TUESDAY, Sept. 25, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- The newborns of obese pregnant women with obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that causes disrupted sleep and pauses in breathing during the night, are more likely to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit, according to new research.
The study, published online in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, also found that sleep apnea was linked to higher rates of preeclampsia among very overweight women.
"Our findings show that obstructive sleep apnea can contribute to poor outcomes for both obese mothers and their babies," study lead author Dr. Judette Louis, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of South Florida, said in a school news release.
"Its role as a risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes independent of obesity should be examined more closely," added Louis, who conducted the study while a faculty member at Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine.
The researchers examined 175 obese pregnant women enrolled in a study that had screened them for sleep-related breathing disorders. The women were provided with a portable device to use at home to test for obstructive sleep apnea.
The study also analyzed more than 150 live births to track admissions to neonatal intensive care units, prematurity, congenital defects and respiratory problems among the newborns.
Roughly 15 percent of the women had sleep apnea. These women were more overweight and had more chronic high blood pressure than the women without the sleep disorder. Pregnant women with sleep apnea were more likely to have a Cesarean delivery and develop preeclampsia, a serious condition that results in high blood pressure and protein in the urine.
Although there was no difference among rates of preterm births among the women, the newborns of women with sleep apnea were more likely to be sent to the neonatal intensive care unit. Most often, these babies were admitted due to respiratory distress. The researchers pointed out that the greater number of C-section deliveries could also play a role in the higher neonatal intensive care unit admission rates.
Screening for sleep-disordered breathing among pregnant women should be improved, the researchers concluded.
Although the study found an association between obesity, sleep apnea and pregnancy complications, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The National Sleep Foundation has more about pregnancy and sleep disorders.