Is It Safe To Sleep On Your Back When Pregnant?

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Finding the right position to sleep comfortably during pregnancy is a struggle for most pregnant women. Sleeping on the back during pregnancy is something you may be tempted to do but is usually not recommended. As relaxing and comfortable it may be, this position is typically safe only during the first trimester. Towards the later trimesters, it may cause complications for the baby and yourself (1) (2).

Read to know more about sleeping on the back while pregnant, including its side effects and tips to sleep comfortably.

Why Is Sleeping On The Back Not Recommended During Pregnancy?

Sleeping on your back, especially in later stages, is not recommended during pregnancy for the following reasons:

  • The weight of the growing uterus and fetus presses on the inferior vena cava (the large vein that carries deoxygenated blood from the lower body to the heart). It may, therefore, slow down the return of blood to the heart and limit blood flow to the fetus (2) (3).
  • The pressure created on the major blood vessels may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, back pain, digestion problems, difficulty in breathing, hemorrhoids, and low blood pressure (2).
  • According to a study published in JAMA Network Open, a supine sleep position in late pregnancy (third trimester) could lead to low birth weight of the infant. In an analysis of 1,760 pregnant women, 57 women who slept on their backs had babies with reduced birth weight (4).

Does Sleeping On Your Back Increase The Risk Of Stillbirth?

The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports that there is no risk of still birth (1).

Several older studies have found that sleeping on the back in the third trimester was associated with an increased risk of stillbirth (5). In fact, a study by researchers in New Zealand has also hypothesized that a supine sleeping position was associated with increased late stillbirth risk (6).

However, these studies were not randomized and included a small sample population. Therefore, they cannot be taken as direct evidence.

What Happens If You Wake Up On Your Back?

You need not worry much about waking up on the back since it could happen unknowingly during sleep. In some cases, your body might help you know, as you would start feeling breathless or nauseated even before your baby is affected. It is not likely to cause harm to your baby (7).

How Long Can You Sleep On Your Back While Pregnant?

You may sleep on your back as long as you feel comfortable. As your uterus expands, sleeping on the back may become uncomfortable, and you may naturally shift to a more comfortable sleeping position (5).

What Is The Correct Maternal Sleeping Position?

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Sleeping on your left side is considered a good position as it enhances the blood flow to the baby, your uterus, and the kidneys. Using pillows, one between your knees and the other beneath the abdomen, could make you sleep comfortably. It could create a tilt while sleeping on the side and provide the needed support
(8).

How To Sleep Comfortably During Pregnancy?

Here are a few tips to get a comfortable and better sleep when pregnant (9).

  • Drink more water (or fluids) during the day, and less before sleep time to avoid frequent urination.
  • Use full-body pregnancy pillows and supportive cushions for extra support. They could make you feel comfortable and improve sleep.
  • Do not eat spicy or fried foods as it could lead to heartburn and disrupt your good night’s sleep.
  • To prevent nausea, you may have some snacks such as crackers or pretzels. This could also curb your midnight hunger.
  • Listen to some relaxing and soothing music before bedtime. It could de-stress you and help sleep better.
  • Take a warm shower a few minutes before bedtime. It calms the tensed nerves and improves sleep.
  • Ask your partner to give you a massage.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How to avoid sleeping on my back during pregnancy?

You may place pillows behind your back to stop you from sleeping on your back. Although they may not completely prevent you from sleeping on your back, they make you feel comfortable (10).

2. Can sleeping on my back during pregnancy cause brain damage in the baby?

Sleeping on your back has not been found responsible for any brain damage, developmental disorders, or other conditions such as autism in your baby (11).

Sleeping on the back during pregnancy is safe in the first trimester. However, as your pregnancy progresses, sleeping on your back is not advisable since it can reduce the oxygenated blood supply to the fetus. It can also cause many issues for the mother, such as back pain, lightheadedness, dizziness, and low blood pressure. Thus, mothers are advised to sleep on their left side since it enhances the blood supply to the uterus and the baby. Hence, practice sleeping on your side from the start of the pregnancy to get used to this sleeping position.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. The advice we give to pregnant women; The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (2019)
2. The Best Position for Sleep During Pregnancy; National Sleep Foundation; Sleep.org
3. Jane Warland; Back to basics: avoiding the supine position in pregnancy; The Journal of Physiology (2017).
4. Ngaire H. Anderson, et al.; Association of Supine Going-to-Sleep Position in Late Pregnancy With Reduced Birth Weight A Secondary Analysis of an Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis; JAMA Network Open (2019).
5. Peter R. Stone, et al.; Effect of maternal position on fetal behavioural state and heart rate variability in healthy late gestation pregnancy; The Journal of Physiology (2017).
6. Tomasina Stacey, Ed A Mitchell, and Jane M Zuccollo; Association between maternal sleep practices and risk of late stillbirth: a case-control study; The BMJ (2011).
7. Should pregnant women avoid sleeping on their backs; The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
8. Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy; University of Rochester Medical Center
9. Sleeping During Pregnancy; Brenner Children’s – Wake Forest Baptist Health
10. Sleep position in pregnancy Q&A; Tommy’s
11. Exactly How Bad Is It to Sleep on Your Back When You’re Pregnant?; Cleveland Clinic
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Dr. Erica Montes

(MD)
Dr. Erica Montes is a Fellow of the American College of OB/GYN. She specializes in minimally invasive surgical procedures having done her training in the daVinci Robotic Surgical System. The Texas-based doctor has keen interest in high-risk obstetrics, gynecologic surgery, and abnormal uterine bleeding. She won the "Arizona Big Shot" award from the Arizona Partnership for Immunization in 2014, in... more

Rebecca Malachi

Rebecca is a pregnancy writer and editor with a passion for delivering research-based and engaging content in areas of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and post-pregnancy. She has been into health and wellness writing since 2010. She received her graduate degree in Biotechnology and Genetics from Loyola Academy, Osmania University and obtained a certification in ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pregnancy’ from Ludwig... more

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