Very commonly, our pregnant patients ask us about the best position for sleeping. The growing baby bump, the increasing heartburn, the back and pelvic discomfort and the constant need to run to the toilet can all stop pregnant women getting a good night’s sleep!
Pregnant women may also hear people say they shouldn’t sleep on their back. So what is the science behind this?
When a pregnant woman sleeps flat on her back, the pregnant abdomen presses down on the major blood vessels (aorta and vena cava) running along her body. In later pregnancy, as the baby and bump grow bigger, this compressive effect can reduce blood flow in the mother’s blood vessels, which can make her feel faint and short of breath.
Aside from the woman’s own comfort, a lot has been written in recent years about the link between sleeping position and pregnancy complications. Experts often point to a New Zealand study, published in 2011, which suggested that sleeping on the left side in late pregnancy was the safest sleeping position (www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d3403). The 2015 “Sydney Stillbirth Study” showed that women who slept flat on their backs in late pregnancy had higher rates of stillbirth than other sleeping positions (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25568999).
Our advice regarding sleeping while pregnant includes:
- Do your best to avoid sleeping flat on your back, as this may decrease placental blood flow and make you feel light-headed
- Sleeping on your side is preferable in pregnancy – but we do not yet have enough information to say whether the left side is better than the right-side
- We all move while we sleep; if you wake up flat on your back, don’t worry!
- Try popping a pillow behind your back or between your legs to help you get comfortable on your side
- If you find the heartburn or shortness of breath is affecting your sleep, put 1-2 pillows underneath your upper body. However, if you need to use more than 2 pillows, consult your obstetrician.
If you wish to make an appointment to see Dr. Colin Walsh to discuss these issues, please call us on 1300 460 111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org