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What’s wrong with sleeping on your back?

by LittleMaia

If you’ve been pregnant since 2020 you’ve likely seen and heard many disclaimers saying not not lay on your back. There are also posters and public health campaigns advising women to not lie on their backs. Why suddenly the panic and what should you do?

It’s hard enough to sleep when that belly starts growing. Tummy sleeping is likely too difficult (although if you can get the right placement of pillows to get comfortable, then go ahead!) If you have severe reflux you likely can’t roll onto your side without feeling like you need to throw up. Don’t sit for too long or it shapes your pelvis in a way that increase risk of a breech baby. And now we’re being told not to lie on our backs! So how may I ask are we ever supposed to rest…

The issue with lying FLAT on your back is that the weight from the belly is pulled into your abdomen via gravity. So although they say ‘from second trimester’ really it’s when you get that big bulging bowling ball out your front. When the tummy weight is pulled back it puts pressure on the inferior vena cavae, a major vein to the heart, and can impede blood flow to you, the placenta and the baby.

The thing is, you will feel uncomfortable if the blood flow is disrupted and will certainly have the urge to move. Your body knows this position is not good for it.  You shouldn’t have any trouble if you’re elevated on a couple of pillows. The other important thing to consider is that it takes hours for this disruption in blood supply to occur and I don’t know a pregnant woman who falls asleep on her back in one position and stays there for 8 hrs until she gets up in the morning. You’re probably up at least every couple of hours to use the bathroom at least! If not changing positions within those periods of rest as well. So while in theory the best position is left lying, in reality lying there for as long as it’s comfortable is not a concern.

The gist is don’t freak out if you find yourself falling asleep on your back. Of course mention the word ‘stillbirth’ and it zaps every mothers soul as the scariest thing we could face. No-one wants to go through that. Remember there’s not conclusive evidence for a standard recommendation yet. The relative stillbirth rates in developed countries is around .3% even if you lie in all the right ways.

In saying that, it would change the situation if you’re on any medication which would increase sleepiness. So in that case, sure, fall asleep on your left side if you’re going to stay there for 8 hours.

Here’s a good article explaining the news headlines and how they blew the facts out of proportion. And here’s the link to the original study where the info came from.

Hope that helps you sleep a little easier!


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