These Are the Safest Pregnancy Sleeping Positions
Depending on how you normally snooze through the night, you might have to rethink your favorite position while expecting. As you may already know, some pregnancy sleeping positions are better for baby than others. Plus, as your bump grows, you may find some of your go-tos increasingly uncomfortable. The good news? You likely won’t have to switch things up until you hit the second trimester and really start showing. Keep reading to learn more, straight from the experts, on what you need to know about each common pregnancy sleeping position and how to find ones that are comfortable and safe throughout those nine+ months.
There are three main sleeping positions recognized by experts: on your back, stomach or side. The biggest concern with each of these is how they affect blood flow to baby and whether they compress the inferior vena cava (IVC) as your uterus grows. The IVC is a large vein that runs up the right side of your spine and carries deoxygenated blood from the lower and middle body to the heart. Below, more about each sleep position during pregnancy and how they may impact your growing baby.
Can you sleep on your side during pregnancy?
Sleeping on the side is widely recognized as the best pregnancy sleep position. More specifically, experts say sleeping on your left side during pregnancy is safest. Wondering why you shouldn’t sleep on your right side while pregnant? Sleeping on the right can cause some compression of the IVC and block blood flow to baby. Meanwhile, sleeping on the left side “gets all the weight of the uterus off the right side and optimizes blood flow,” explains Sara Twogood, MD, an ob-gyn at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. It can also help increase mom’s comfort, she adds. That said, if you’re really more comfortable sleeping on the right side during pregnancy, you can use pillows to prop up the uterus so it’s not sliding to the right, Twogood says.
Can you sleep on your back during pregnancy?
While it’s touted as one of the best sleep positions for posture, sleeping on your back while pregnant is largely considered a no-no. Between 15 and 20 weeks gestation, the uterus starts becoming large enough to interfere with blood flow when you sleep on your back, as it can compress the IVC. Sleeping on your back while pregnant can also constrict the aorta—the main artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body—and block off the main blood supply to your body and placenta. As a result, “Sleeping on your back can decrease the return of blood to the heart, so the mother may wake up feeling short of breath or as though her heart is racing,” says Amelia Henning, CNM, a staff midwife at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Can you sleep on your stomach during pregnancy?
Sleeping on your stomach is fine in early pregnancy—but sooner or later you’ll have to turn over. “Before 12 weeks, you can sleep any way you want,” Twogood says. “A lot of women have breast tenderness or sensitivity, so many aren’t comfortable sleeping on their stomachs early on. But it’s just discomfort—it won’t cause any harm.” Henning agrees, adding that sleeping on your stomach while pregnant is okay until the belly really starts to show, usually between 16 and 18 weeks, depending on how big the belly gets and how quickly. After this point, not only does sleeping on your stomach get pretty uncomfortable, but it also becomes unsafe for baby. Sleeping on your stomach while pregnant can cause your baby bump to move inside your stomach and press against the aorta and IVC. “Sleeping flat on your stomach has the same negative effects as sleeping on your back,” Twogood explains.
It’s not at all uncommon to fall asleep in one position and wake up in a totally different one, so it makes sense that one of the biggest concerns is waking up to find you’re sleeping on your back while pregnant. But if you do wake up on your back, don’t panic. “You probably weren’t there for very long,” Henning says, since your body adjusts to avoid uncomfortable sleep positions. “If you’re on your back and in the third trimester, it will compress the blood flow and make you feel bad quickly, so you’ll wake up and wouldn’t have been lying on your back long enough to compromise the blood flow to the baby.”
However, if you continue to wake up on your back (or stomach or right side) and are worried about it, ask your partner to check on you, Twogood suggests. If they wake up and notice you sleeping on your back, they can gently move you back to your left side. You should also bring up any concerns to your ob-gyn. They can help you find the optimal pregnancy sleeping positions for your individual circumstances.
It may be challenging to change the sleeping positions you’ve found comfortable, but take heart in knowing it’s possible—and your body may naturally adapt to more restful sleeping positions as your bump grows. But if not, there are ways to train yourself to start sleeping on your side if you don’t already. Bonus: Sleeping on your side can also help with some of the other aches and pains that are no doubt wreaking havoc on your nightly shuteye.
Get a pregnancy pillow: If you’ve been a back or tummy snoozer all your life, changing to your left side can be hard. “I fully recommend getting a pregnancy body pillow and getting it early,” Twogood says. “You want to optimize its use during pregnancy, playing with its positions and [exploring] how it can support you best.” If you still can’t comfortably make the switch to your side, use pillows to prop yourself into an incline. Sleeping on your back at a 45-degree tilt can prevent a lot of the compression.
Bend your knees: If you’re suffering from hip, leg or back pain during pregnancy, try bending your knees, the ACOG says. You can also try placing a pillow under your legs, between your knees or under your belly for added support.
Practice good sleep hygiene: You may find it easier to fall asleep in a new pregnancy sleeping position if your body has already been primed for rest with good sleep hygiene. This includes limiting caffeine intake and screen time before bed; avoiding eating or drinking too late at night; keeping a regular sleep schedule; and finding ways to relax and ease stress.
Of course, a lot of this may seem easier said than done when you’re finding it hard to find a comfortable pregnancy sleeping position and can’t sleep. But don’t lose hope! Trust that your body will most likely alert you if you’re in a less than optimal sleeping position before it can harm baby and naturally find new sleeping positions that feel comfortable with your growing bump. And for any questions and concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your ob-gyn. They’ll help you get the resources you need to start getting more restful shuteye.
About the experts:
Sara Twogood, MD, FACOG, is a board-certified ob-gyn in Los Angeles and co-founder of Female Health Education. She’s also the author of Ladypartsblog.com, which covers topics relating to fertility and pregnancy, and the founder of FemEd, a program designed to empower females through health education.
Amelia Henning, CNM, MSN, IBCLC, is a staff nurse-midwife at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the director of the Mass General Lactation Program and a teaching associate with Harvard Medical School. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College and completed her midwifery education at the University of Pennsylvania.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
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