a study in the journal BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology found.
Pregnant women who snore are also more likely to have a cesarean section and those who develop it pregnancy have an increased risk of having an emergency C-section, the same SLEEP study found.
Another concern is gestational diabetes, which, according to the CDC, affects up to 9.2 percent of women. That’s because when you’re not able to get enough oxygen, it alters your glucose metabolism, Gaither said.
Pregnancy snoring has also been linked to depression during pregnancy and postpartum depression.
There are several things you can do to prevent and stop snoring:
Know the signs.
It’s a good idea to ask your partner if you snore, stop breathing momentarily during the night or gasp for air. If you snore more than three nights a week and you also have high blood pressure, it’s likely that you also have obstructive sleep apnea, Graham said.
Although it’s common to feel tired during pregnancy, daytime sleepiness and extreme fatigue are strong indicators that you snore.
Change your breathing.
“Snoring is heavy, high volume breathing and it happens at night because women are breathing too heavily during the day,” Graham said. Plus, if you breathe through your mouth, your breathing will be heavier and you’ll take in more air much faster.
Since the same receptor in the brain drives breathing during the day and night, once you improve your breathing while you’re awake, it will carry over when you sleep. Try to breathe through your nose instead, but if it makes you feel breathless, breathe through your mouth but make sure it slow and gentle.
“That will immediately reduce the likelihood of snoring,” Graham said.
More than 30 percent of women who have a normal weight before becoming pregnant gain more than the recommended amount during pregnancy, according to the CDC’s Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System. Work with your physician or a nutritionist to make sure you’re eating the right amount for your pregnancy.
Change your position.
Experts recommend sleeping on your left side for optimal blood flow, but it can also help you breathe more gently too, Gaither said. You can also elevate your head with pillows or use a pregnancy wedge pillow.
Have a snack.
Since eating a large meal close to bedtime can affect your sleep, eat dinner several hours before. You can have a snack, but avoid sugar since it can increase the breathing rate when it’s metabolized and lead to snoring, Graham said.
Use a humidifier.
A cold mist humidifier while you sleep can help keep your nasal passages moist.
Try over-the-counter products.
Drug store nasal strips may help. They lift the tissues of the nose higher, which creates a larger nasal passage to allow more oxygen in.
Try to relax.
It’s normal to be worried or anxious during pregnancy, but finding time to exercise, meditate and have fun can help you de-stress and nix snoring.
See a specialist.
If you suspect you have obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep specialist can conduct a sleep study, which will determine the severity of your condition. Some physicians may offer an at-home sleep study so you’re more comfortable.
If you are diagnosed, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which opens up your airways, may be prescribed.
Although your doctor may deem the CPAP necessary, since you’re breathing against resistance, you’re actually taking in less air, Graham said. Plus, some people find the CPAP cumbersome so it can be hard to use it consistently. Talk with you doctor about a plan that works for you.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.