By Candace McGregor, M.D.
Many women who are reading about what to expect in their pregnancy ask me about sleeping positions. They often say something like “I’ve always been a tummy sleeper, now what do I do?” or “I keep waking up on my back, am I hurting my baby”. Well, let’s look at what we know about the various sleeping positions. First, the tummy sleeper. Early in pregnancy, most women can continue to sleep on their tummies for awhile. However, as the baby grows and belly expands, this becomes less and less comfortable. Most people will find that they have to find a different sleeping position by the early to middle part of the second trimester. I recommend using lots of pillows and trying lots of different positions to help get as many of those precious hours of sleep as possible. Your body needs it!
Second, back sleeping. Again, this sleeping position is probably fine during the first trimester, but we would prefer if women in the second and third trimesters would spend most of their sleep time in alternative positions. Back sleeping has been found in a research study to be associated with a very slight increase in the risk of stillbirth (the baby passes away while still inside the mother). However, pregnant women should be reassured by the fact that our bodies have a natural defense mechanism against this. Our bodies become aware of the circulation changes that occur after prolonged time flat on our backs and wake us up. So, if you wake up on your back, don’t worry, just move to a different position. And, if you really, really need to lay on your back to find any sleep at all, then use a small pillow underneath one hip to just slightly tilt your pelvis either to the left or to the right instead of being flat. This strategy should help prevent those circulation changes.
Finally, side sleeping. Side sleeping is universally considered the best position for sleeping in pregnancy. Although there is a slight improvement in circulation when pregnant women sleep on their left side compared to the right side, this shouldn’t necessarily stop people from trying to sleep on their right side as well. I haven’t met a single pregnant woman who can sleep in the same position all night every night. Our muscles and joints just get too uncomfortable for that. So, I recommend alternating throughout the night sleeping on your right and left sides. This seems to be the most realistic and most beneficial to mom and baby.
This article is not intended to provide specific medical advice and is not to be used or relied on for diagnostic or treatment purposes. Rather, this article is provided as an information resource only to help you better understand your health. It does not create any patient-physician relationship. You are urged to consult with a qualified physician for specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment and for answers to your personal medical questions.