- Snoring is not uncommon during pregnancy, and becomes more likely with each trimester.
- Common causes of snoring during pregnancy include weight gain, hormone changes, and increased blood flow.
- Manage mild snoring by sleeping on your side and elevating your upper body.
- If snoring becomes severe, consult with a healthcare provider for evaluation and guidance on maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Pregnancy comes with many changes in the body, from indigestion and heartburn to fatigue and trouble sleeping. For some people, pregnancy also comes with the onset of persistent snoring. About 14% to 53% of pregnant people snore, which becomes more frequent as pregnancy progresses.
We answer common questions about snoring during pregnancy, including what causes snoring and when to be concerned, and provide tips for managing snoring during pregnancy.
What Causes Snoring in Pregnancy?
Hormones as well as physical changes in the body can make it more likely for a person to snore during pregnancy. Factors that increase the chances of snoring during pregnancy—particularly in the third trimester—include weight gain, hormone changes, and changes in blood flow.
Snoring results from structures in the mouth and throat relaxing during sleep. As these structures relax, they may partially block airflow and limit space in the throat needed to breathe. This can lead to tissues in the throat vibrating when the sleeper inhales, which creates the characteristic sound of snoring.
People who are carrying extra weight are generally more likely to snore, as excess tissue around the throat can compress the airway. Weight gain during pregnancy can also contribute to snoring by causing swelling in the airway, which also leaves a smaller space in the throat for air to pass through and increases the risk of tissues fluttering or collapsing during sleep.
Hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, have wide-reaching effects during pregnancy. Hormonal changes contribute to a buildup of fluids in the nasal passages that reduce the space needed to breathe. These changes also increase the risk of nasal congestion, which can further restrict breathing. Together, these effects can lead to snoring, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.
After a person becomes pregnant, the amount of blood in the body increases by up to 45% to support the developing fetus. This increase in blood flow can lead to reduced nasal passage space, increasing congestion and making it harder to breathe through the nose. These breathing difficulties may be further exacerbated when pregnant people lay down.
Other Risk Factors for Snoring During Pregnancy
There are several other risk factors that can raise the chances of snoring during pregnancy.
- Physiological characteristics: Some pregnant people have a higher probability of snoring due to the natural shape and size of their tongue, jaw, or tonsils.
- Demographics: The likelihood of snoring during pregnancy is higher for African American people and for older adults.
- Sleep loss: Sleep deprivation can cause excessive relaxation of the muscles in the throat during sleep, which can narrow the airway and increase the chances of snoring.
When Does Snoring in Pregnancy Typically Start?
Although pregnancy-related snoring can happen at any time, it tends to develop near the end of the second trimester and continues to increase during the third trimester. Many of the physiological changes believed to contribute to snoring while pregnant, such as narrowing of the nasal passages and upper airway, a stuffy nose, and tissue swelling, are more pronounced in later pregnancy.
Will Snoring Continue Postpartum?
For some, snoring may continue during the postpartum period after they give birth. Emerging research shows that approximately half of people who give birth stop snoring postpartum. Those who continue to snore often see an improvement in their symptoms over time.
Should You Be Concerned About Snoring While Pregnant?
It is sometimes difficult for researchers to determine the risks of snoring on fetal health because many studies on the effects of snoring during pregnancy do not differentiate between those who snore and those with more severe nighttime breathing issues.
Snoring has been linked with several conditions that can affect maternal health during pregnancy.
Snoring during pregnancy is sometimes a sign of sleep apnea, a condition in which a sleeper’s breathing is reduced or stops momentarily multiple times during the night. Bed partners may notice that a person with sleep apnea visibly stops breathing for up to a minute at a time, and then gasps or chokes as breathing starts again.
Pregnancy increases the risk of the most common type of sleep apnea, called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Although more research is needed, studies indicate between 3% and 27% of pregnant people develop OSA, compared to only 0.7% to 6.5% of non-pregnant females. The risk of developing OSA is higher in the later stages of pregnancy and for those who are overweight or obese. Pregnant women who snore more than 3 days a week, and who snore loudly should be screened for OSA.
High Blood Pressure and Preeclampsia
Frequent snoring is linked to both an increase in blood pressure during pregnancy and preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition in which high blood pressure begins during pregnancy and leads to health complications. Snoring may also contribute to spikes in blood pressure at night for people with preeclampsia.
Snoring appears to be linked with a higher risk of gestational diabetes, a condition involving high blood sugar that begins during pregnancy. Additionally, people who have obstructive sleep apnea during pregnancy are nearly twice as likely to develop gestational diabetes when compared to pregnant people who experience no sleep problems.
Nighttime breathing issues like snoring and OSA interfere with airflow and disrupt sleep, both of which are thought to cause stress to the body and impact blood sugar levels . They can also lead to weight gain which is an independent risk factor for gestational diabetes.
Developing research suggests people who develop persistent snoring during pregnancy may face an increased risk of prenatal depression. Prenatal depression describes symptoms of depression that begin during pregnancy, including persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or hopelessness.
“I always tell my patients to sleep on the left side to improve blood perfusion to the baby, but sleeping this way can also improve the quality of your sleep by reducing snoring.”
Dr. Maya Nambisan, OBGYN
Ways to Manage Snoring During Pregnancy
If pregnancy-related snoring is affecting you or a bed partner, there are several strategies to reduce snoring while pregnant.
- Sleep on your side: Snoring is often worse when a person lies on their back to sleep, particularly in later stages of pregnancy. Experts usually recommend sleeping on the left side during pregnancy to improve blood flow and reduce pressure on organs.
- Elevate your upper body: While it is best to avoid raising just your head, elevating the top of your bed by a few inches or propping your torso up on an elevated pillow can help keep your airway open during sleep.
- Try nasal strips: Nasal strips, saline washes, and nasal dilators are designed to facilitate breathing through the nose and may help to reduce snoring.
- Keep a healthy weight: While weight gain is normal during pregnancy, keeping within the range recommended by your healthcare provider can reduce your risk of breathing problems during sleep.
- Follow sleep hygiene recommendations: Getting adequate sleep can prevent overtiredness, which is a risk factor for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Try various sleep hygiene strategies such as napping earlier in the day, limiting naps to a maximum of 30 minutes, and avoiding caffeine and rich meals before bedtime.
For people who experience loud, habitual snoring or other symptoms of sleep apnea during pregnancy, talking to a doctor or sleep specialist is an important step in protecting the wellbeing of both parent and baby.