The exact prevalence of sleep disorder breathing, specifically obstructive sleep apnea, in women is not exactly known. However, at least in one survey it was noted in about 20% of women hospitalized in their second or third trimester for a non-pulmonary condition. CPAP, which is the standard of therapy for obstructive sleep apnea may not be the best option during pregnancy. After 20 weeks of gestation women are asked not to lay on their backs for fear that the enlarging uterus and fetus will push on the large blood vessels of the abdomen and obstruct blood flow.
Women at this stage are usually asked to lie slightly on their side. CPAP is generally not required. After delivery, the presence of sleep apnea may persist for 3 months until the effect of pregnancy hormones subsides. In the postpartum period many women return to sleeping on their backs allowing the symptoms of sleep apnea to be felt. As we have discussed in the past, some of the effects of sleep apnea including abnormal heart beat, stroke, and heart attack can occur. Fortunately, the fix in this case may be easy. Sleeping in a more elevated position seems to relieve the sleep apnea in the majority of cases, and a recent study suggests that women in the three months following delivery consider sleeping at an elevation of 45 degrees. You may have some trouble getting used to this, but it is a much easier fix then CPAP. Good luck Mom!