Updated: Jul 28
Pregnancy can often mean lots of sleep disturbances, but finding the right sleep patterns, positions, and pillows can ensure a safe journey for both mom and baby. Here are my top recommendations.
The Best Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy According to a Physical Therapist
Pregnancy can change many things about your life, from what you eat to what activities you participate in. As your belly grows, your sleep position changes, too. Finding sleep positions that are both comfortable for you and safe for your baby is key. It can be hard to make sure you get a good night's sleep and avoid adverse pregnancy outcomes. Here's the best sleep position advice from a physical therapist.
Back Sleeping Position During Pregnancy
Sleeping on your back is generally safe in the first trimester. In later pregnancy, studies have linked an increased risk of stillbirth to sleeping on your back for an entire night. [*]
It's worth noting that in these studies there are sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, at play which may have skewed the results. Sleep apnea is a type of sleep-disordered breathing that also results in an increase in blood pressure and additional strain on the cardiovascular system. Even still, avoiding sleep positions on the back could decrease your risk of stillbirth by 5.8% after 28 weeks, so it's worth the effort. [*]
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Side Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy
Sleeping on your back, especially later in pregnancy, is not recommended. It's generally best to sleep on your side while pregnant to protect blood flow to the uterus.
Once you enter the fifth month of pregnancy, the weight of the baby puts too much pressure on your inferior vena cava and aorta, which are the blood vessels behind the uterus. The inferior vena cava carries blood from your heart to your lower body, and it's essential for blood flow for yourself and the baby.
Sleeping on the left side is ideal, as the inferior vena cava runs next to your spine on the right side of the body. By sleeping on the left side, you allow for optimal blood flow. Plus, sleeping on the left side can prevent swelling in your feet, hands, and ankles because it keeps the pressure off your kidneys and liver.
Still, if your preferred sleep position is on your right side, you don't have to force yourself to change. One recent review found a slight risk of compression with the inferior vena cava when sleeping on your right side but ultimately reported that side sleeping on either side is equally safe. [*]
Stomach Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy
For pregnant women who prefer to sleep on their stomachs, it's not all bad news. The amniotic fluid and uterine walls protect the baby, so there's no risk of squishing them or somehow damaging the baby's health.
However, you might find that this sleeping position becomes uncomfortable around week 18. This is when the baby bump tends to grow, making this a less than comfortable maternal sleep position.
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How Does Trimester Impact Sleep Position?
The trimester plays a huge role in sleep positions for pregnant women. As you've read above, it's fairly safe to sleep in any position during the first few weeks and months.
Once in the second and third trimesters, it's best to sleep on your left side. This is the best sleeping position to ensure proper blood flow and liver and kidney function for pregnant moms.
Do You Need Pregnancy Pillows?
Pillows are essential for finding a safe and comfortable sleeping position, especially since sleeping in one position can get uncomfortable. Of course, a normal pillow under the head can support the neck properly and help you avoid upper back pain.
You may also try sleeping with a pillow between the knees to avoid the increased pressure that you may feel on your hips and lower body from the weight of your baby bump. A rolled-up blanket from your bed also works. You may sleep with bent knees, as is often the most comfortable position and can improve circulation.
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As you move into the second and third trimesters, you'll want to switch positions to predominantly sleeping on your left side. A pregnancy pillow can help you find a comfortable position. These are C- or U-shaped pillows that wrap around your body to offer extra support as you side sleep.
If your favorite sleeping position is on your stomach, you can use a stomach sleeping pillow. These are quite firm pillows that include a cutout for the belly, allowing you to enjoy the stomach sleeping position for longer.
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5 of my Favorite Pregnancy Pillows:
If you're having trouble sleeping, you might also cut out caffeine as it can keep you awake and may result in low birth weight for the baby. You may also try adjusting your sleep habits early on in pregnancy so that they're part of your normal routine by the time they're necessary for the final months.
Ultimately, I always promote sleeping on the left side for optimal safety for mom and baby. You might also consider using a sleep tracker. Be sure to use pillows where and when you need to, and you'll enjoy plenty of comfortable, safe sleeping during pregnancy.