Breaking Down Safe Sleeping Positions Trimester By Trimester, To Avoid Stillbirth

Breaking Down Safe Sleeping Positions Trimester By Trimester, To Avoid Stillbirth


14 September 2020


Quality sleep is one of the key pillars to overall good health and is especially important during pregnancy. A pregnant woman who gets less than five hours of sleep a night, is at an increased risk for conditions such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, according to experts.

Seeing as how sleep is such an integral part of nourishing your body and contributing to your growing foetus’ health, pregnant mums can take time to indulge in what must be a very welcome end to an exhausting day of growing a baby! However, do read up on safe sleeping positions during pregnancy, and what may be safe and what may not, as some sleeping positions have been linked to low birth weight, and even stillbirth

As you approach the different hurdles brought forth by the three trimesters, one complaint probably stays the same throughout: Try as you might, you cannot seem to get comfortable enough to sleep! From frequent bathroom trips to the pressure (and sometimes pain) a growing bump puts on your body, let’s look at the various reasons for your discomfort and examine safe sleeping positions during pregnancy throughout each of the three trimesters.

Safe sleeping positions during pregnancy

Why is it difficult for me to get comfortable? 

Pregnancy brings a host of changes and these, in turn, tend to disrupt your sleep. There are various reasons that make it especially difficult for you to get to sleep during pregnancy, and here are a few of them: 

  • Your growing abdomen and uterus

  • Mild to severe back pain

  • Heartburn

  • Morning sickness that seems to linger well into the rest of the day

  • Pregnancy-related insomnia

  • Shortness of breath

  • Frequent trips to the bathroom to empty your bladder

  • Conditions such as Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), or pelvic girdle pain (PGP) 

However, regardless of what you are experiencing, it is important to try to get a good night’s sleep. 

According to Dr. Grace Pien, an assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “research suggests that pregnant women who are not getting enough sleep — less than 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night — probably are at increased risk for things like gestational diabetes, and potentially for things like preeclampsia.”

With sleep being such an integral part of your body’s recovery process, let’s examine the different sleeping positions that are safe for you throughout the three trimesters of your pregnancy. 


Safe sleeping positions during pregnancy: First trimester

You can take it easy in the first trimester. Despite the discomfort that may arise out of a myriad changes taking place in your body, the advice from experts is that any sleep position is fine during the first trimester of your pregnancy. 

According to Dr Sara Twogood, an ob-gyn at the University of Southern California, you would not have to change your sleeping position until you hit the second trimester. 

“Before 12 weeks, you can sleep any way you want. 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,” she notes.

However, with all the increasing and compelling evidence about the risk of stillbirth associated with a supine sleeping position in your third trimester, it is always better if you could practise early so by the time you reach that part of your pregnancy you would have gotten accustomed to sleeping on your side, which is considered the best sleeping position for pregnant women, if you were always a back or stomach sleeper. 


Second and third trimesters 

As you approach the second, and mostly the third trimester, the best (experts may argue that perhaps the only!) sleeping position would be the side-sleeping position. 

In particular, sleeping on your left side increases the amount of blood and nutrients that reach the placenta and your baby, and takes the pressure of your liver and kidneys thereby enabling optimal functioning of your organs in order to flush out toxins and helping alleviate edema (swelling).

Tummy-sleepers have it a bit easier as they naturally find it very difficult to sleep on their stomachs as the pregnancy progresses and their baby bump grows bigger, prompting them to adopt a more comfortable and safe sleeping position instead. 

However, if you have always slept supine prior to pregnancy, you should avoid sleeping on your back at this point in your pregnancy as your growing abdomen and uterus puts its entire weight and thus a lot of pressure on your intestines and major blood vessels (the aorta and vena cava), in this position. 

Sleeping in a supine position during the last two trimesters of pregnancy can:

  • worsen backaches and aggravate hemorrhoids

  • bring about problems in your respiratory system as it interferes with circulation. This can possibly causing hypotension (low blood pressure), which can make you lightheaded and dizzy

  • interfere with your digestive system and make digestion less efficient 

  • a decrease in circulation that may also reduce blood flow to the foetus, giving your baby less oxygen and nutrients. In some cases, a supine sleeping position has been linked to fatal stillbirth and a tragic end to your pregnancy. 

Sleeping on your side, is the optimal position then for pregnant women in their second and third trimesters. 

To make this position easier you could try out the following tips

  • Place a pillow under your belly so that your abdomen stays raised and your back and hips are adequately supported. You may use just about any extra pillow that you have lying around, a bolster pillow, or you may want to invest in a pregnancy pillow that works all throughout pregnancy and can sometimes aid you through breastfeeding as well.

  •  Keep your legs and knees bent, and put a pillow between your legs. This helps to foster a more comfortable side-sleeping position by keeping your legs level, as many mums have discomfort while sleeping on the side as their top leg is almost always resting on their bottom leg, but keeping them level using a pillow gets rid of this issue and facilitates a smoother side-sleeping experience 

However, if sleeping on your side seems impossible, try propping your upper body with pillows, at a 45-degree angle so you do not lie completely flat, and sleep at an incline. This will take the compression off your major blood vessels and will also help alleviate symptoms of heartburn or shortness of breath during the night. 

This article was originally published on The Asian Parent