Sleep positions during pregnancy

Pregnancy is an exciting time as you watch your belly grow, witness the amazing things your body is capable of, and imagine the joy you will feel once Baby is born. 

But pregnancy can also come with anxiety about countless issues. Finding advice while pregnant can feel overwhelming, especially in a world where so many conflicting opinions exist for moms-to-be. 

It is challenging to sift through this information and find reliable, evidence-based recommendations for simple questions like, What is the best sleep position I can rest in?” 

 

Let’s review what’s behind some confusing advice behind sleep position during pregnancy.

Pregnancy research studies looking at maternal sleep position are retrospective, meaning that we only rely on a mother’s memory about how they slept while pregnant rather than use objective data. Unfortunately, this type of recall bias makes interpreting studies about sleep position more difficult, and subsequently makes it harder to give evidence-based recommendations. Studies trying to answer the question of ideal sleep position have provided conflicting evidence. While some found an association with stillbirth and lying flat, others found no evidence at all. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently addressed the question in January 2021, writing, “sleeping on your side during your second and third trimesters may be best.” For now, that is the best information available to help women who may be anxious about how they sleep at night. 

If you find yourself waking up on your back, don’t panic. Tune in to your baby’s movements and do a kick count if you’re still anxious and call your doctor if you are concerned about your baby’s well-being. 

We do understand that later in pregnancy, there is a theoretical risk that lying flat on your back may compress maternal blood vessels responsible for taking blood to the uterus and baby. Once your pregnancy has progressed to the 2nd trimester, the uterus has increased significantly in size. Lying on your back will cause it to rest on a blood vessel called the vena cava. The vena cava is the vessel through which all the blood returns from your lower body. If it is obstructed, blood has a harder time getting back to your heart, which means it can’t circulate as quickly, causing you to feel numbness, tingling, and lightheadedness. This also impairs blood flow to your developing baby.

This increase in pressure also causes backaches, may cause difficulty breathing, and can place pressure on the digestive system, which can slow transit and cause constipation. The pressure can also be enough to cause hemorrhoids. 

Try using a body pillow tucked behind your back to help prevent rolling during the night and sleeping with a pillow between your knees to help support your hips. The best sleep position during pregnancy is sleep on side, or “SOS”. Even better is to sleep on your left side. Sleeping on your left side will increase the amount of blood and nutrients that reach the placenta and your baby.

Find more recommendations on sleeping positions here.

TIPS:

  • Keep your legs and knees bent, and put a pillow between your legs. Try placing a pillow under your abdomen as well.
  • If you are experiencing heartburn during the night, you may want to try propping up your upper body with pillows.
  • In late pregnancy, you may experience shortness of breath. Try lying on your side or propped up with pillows.

If you are used to sleeping on your back or stomach, this may be quite the change, but give it a try! Keep in mind that you may not stay in one position all night, and rotating positions is fine.

 

Types of pillows:

Wedge

Wedge pillows are wedge-shaped cushions that reduce back strain by sliding under your belly to support your growing bump while you’re sleeping on your side.

C-shaped

A C-shaped pillow that supports and aligns your hips, back, neck and belly. Depending on the direction you place the C-shape in, the entire length of your back or torso can be cushioned and the pillow can be tucked between your knees, too.

U-shaped

The U-shape of this pillow provides bumper cushioning on either side of you. Just rest your head at the bottom of the U-shape and no matter which side you’re sleeping on you’ll have a pillow to squeeze (no more having to bring the pillow with you when you flip sides).

Side-sleeper

It has two puffy, wedge cushions tethered together by a band of stretchy, jersey fabric. One cushion supports your belly while the other supports your back, preventing you from rolling onto your stomach or back in the middle of the night.

Contoured

Similar to the U, but with curves on the long “arms” to give extra support to your lower back and belly.

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