Women are at a high risk for sleep apnea during pregnancy. Weight gain and hormonal changes can lead to sleep apnea, which in turn can contribute to many related risks that put the health of the mother and child in danger.

But what we didn’t know is how long the impact of sleep apnea could affect children. Now a new long-term study gives us that answer: at least nine years!

Assessing a Wide Range of Impacts

In this study, researchers looked at 209 children born to mothers who had sleep apnea during pregnancy. They followed these children from 2002 to 2012, and compared them against the average of over 626,000 children. The points of comparison included:

  • Hospital visits
  • Childhood death
  • Reading scores on standardized tests
  • Math scores on standardized tests

Both standardized tests were taken in the third year of school, about age nine.

They found that when mothers had sleep apnea, their children were more likely than average to make hospital visits through age six. Reading scores were also impacted by sleep apnea.

The finding that researchers are confident of is the hospital visit correlation. One said that the

“study shows without a doubt that maternal sleep apnea during pregnancy is associated with poorer childhood health.”

The finding about reading levels was more of a surprise–and less certain. Although it’s certainly the more striking finding in the study, researchers cautioned that further study was needed to confirm it.

And this is a good time to note that the study was only presented at a conference, the annual Australasian Sleep Association conference in Auckland, New Zealand. It hasn’t undergone rigorous peer review, and with further analysis the results may not prove to be significant, although a local family threw their story out in support of the findings.

Better Screening Needed

Whether or not the impact on reading ability proves to be a legitimate impact, one thing we know is that we need better screening procedures for pregnant women. Few pregnant women are told about the risk of sleep apnea during pregnancy. And even fewer are actually screened for the condition, even though they often complain to their doctor about sleep problems, including snoring.

If we want to make sure women have the best chance of having a healthy pregnancy and giving their child the best odds of a happy, successful life, we need to make sure women know about sleep apnea and that they are screened for the condition.

And if women are diagnosed with sleep apnea, they need to have access to the best sleep apnea treatment options. Surgery is obviously not a good option, and CPAP can take months to adjust to properly, which limits its effectiveness for pregnant women.

When appropriate, oral appliances should be recommended for pregnant women with sleep apnea. Because they are comfortable, convenient, and can work immediately, they may be a better option.

If you are looking for more information about sleep apnea diagnosis, risks, or treatment in the Detroit area, please call (248) 480-0085 today for an appointment with sleep dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness.