Many women find themselves wondering how best to sleep when pregnant. Sleep issues are common during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, when finding a comfortable sleeping position can be challenging. Some pregnant women may also worry that certain body positions might affect their health or that of the fetus.
A National Sleep Foundation survey found that 78% of women have more trouble sleeping when pregnant, with 15% experiencing restless leg syndrome during the third trimester.
Many women report fatigue during pregnancy, particularly in the first and third trimesters. Rising progesterone levels and the effort of carrying around extra weight can intensify this fatigue, which sleep deprivation can worsen.
Some strategies can help pregnant women get better sleep. These include:
Placing a pillow between the legs when sleeping may help with back pain.
During the first trimester, it is safe for a woman to sleep in whatever position she feels comfortable in, whether this is on her back, side, or stomach. Any combination of the above positions is also fine.
The uterus has not grown large enough to interfere with sleep. However, hormonal changes, nighttime hunger, nausea, and other pregnancy symptoms may make sleep more difficult.
As a woman reaches the second and third trimesters, it is ideal to sleep on the left side. Being in this position maximizes blood flow to the uterus without putting pressure on the liver. Women who experience hip or back pain during pregnancy may find that placing a pillow or two between the knees or bending the knees during sleep can help provide relief.
A woman who prefers to sleep on her right side can adopt this position instead. There is no research showing that this is dangerous.
Some other sleep positions that may help resolve common issues include:
Raising the upper body with a few pillows to reduce heartburn
Elevating the legs with pillows to help with swelling and leg pain
Using a body pillow or pregnancy pillow to cradle the body and provide additional back support
However, research considers some sleeping positions to be less advisable than sleeping on the side such as back sleeping not good.
In the third trimester from the 28th week of pregnancy onward sleeping on the back puts pressure on the main blood vessels that deliver blood to the uterus. This pressure may decrease the oxygen supply to the fetus. It can also increase unpleasant symptoms, such as dizziness and heartburn, in the woman.
A 2019 study links ongoing back sleeping during pregnancy to an increased risk of stillbirth. Other studies have arrived at similar conclusions.
However, this study looked at the position in which a woman fell asleep rather than the position she moved into during sleep. There is little evidence that accidentally rolling onto the back during pregnancy will cause lasting harm. As a result, not all experts agree with the advice to avoid sleeping on the back.
A woman who is concerned that she frequently awakens on her back can try using pillows to support her body and help her remain on her side.
Women who do not get quality sleep during pregnancy may experience physical and emotional fatigue. This fatigue can make it difficult to work, go to school, or accomplish daily tasks.
Some research suggests that a lack of sleep can also lead to mood disorders, such as depression, and potentially result in negative pregnancy outcomes, such as growth restriction of the fetus and preeclampsia. It can also cause secondary problems, such as fatigue-related accidents.
Sleep can prove challenging at every stage of pregnancy. While there are no perfect solutions, various strategies can help with pregnancy-related sleep difficulties. Women can also try a range of techniques to improve their sleep quality and help ensure that they are sleeping in a position that is safe for the developing baby’s health and their own.