Is it Safe to Sleep on Your Back During Pregnancy?

Is it Safe to Sleep on Your Back During Pregnancy?

From the very first moment you found out you were pregnant, you’ve done everything under the sun to give your baby the best possible chance at a healthy birth. You’ve stopped taking saunas, ditched the spray-on tan, and given up using harsh cleaning chemicals around the home.

And every single night, you do your best to give your body a well-earned break by indulging in a good night’s sleep.

But catching that much-needed shut-eye is easier said than done when you’re brewing a baby in the belly. Bodily transformations, hormonal imbalances, and enhanced feelings of anxiousness can wreak havoc on your ability to achieve a peaceful night’s rest. A 2016 study published in Science Direct found 76% of women report difficulty sleeping during pregnancy.

Toss and turn as you might, it’s much more challenging to find a comfortable position once you’ve got a sizable baby bump in the works. Comfort factor aside, a mom must consider what’s best for the baby too, which leaves many to wonder whether it’s safe to sleep on one’s back.

Today we’re going to discuss how you should sleep while pregnant, explaining the pitfalls of lying on your back and dishing out a few pro tips for getting comfy as you doze.

Should I Sleep on My Back During Pregnancy?

Experts recommend pregnant women don’t sleep on their back after the first trimester of pregnancy or after their pregnancy has started to show—whichever comes first.

Before then, there’s no medical disadvantage to sleeping on your back, so feel free to occasionally stretch out that way if you’re struggling to doze off. However, you’ll need to get out of the habit sooner or later, so it’s best to take a proactive approach.

Why Shouldn’t I Sleep on My Back While Pregnant?

As your uterus grows bigger throughout your pregnancy, it’ll eventually become so enlarged that its entire weight—including the baby inside—will rest squarely upon your intestines and your vena cava, the latter of which is the primary artery that pumps blood between your lower body and heart.

Such an immense amount of pressure will cause back pain, aggravate hemorrhoids, inhibit digestion, and provoke hypotension, leaving you feeling a little woozy. As the vena cava is the primary artery that pumps blood from the heart, the excess pressure could also reduce circulation. A lack of circulation will inhibit blood flow to the uterus and reduce the amount of nutrients and oxygen that arrive at the fetus.

Therefore, not only can sleeping on your back be detrimental to the health of the mother, it can also harm the unborn baby’s development as well.

What Should I Do If I Find Myself Sleeping on My Back?

Sleeping on your back can provoke a whole host of health complications in the mother and potentially affect the development of the child. So what should you do when you wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself in this position?

The most vital thing to do is to remain calm. Sleeping on your back for a short period is not an issue. At most, it will only cause minor complications to the mother and won’t affect the development of the child.

Although the position is far from ideal, it’s not a huge problem – especially if it’s only for a brief period.

And besides, sleeping on your back while pregnant is rather uncomfortable, so it’s almost impossible to do it long term. You’re pretty much guaranteed to wake up in the middle of the night feeling all stiff and sore, at which point you can just roll over into a better position. No harm done.

If you regularly catch yourself sleeping on your back, then slip a long and skinny pillow between you and the mattress. That way, you’ll naturally adjust to a useful 20 to 30-degree angle that will significantly reduce the pressure on your vena cava.

Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy

If we shouldn’t sleep on our backs, then we’ve only got two more options to choose from: the stomach or the sides.

So which is best for a pregnant lady in search of a safe and comfortable night’s sleep?

Sleeping on Your Stomach While Pregnant

Although there isn’t any medical reason you shouldn’t sleep on your stomach during pregnancy, the practicalities of doing so make the very proposition preposterous. Once the second trimester rolls around and you’ve developed a bit of a baby bump, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to balance on your stomach—let alone fall asleep on it.

Sleeping on Your Side While Pregnant

Sleeping on your side is easily the safest and most comfortable option during pregnancy, and it becomes practically essential during the second and third trimester.

The side position optimizes the flow of blood and nutrients into the placenta by reducing pressure on the vena cava. Side sleeping has also been found to enhance kidney function, which helps your body become more efficient at eliminating waste matter as well as reducing swelling in your hands, ankles, and feet.

Even during the first trimester, research has shown that sleeping on your side helps you breathe better and reduces the pressure on the uterus. So while it may be less important during the first trimester, doctors recommend you start forming the habit then anyway.

Which Side Should I Sleep on While Pregnant?

So what’s best then: left or right?

The American Pregnancy Association advises women to sleep on the left side during pregnancy because the inferior vena cava resides on the right. Therefore, if you slept on your right side, you could potentially compress the organ and restrict blood flow to the placenta. Another reason to sleep on the left side is that this position can prevent the uterus from putting weight on the liver, which also resides on the right.

However, studies have failed to show that sleeping on the right side restricts circulation in any way. The vast majority of modern Ob/Gyns recommend that women can sleep on either the left or the right as both provide comfort for the mother and safety for the baby-to-be.

So to sum up: sleep on whichever side feels most comfortable to you. And feel free to switch between the left and right at any point during the night.

How Can I Sleep Comfortably on My Side While Pregnant?

Getting a good night’s sleep while on your side won’t come naturally to every expecting mom. On the contrary, it commonly takes several weeks for a woman to get used to sleeping with her rapidly evolving body. Luckily, however, there is a multitude of strategies we can adopt to facilitate the process.

Start Sleeping on Your Side Ahead of Time

If you’ve spent your entire life sleeping on your tummy or back, suddenly switching to the side position will come as quite a shock. Most doctors recommend you gradually start sleeping on your side during the first trimester, long before the practice becomes essential.

Bend Your Knees

When sleeping on your side—whether it be the left or the right—it’s sensible to keep your knees bent at a right angle. That way, you allow blood to circulate more freely through your legs, which prevents your heart from taking on additional work.

Prop Your Leg up With a Pillow

Insert a thick and sturdy pillow under your top leg to hold it in place firmly. Keeping your top leg in this position allows you to properly align your body, thus diminishing the pressure on your lower back and bottom leg.

Prop Your Head and Back up With a Pillow

During the later stages, pregnancy can prompt the mother to deal with symptoms such as shortness of breath and heartburn. Using a standard pillow to prop up the neck and back will help to alleviate these symptoms, thus resulting in a better night’s sleep.

Put a Thin Pillow Under the Tummy

From around 20 weeks and beyond, it’s a good idea to slip a thin pillow under the tummy to help support the weight of your growing baby. It doesn’t need to be thick; a few inches will do.

Get a Special Pregnancy Pillow

If your run-of-the-mill head pillow doesn’t give you the support you crave, a pregnancy pillow could be just what the doctor ordered.

A plethora of specially designed pregnancy pillows are available to purchase online, from wedge-shaped pillows to full-bodied support pillows.

Use Multiple Pillows

Some women find the best way to get comfortable while pregnant is to employ a smorgasbord of different pillows to prop up various parts of the body. You could, for example, use a regular pillow to support your neck and a full-bodied back and belly pillow to hold you firmly in place. Try a few different combinations to find the setup that works best for you.

Change Positions at Will

While some experts say the left side is the preferred position for a pregnant woman to sleep in, in reality, the difference is negligible (if there’s any at all). So if you have a penchant for dozing off on your right side or just like to switch it up in the middle of the night, then the good news is you’re free to sleep on whichever side you please.

Doze off in the Recliner

If you’re struggling to get comfortable in bed, try dozing off on a recliner instead. Recliner chairs can sometimes offer the right amount of support and the perfect angle to help a pregnant woman catch that precious sleep.

Continually sleeping on your back while pregnant can cause a whole host of medical ailments to the mom-to-be and potentially hinder the development of the unborn child. Expecting mothers should always strive to sleep on their side, using a support pillow for added comfort if need be.