Research shows side sleeping in pregnancy reduces stillbirth risk

Side sleeping when pregnant reduces stillborn risk

Finding a comfy sleep position in the final few weeks of pregnancy can be tricky, but mums-to-be are being reminded there’s only one safe way to sleep when heavily pregnant – and that’s on your side.

New research has confirmed that the risk of stillbirth doubles if women go to sleep on their backs in the last three months of pregnancy.

It’s the fourth study to find a link between back-sleeping and stillbirth.

Why back-sleeping increases stillbirth risk

pregnant women asleep

While one of the first studies into pregnancy side sleeping was undertaken in Australia, this latest UK research was the largest study into maternal sleep and late stillbirth. Researchers still can’t pinpoint why back-sleeping increases stillbirth risk, but they have a couple of theories.

It’s thought that the weight of the baby and uterus puts pressure on the main blood vessels that supply the uterus, which may restrict blood flow to the baby. Another theory is disturbed breathing during sleep, which is worse in women who are overweight and sleeping on their backs.

The advice for women in their final three months of pregnancy is:

  • Make sure you go to sleep on your side
  • If you wake and you’re on your back, return to your side
  • Side-sleep during day napping too

It’s been shown that the position you fall asleep in is usually the one that you stay in for most of the night, so women are being urged to fall asleep on their side.

Other stillbirth risks

Professor Vicki Flenady, who heads up Australia’s Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence, has welcomed the research which reaffirms the long-standing advice for pregnant women. She’s also reminding pregnant women there are other ways to protect their babies in the final stages of pregnancy.

“They should also be aware of their baby’s movements and tell their midwife or doctor if they are concerned at any time, night or day. Both of those things combined have the potential to avoid a significant number of stillbirths every year,” Ms Flenady told Mum’s Grapevine.

“Women should not lose sight of the fact that there are other things that they should be doing like being healthy before they get pregnant and going to your antenatal visits.”

Tips for going to sleep on your side in the final trimester

  • Put a pillow behind your back to encourage side-sleeping
  • If you wake at night, make sure you’re still on your side
  • The side-sleeping advice is the same if you’re just napping throughout the day

If you’re having trouble getting some shut-eye, check out these 7 tips to get a good night’s sleep during pregnancy.

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