Studying sleep apnoea in obese pregnant women

Rebecca Reynolds, Fiona Denison, Emma Johns, Renata Riha

Obese pregnant women are more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea, where breathing pauses during sleep. Our scientists are investigating how common sleep apnoea is, and what effects it has on mother and baby. This could lead to new ways to prevent pregnancy complications linked to obesity.

Start: February 2018

End: February 2021

Why do we need this research?

Being obese increases the chances of complications during pregnancy. One medical condition linked to obesity is sleep apnoea, where a person stops breathing during sleep for short periods of time. These episodes can lead to a decrease in oxygen in the blood.

Scientists believe that sleep apnoea in obese pregnant women might contribute to pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, premature birth, and stillbirth. However, we don’t know enough about this to be certain. We also don’t know the extent of sleep apnoea in obese pregnant women. This is preventing us from helping these women to minimise risks during pregnancy.

What’s happening in this project?

Researchers funded by Tommy’s have set up the Sleep Easy Study to better understand the impact and extent of sleep apnoea during pregnancy. The team plan to recruit 80 pregnant women to the study, 40 who are obese and 40 who have a normal weight. The women are asked to wear equipment while they sleep which measures their breathing, heartbeat, and blood oxygen levels. This equipment can detect whether they are experiencing sleep apnoea or other sleep breathing disorders.

The women will also donate samples of their blood and their baby’s placenta and cord blood after birth. Our scientists plan to study the samples donated by the women, to understand what effect sleep apnoea has on mother and baby.

The team will also follow-up with the children when they are older, to investigate if their mother’s sleep apnoea causes any long-term effects for them.

What difference will this project make?

This project will help our scientists to better understand sleep apnoea during pregnancy, and what effect it has on mother and baby. Our researchers believe that sleep apnoea contributes towards pregnancy complications in obese women. If they find that this is indeed the case, then treating sleep apnoea could be a way to reduce the chances of problems during pregnancy for these women, and their children.  

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