Whether you just found out yesterday that all your pregnancy planning paid off (congratulations!) or are approaching your second or third trimester, one thing is for sure: You want to ensure the health and well-being of your offspring however you can.
As you may know, your sleep position can play a defining role in the development and health of your growing fetus. But there’s a lot of confusion about this topic! Many women receive conflicting information on back-sleeping, in particular—this study says X, but that one says Y. You know how it goes.
In this article, we’ll talk about what the different sleep positions are and go deeper into the topic of whether you should sleep on your back while pregnant.
What are the different sleeping positions?
You’re probably familiar with the three main sleeping positions:
But do you know each of their variations and what they can mean for your health—and that of your fetus? If not, buckle up and get ready to learn a thing or two about (sleep) positions!
Generally speaking, experts do not recommend sleeping on your stomach—pregnant or not. This position can result in negative symptoms such as pain in your shoulders, neck, or lower back. And when you’re a few months pregnant…yeah, that would not be comfortable anyway (though there are special pillows you can buy to help with this).
That said, the most common stomach-sleeping position is:
While in the freefall position, you’re lying on your stomach with both of your arms either underneath or wrapped around your pillow, and your head is turned on its side.
Sleeping on your back is generally considered less detrimental and more beneficial to your health than sleeping on your stomach.
This type of sleeping position promotes better alignment between your spine and the rest of your body, reducing stress on your joints at the same time. However, those with snoring problems or sleep apnea should avoid back-sleeping positions as they can make these issues worse. You should also avoid sleeping on your back when pregnant—but we’ll talk more about this later.
Now, let’s look at the two most common back-sleeping positions:
In the soldier sleeping position, you’re lying flat on your back with your legs together and your arms at your sides.
In the starfish position, you’re lying flat on your back (like in the soldier position) but your legs are usually spread apart and your arms are up above your head, usually bent at an angle.
Overall, side-sleeping positions are considered the safest and most beneficial—they’re also the most popular positions! This type of position is thought to aid digestion, keep snoring at a minimum, reduce heartburn or acid reflux symptoms, and possibly even help the brain eliminate toxins faster. But watch out for negative symptoms such as a tight jaw or stiff shoulders.
There are quite a few common side-sleeping positions you should know about:
In the log position, you’re lying slightly on one side with your back straight and your arms at your sides. This one is similar to the soldier position, but you’re on your side instead of flat on your back.
In the yearner position, you’re lying on your side with your arms outstretched (as if yearning for someone to hold). Which brings us to…
In the spooning position, a couple is lying together so that one person is holding the other from behind.
In the fetal position, you’re lying on your side with your knees bent upward toward your chest. This is considered the best possible sleep position for pregnant women (more on this later).
What’s the best sleeping position?
The best sleeping position depends on your personal preferences as well as your health needs. For example:
- …often preferred by those who have sleep apnea or certain breathing problems.
- …not a good option for most people due to the potential for neck and back pain.
- …the best option for those who want better posture and fewer aches & pains.
- …not good for people who have sleep apnea or other breathing issues.
- …generally considered the healthiest sleeping position.
- …not comfortable for everyone, due to the potential for shoulder or jaw stiffness.
Okay, but what if I’m pregnant?
Experts believe that sleeping on your side while pregnant is the best option.
In addition to the benefits, we mentioned earlier, sleeping on your side is known to cause the least amount of stress on your joints and organs; it also promotes steadier blood circulation and a better flow of nutrients to your baby. Many soon-to-be mothers feel more comfortable sleeping on their side than on their back or stomach, especially in the second and third trimesters.
Some studies have shown that sleeping on your left side, in particular, is beneficial to both you and your baby. It promotes better digestion and also allows for even better circulation than sleeping on your right side does.
Things to consider about sleeping when pregnant
Getting a full night’s sleep while pregnant can be a challenge, especially if you no longer find your typical sleeping position(s) comfortable or practical. It takes time for anyone to adjust to an unfamiliar sleeping position, let alone someone who has been nourishing and protecting a little human in her uterus for several months!
Despite these challenges, it’s essential that you try and get adequate sleep each night while pregnant. Sleep plays a huge role in long-term memory retention, gives your brain a chance to eliminate toxins, allows your body to heal, and keeps your immune system sharp—all crucial functions when you’re supporting not only yourself, but also a growing fetus.
There are two key factors to consider when it comes to sleeping while pregnant:
Maintaining good circulation in your sleep is beneficial to both you (less swelling and fewer varicose veins) and your fetus (more nutrient delivery and better oxygen flow).
Of course, you won’t be getting much sleep to begin with unless you’re comfortable. You’ll want to avoid sleeping on your back if possible, and you may want to consider switching to your side until after the baby is born. If the transition proves difficult for you, there are a few things you can try to make this new position more comfortable:
- Sleep with extra pillows
- Use a full body pillow for comfort and support
- Place a pillow between your knees
- Sleep in the fetal position
- Consider sleeping in a recliner instead of your bed
Sleeping on your back while pregnant
Okay, so why should pregnant women avoid sleeping on their back?
The most important thing to consider here is circulation. When you sleep or lie down on your back for lengthy periods of time, it significantly reduces the flow of blood and nutrients to the fetus. This can result in stillbirth if the lack of nutrients or oxygen is severe enough.
Sleeping on your back can also be uncomfortable (or even harmful) to you, the soon-to-be mother. For example, back-sleeping can…
- …cause uncomfortable symptoms such as hemorrhoids.
- …lower your blood pressure.
- …decrease the efficiency of your digestive tract.
- …put extra pressure on certain intestines (like your liver and kidneys) as well as your vena cava (responsible for circulating blood from the lower half of your body to your heart).
Do keep in mind that pregnant women who are in their first trimester can normally sleep on their back without suffering any negative side-effects or harming the fetus. You’ll only need to worry about changing your sleep position once you reach the second trimester.
We hope this article provided you with useful and practical information that you can start applying today. Together, we dove into the world of sleep positions and discussed some of the benefits and drawbacks of stomach- / back- / side-sleeping. You should now have a better idea of why side-sleeping (or even stomach-sleeping) is preferred over back-sleeping for pregnant women as well as the risks associated with sleeping on your back.
Do you still have any questions on the topic? Let us know in the comments and we’d be glad to help you out! (Oh, and we’re curious: What’s your favorite sleep position?) Until next time, keep on rocking that baby bump and stay healthy during these exciting (if rocky) times!
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YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/Shutterstock; Double Brain/Shutterstock;
Voyagerix/Shutterstock; Ruslan Galiullin/Shutterstock; Liderina/Shutterstock;