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Mums good nights sleep vital for foetal development study

Margaret Jack  By Margaret Jack   |   Posted in Sleep Research   |   Thursday 17th January 2013

New research has found that there should be greater emphasis on the treatment of sleep disorders in pregnant women. This is because they could contribute to premature deliveries and low birth weight. The study at the University of Sydney found new information to suggest that the quality of sleep during pregnancy has a bigger impact on the foetus than previously thought.

The research team monitored the breathing of 40 pregnant women as they slept and looked at the movement of the foetuses. Half of the participants suffered from pre-eclampsia – a condition during pregnancy that is characterised by high blood pressure and high amounts of protein in the urine and can cause low birth weight and premature deliveries. It was found that the group with pre-eclampsia had abnormal breathing during sleep compared with the 20 women in a control group without the condition. The foetuses of the women with the condition were far less active overnight than those of women with normal pregnancies. The amount of kicks, movement and breathing efforts from the foetus is seen as an indication of its health.

The researchers monitored a further 10 women with pre-eclampsia over two nights. On the first night, the women slept naturally. On the second, they slept with the aid of the continuous positive airway pressure system – a breathing assistance device that is used worldwide to treat sleep apnea by conveying air at constant pressure to a mask. The foetal activity increased greatly with the use of the CPAP.

The research has found that intervening with the sleep disorder can increase the chance of maintaining pregnancy for longer which will improve the foetal wellbeing.


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