Do All Pregnant Women Have Sleep Apnea?

We know that significant weight gain is a common aggravator of obstructive sleep apnea. If you already have narrowed jaws and gain some weight, then you'll move up the sleep-breathing continuum that I describe in my book, Sleep, Interrupted. But why is it that when women become pregnant, sleep apnea is the last thing that's considered whenever they develop depression, high blood pressure or extreme fatigue? 


Two recent published studies perpetuate this myth amongst doctors that sleep apnea can't happen in pregnant women. One study showed that about 2/3 of pregnant women responded to depression using acupuncture. Another study showed that antidepressant use during pregnancy led to small, but measurable developmental delays at 19 months. Depression (during pregnancy or post-partum) is a major problem with many women. But rather than saying that it's pregnancy-related depression, it should be looked at as a sleep-breathing problem, since one major reason for depession is lack of deep, quality sleep that's common with all pregnant women. Pharmaceutical companies promoting anti-depression medications to replace deficiencies in brain biochemistries doesn't help either.


One reason why not every woman that's pregnant goes into depression during or after pregnancy is due to the effects of progesterone, which has been called the "feel good" hormone. One of the interesting properties of progesterone is that it's an upper airway muscle stimulant. It increases tongue muscle tone and tension. During pregnancy, progesterone goes through the roof, since it's needed for maintaining the uterus and development of the baby. But if the weight gain is too much, or if your jaw is too narrow, then the effects of progesterone won't be as helpful. Once you deliver, progesterone drops, but you're still left with all that weight. This is one major revelation that I had when my wife experienced severe post-partum depression after the birth of our first son, Jonas.


We also know that many women who develop pre-eclampsia (dangerous high blood pressure) during pregnancy have various degrees of sleep-breathing problems, which can be treated effectively with standard sleep apnea treatment options.


For the women that's reading this blog, did you have any significant depression during or after pregnancy? How did you deal with it, and if your saw a doctor about it, what did they recommend? Please enter your answer in the comments section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Do All Pregnant Women Have Sleep Apnea?

  1.  I experience post-partum depression after my 4th child. I was first given antidepressants, but did not tolerate them. My main problem was insomnia which was carefully treated with a hypnotic. I also saw a psychologist for a few months. These last two treatments helped me through this period in my life.

  2. This is very interesting.  I had severe post-natal depression after my 1st child (made worse by the shock of her having a cleft lip).  With my 2nd child I also had post-natal depression, but not until around 6 weeks and thank goodness it didn't last as long.  I was given anti-depressants the 2nd time – Prozac made me 100 times worse, but I did get a different type of anti-depressant which helped.
    Years later I find out I have moderate-severe sleep apnoea, and can trace it back to well before my pregnancies.
    Very interesting article Dr Parks!