Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy
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Now you're pregnant, you might need to research more on diet and nutrition, change your exercise routine, get to grips with your antenatal care, make plans for the future and even change the position you sleep in!
Do I have to change the way I sleep?
This depends on your pre-pregnancy sleeping habits. If you have always been a tummy sleeper, then yes, you will have to start getting yourself used to sleeping in a new position. In the early stages of pregnancy you may find that sleeping on your front is uncomfortable if your breasts are tender. You won't develop a bump for some time, but towards the end of your first trimester you may find that you are conscious of your tummy if you lie on your front; some women report feeling worried that they are "squashing" their uterus. You won't do any harm to your baby by sleeping on your front during the early stages of pregnancy but you will probably be more comfortable in another position. As time goes on you need to learn to sleep on your side, so you might as well start practicing in advance.
If you prefer to sleep on your back then it is safe to do so during the first trimester. After this point, however, you should start training yourself to sleep on your side. When you lie on your back, the (ever increasing) weight of your uterus puts pressure on your aorta and vena cava (your major blood vessels) and can restrict the circulation of blood around your body. The pressure of your uterus can also cause backache and breathlessness, and in the long run will make you uncomfortable and less likely to get a good night's sleep.
What is the best sleeping position for pregnant women?
Ideally, you should sleep on your left hand side. Sleeping on your side removes the pressure from your spine and major blood vessels, allowing a better flow of blood around your body and to both yours and your baby's heart. Your kidneys are also able to work more efficiently, eliminating waste products from your body, which in turn can reduce any swelling you experience in your hands or feet. Sleeping on your left also helps to keep the pressure off your liver, which lies on the right side of your abdomen.
There are claims that there could be links between women sleeping on their back, or right side during the final stages of pregnancy and the rate of still-births - with fewer still-births occurring where mothers had slept on their left side. However, these claims are yet to be tested in a large scale study.
Getting comfortable sleeping on your side
If you already favoured a side-sleeping position then there shouldn't be too much adjustment needed to help you get comfortable. If you were previously sleeping on your back or tummy then sleeping on your side could take some getting used to.
Firstly be patient, a change to your sleeping position can take time to adjust to. Sleeping on your side does not mean that you need to remain in one position all night, few people are able to do this. There are different positions that you can adopt whilst still lying on your side. Whilst your bump is still relatively small you may find it comfortable to sleep with your upper leg extended further forward than your lower leg, in a position similar to the recovery position used in medical emergencies. As your bump grows bigger you will probably find that you need to lie more squarely on your side, or even be leaning back slightly. It is fine to be lying partly on your back, provided you are tilted to one side (preferably the left side).
The best thing you can do to help yourself get comfortable is to use some support. While your partner might not initially be keen on the idea of sharing the bed with an ever-growing woman and half the airing cupboard, they will probably get a better night's sleep if you get comfortable and it reduces the amount of tossing and turning! Experiment with pillows, cushions and the duvet to find the right position for you. Many women find that they are more comfortable with a pillow between their legs as it eases pressure on their hips and can reduce lower backache. Having a support behind you can also make a big difference. It can help to prevent you from rolling onto your back during your sleep, but it also allows you to change to a more backwards-leaning position (while still partly on your side) when you need a change.
If you find that you are experiencing heartburn in the night, then you may find it more comfortable to use pillows to elevate your upper body. Some women complain that they feel their tummy is stretched from being suspended in the air when they sleep on their side, you can alleviate this feeling by having a slim support (perhaps a small cushion or rolled up towel) placed under your tummy.
There are sleeping supports available to buy. They might seem expensive at first but many women swear by them and if a pregnancy pillow helps you to get a good night's sleep then it is probably worth even more than you paid for it. There is a wide variety to choose from, including full body-length pillows that also wrap around your back, as well as u-shaped pillows and tummy supports. Some of these can double up as feeding pillows (particularly useful to take some of the baby's weight if you are breastfeeding), after the baby is born. Do some research into what's available and check reviews online to see what other women have found helpful. You may find that you can achieve the same result with a bit of improvisation and items from around your home.
I keep waking up on my back, am I harming my baby?
Don't panic if you wake up and find yourself on your back. It is quite normal to change positions while you are sleeping and you won't have done any harm to your baby. Move yourself back to a side sleeping position (on your left if possible) and go back to sleep. If this happens a lot then try putting a pillow or cushion behind you so that you are unable to roll onto your back fully. If you keep reminding yourself to sleep on your side then in time it will become second nature. If one position that you have been using suddenly becomes uncomfortable, then experiment with more supports until you can get comfortable again.