Up to a quarter of pregnant women snore, compared with about 4 percent of women the same age who aren't pregnant. Because of increased swelling in the nasal passages and nasal congestion during pregnancy, your upper airway is narrower. Narrowing of the upper airway can lead to snoring.

Although snoring is often the subject of jokes, it can have some serious consequences. Snoring can be related to high blood pressure (hypertension), and women who snore during pregnancy are at higher risk of pregnancy-induced high blood pressure (preeclampsia) and of having an infant who is considered small for gestational age. In one study, pregnant women who habitually snored had double the risk for high blood pressure and nearly 3.5 times the risk of slowed fetal growth, compared with nonsnorers.

Snoring may also be a sign of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which you stop breathing for short periods during sleep. The lack of oxygen disrupts the mother's sleep and may stress the fetus.

Overweight women may be at particularly high risk of snoring-related problems. In one study involving 502 women who had just given birth, women who reported regular snoring during pregnancy were heavier before becoming pregnant and gained more weight during pregnancy.

■ Prevention and self-care for snoring

To minimize your chance of snoring, follow these tips:

• Sleep on your side rather than your back. Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue and soft palate to rest against the back of your throat and block your airway.

• Nasal strips may help increase the area of your nasal passages and airway.

• Keep your weight gain in check. Avoid gaining more than recommended based on your pre-pregnancy weight.

■ When to seek medical help for snoring

Contact your health care provider if you experience loud snoring, if your partner reports that it's very loud, if your snoring frequently wakes you up or if your partner thinks your snoring is interrupted by periods of stopped breathing. Most people with this problem are excessively sleepy during the day. These signs may indicate obstructive sleep apnea.

If you're diagnosed with sleep apnea, your health care provider may recommend treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This involves wearing a mask that's connected to a machine that gently blows air into your mouth and nose to keep your airway passages open. CPAP can improve sleep, prevent snoring and apnea, and may even improve your blood pressure.

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