Treating Sleep-Disordered Breathing In Pregnant Women Could Improve Fetal Health: Study

01/07/2013 08:23 am ET

Pregnant women who snore because of mild sleep-disordered breathing could do their unborn babies a favor by getting treated for their sleep condition, a small new study suggests.

The findings, published in the journal SLEEP, show that fetal movements are higher when a woman with preeclampsia and mild sleep-disordered breathing receives CPAP treatment for the sleep condition, compared with not receiving the treatment. Fetal movements are a positive sign of the fetus's well-being.

"What would otherwise have been considered clinically unimportant or minor 'snoring' likely has major effects on the blood supply to the fetus, and that fetus in turn protects itself by reducing movements," study researcher Colin Sullivan, Ph.D., of the University of Sydney, explained in a statement. "This can be treated with readily available positive airway pressure therapy and suggests that measurement of fetal activity during a mother's sleep may be an important and practical method of assessing fetal well-being."

The study was conducted in three parts. In the first part, researchers examined the fetal activity in 20 women who were in the third trimester of their pregnancies. In the second part, 20 pregnant women with preeclampsia (moderate to severe high blood pressure and urine protein during pregnancy) and 20 healthy pregnant women had their fetal movement monitored overnight. Researchers found in this second part that the healthy pregnant women had more fetal movements than the women with the preeclampsia -- 689 movements compared to 289.

The third part of the study included 10 women with moderate to severe preeclampsia, whose fetal movement was measured for two nights in a row. The first night, the women did not receive CPAP treatment; the second night, they did.

Researchers found that the women in the study who had mild sleep-disordered breathing and received the CPAP therapy had higher fetal movement than the women with the sleep condition who didn't receive the treatment.

The findings raise "the possibility that a simple, noninvasive therapy for SDB [sleep disordered breathing] may improve fetal well-being," commentary author Louise M. O'Brien, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, said in a statement.

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