If you are currently pregnant or trying to conceive, there's a big chance you've already thought about sleep. It's no surprise to learn new parents (and not-so-new) often experience disrupted sleep once children come.
But what about during pregnancy? Less discussed is the relationship between being pregnant on sleep and in particular, how to sleep in a way that's comfortable for both you and your baby.
We've taken the time to read the studies, check expert recommendations on maternal sleep practices and collated the information so you can feel informed and comfortable. Grab a cup of chamomile, read on, and let's help you get a good night's sleep.
Why is sleep so important during pregnancy?
You most likely already know that sleep is essential for everyone at all stages of life, so much so that sleep problems in general have been described as an important public health issue .
So it's no real surprise to learn sleep is critical during pregnancy. Research shows that inadequate sleep duration and poor quality of sleep may increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as growth restriction of the foetus, postpartum depression and increased risk of gestational diabetes .
Poor sleep during pregnancy is also associated with preeclampsia, increased likelihood of needing a caesarean delivery, and preterm birth, as well as other symptoms like general tiredness, fatigue, and cognitive impairments .
If you are currently pregnant and not getting a sound sleep, try not to let the above information spook you — it's just something to be mindful of.
The important thing is improving rest and helping you find ways to relax before going to sleep while finding a comfortable sleep position (more on precise positions below!).
How much sleep do I need when pregnant?
Interestingly, there are no exact guidelines for the amount of sleep an expectant parent should have compared to other specific recommendations (for example, around folate). Research suggests aiming for the standard amount for adults which is 7-9 hours per night .
Many pregnant women find they are more tired during early pregnancy and report trouble sleeping, either from excess fatigue from rapid cell growth or waking because of morning sickness, so get your naps in while you can .
Poor sleep is also more likely again during the third trimester, which is why considering your sleep position during the first or second trimester is key.
What are the best sleeping positions during pregnancy?
The Red Nose Foundation recommends side sleeping from 28 weeks gestation (and beyond) to reduce the risk of stillbirth. This is recommended as lying on your back puts pressure on major blood vessels which can reduce blood flow to your womb, and restrict the baby's oxygen supply .
Although, the Red Nose Foundation is quick to note that you shouldn't worry if you wake up on your back: it's normal to change positions during pregnancy sleep — as with all sleep.
The key thing to remember is to keep trying to fall asleep on your side as a habit during pregnancy. The Foundation created a handy phrase to keep in mind: sleep on your side while baby's inside.
NSW Health also recommends that the supine position (lying on your back) should be avoided for any type of sleep  including:
- When you fall asleep
- Going back to sleep if you wake
- Daytime naps
Sleeping on the left vs right side
While all experts recommend side sleeping, it gets even more specific. Sleeping on your left side is especially good because it allows for the most blood flow to the uterus and can help with improvements in your kidney function .
If you can, try to sleep on your left side, but it's also normal to find staying in one position for long periods uncomfortable. NSW Health advises either side is equally safe, the left side is just preferred for the above reasons .
The key thing to remember is to try to sleep on your side (either one!) for most of the time during pregnancy. If you wake up and find yourself on your tummy or back, try not to worry — just switch positions.
Why is lying on your back to be avoided?
Of all sleep positions during pregnancy, the supine position (technical term for sleeping on your back) is more associated with a higher risk of adverse health outcomes such as stillbirth .
Studies using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) have found that in late pregnancy, sleeping on your back puts pressure on the inferior vena cava which is your body's largest vein that carries blood to multiple organs.
In this position, the pregnant woman's aorta is also partly compressed which can reduce blood flow and delivery of oxygen to the uterus, placenta and foetus .
So, try to sleep on your left or right side versus your back.
When should I stop sleeping on my stomach during pregnancy?
Doctors advise that during the early stages of pregnancy, it's generally okay to sleep on your stomach, but once you reach 16-18 weeks you should aim to change positions and stop stomach sleeping .
This is for your own comfort as much as for your baby's health — it's near impossible to sleep on your stomach once the belly grows!
If you find yourself unable to find a comfortable sleep position during pregnancy or have any concerns, we recommend reaching out to your maternal or healthcare professional for more support.
When would I stop sleeping on my back during pregnancy?
As we highlighted earlier, there are a range of reasons why back sleeping is not a recommended maternal position.
This is especially important around 28 weeks into pregnancy, as the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advises . They note that while this may seem a comfortable position, it can make expectant mothers feel lightheaded or dizzy upon waking due to the pressure on major veins.
Training yourself to side sleep is a modifiable risk factor for your and your baby's health.
How to relieve back pain during pregnancy while sleeping
An annoyingly common symptom of pregnancy is back pain, which can be helped by side sleeping with a pregnancy pillow.
Experts recommend sleeping on your side with your knees bent, and a pillow between them . You might want to stock up on pregnancy pillows because depending on your comfort and how you're feeling, it can help to have another pillow behind your back to prevent you from accidentally rolling onto your back during sleep.
If pain is distracting or interfering with sleep, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists state that it is safe to take paracetamol during pregnancy .
Paracetamol is routinely used throughout all stages of gestation and as pregnancy progresses, and there is no clear evidence of any harmful effects on the baby.
How to sleep with pelvic pain during pregnancy
Similarly to people experiencing back pain, it's recommended you use pregnancy pillows and safe, approved pain relief medication during sleep. You may find it soothing to use a hot water bottle or wheat bag if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have a warm bath before going to sleep.
If you are experiencing any abnormal pain or discomfort at any time, please speak to your healthcare professional for individual advice and support.
These tips can also come in handy if you experience postpartum pelvic pain as well.
Other things to keep in mind for maternal sleep
The below tips come from sleep experts and may help for maternal sleep position :
- If you experience indigestion, try raising your pillows so you're not lying flat and speak to your healthcare professional about using antacids
- Go to the toilet before you go to bed to reduce the number of times you wake
- Reduce caffeine intake, in particular, if you notice leg cramps
- If you notice sleep-disordered breathing, speak to your doctor to rule out sleep apnoea
- Try to manage stress
- Eat a balanced diet and engage in pregnancy-safe styles of exercise
- Take prenatal vitamins as recommended
The key takeaway
The main message to remember is that sleeping on your side is ideal, but don't stress if you wake up and find you've moved around — this is normal.
It's important for both expectant mothers and mothers-to-be to understand the importance of resting your lower body, back muscles and calf muscles, especially during the third trimester.
After all, with a newborn, your sleep patterns are likely to be disrupted, so resting as much as you can before the baby comes is vital.
We know pregnancy can be a little overwhelming — but it doesn’t have to be. Kin's Pregnancy Checklist consists of bite-sized checklist items personalised to your pregnancy journey. Approved by fertility specialists and OBYGN approved, you'll feel prepared to tackle each day as it comes and enjoy the process, rather than get lost in it.
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