Propping Up New Mothers Improves Sleep Apnea

Elevating the upper bodies of women who recently gave birth may help improve their respiratory safety.

Elevating the upper bodies of women who recently gave birth may help improve their respiratory safety.

Pregnant women may have an increased chance of experiencing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), but a change in elevation could help new mothers reduce apnea symptoms while still allowing them to sleep soundly, according to new research published in Chest.

Researchers explained women see more upper airway resistance while pregnant, which can lead to apnea symptoms such as snoring, sleepiness, headaches, and dry throat.

The study authors used a polysomnogram to detect OSA among women who had given birth in the past 48 hours. Upper airway cross-sectional areas (CSA) were measured with an acoustic pharyngometry while the women were sitting, non-elevated, and propped up at 45 degrees.

The study discovered 20% of the 55 women had moderate-to-severe OSA, and half of them saw decreased apnea-hypopnea index scores when arranging themselves in an elevated position. Compared with the non-elevated position, those in a sitting position also saw increased inspiratory upper airway CSA while awake.

In addition, the researchers determined the women’s sleep time and structure were not negatively affected by the new sleeping position.

“Women who sleep with their upper bodies propped up 45 degrees in the days following childbirth can significantly reduce their risk of postpartum airway obstruction, a meaningful symptom of OSA early after delivery,” said study author Matthias Eikermann, clinical director in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a press release.