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Sleeping On Back During Pregnancy: Is It Safe And How Long Can You Sleep?

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Sleeping on the back during pregnancy may not worsen your pregnancy outcomes. However, if you are used to or like sleeping in this position, also known as the supine position, you should exercise caution.

Read this MomJunction post to learn how safe it is to sleep on your back while pregnant and tips for sleeping safely.

Is It Safe To Sleep On Your Back When Pregnant?

If you are used to sleeping on your back, it is usually fine to continue sleeping in the position during the first trimester. However, as the  pregnancy progresses and the uterus becomes heavier, it may not be comfortable anymore (1).

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 (1) (2).
  • The pressure created on the major blood vessels may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, back pain, digestion problems, difficulty in breathing, hemorrhoids, and low blood pressure (1).
  • 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 (3).

Does Sleeping On Your Back Increase The Risk Of Stillbirth?

Several studies have found that sleeping on the back in the third trimester was associated with an increased risk of stillbirth (4).

A study by researchers in New Zealand has also hypothesized that a supine sleeping position was associated with increased late stillbirth risk (5). However, these studies were not randomized and included a small sample population. Therefore, they cannot be taken as direct evidence. There may also be other factors that could cause the risk of stillbirth or other pregnancy complications.

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 (6).

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 (4).

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 (7).

How To Sleep Comfortably During Pregnancy?

Here are a few tips to get a comfortable and better sleep when pregnant (8).

  • Drink more water (or fluids) during the day, and less before sleep time to avoid frequent urination.
  • Relaxation techniques such as yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation could relieve your stress and mitigate any seep disturbances.
  • 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.

Practice sleeping on your side and eventually, you might find it comfortable as the pregnancy develops. What’s important is your comfort while sleeping. Therefore, try moving to the sides in between instead of sleeping in the same position throughout the night.

References:

1. The Best Position for Sleep During Pregnancy; National Sleep Foundation; Sleep.org
2. Jane Warland; Back to basics: avoiding the supine position in pregnancy; The Journal of Physiology (2017).
3. 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).
4. 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).
5. 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).
6. Should pregnant women avoid sleeping on their backs; The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
7. Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy; University of Rochester Medical Center
8. Sleeping During Pregnancy; Brenner Children’s – Wake Forest Baptist Health

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