Finding comfortable sleeping positions during pregnancy can be hard. Many of us are probably familiar with the sleepless nights and exhaustion that come along with a new baby, but sleep deprivation for new parents can occur even before the birth of their new bundle of joy.
For most, pregnancy is a beautiful and intimate part of a woman’s life, and it’s more important than ever to get a good night’s rest during those nine months. A pregnant woman’s sleep quality is very important for not only her health but for the health of her developing baby too. However, many women have difficulty sleeping during pregnancy— in fact, sleep disorders are common during pregnancy, and could be potential indicators of additional complications.
Thankfully, any sleep disruptions during pregnancy as well as potential health problems can be diminished or relieved if a pregnant woman sleeps comfortably in the correct position each night. But before we dive into that, let’s take a look at how pregnancy can affect an expectant mother’s sleep.
How Pregnancy Can Affect Sleep
During pregnancy, the body’s physical and psychological changes can create different kinds of discomfort at night, including:
- Heartburn/Acid Reflux
- Nausea/Morning Sickness
- Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
- Leg Cramps
- Back Pain
- Shortness of Breath
As if the effects of these discomforts weren’t bad enough for a pregnant woman’s sleep, these can also contribute to sleep disorders. In fact, insomnia is a common sleep disorder experienced by pregnant women, whether it is accompanied by additional conditions or not. Left untreated, sleep disorders or nightly discomforts can have adverse or negative effects on the mother as well as the baby, such as complications at birth, so it’s vital that pregnant women get the quantity and quality sleep they need each night.
Comfortable Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy by Trimester
The above unpleasantness, as well as fetal movements, can make getting a good night’s sleep a challenge for a pregnant woman. Thankfully, proper positioning can help relieve discomfort and create better sleep.
Finding a safe and comfortable sleeping position to fall asleep in during pregnancy can vary from person to person, but there are recommended positions for each part of a woman’s pregnancy.
While a pregnant woman may struggle with high hormone levels and increased daytime sleepiness during this time, finding a comfortable sleeping position during the first trimester is much easier than in the second and third trimesters. It is safe to sleep in a supine position— on your back— as well as on your side, and your stomach.
If you’re concerned about the safety of sleeping on your stomach during the first trimester, don’t worry! A developing baby is well protected by the mother’s uterus and body, so sleeping on your stomach won’t cause any harm. If you’re normally comfortable stomach sleeping before pregnancy, then you’re safe to continue through the end of the first trimester, or as long as it is comfortable to do so.
Because of her growing belly and breasts, it will be much harder for a pregnant woman to sleep on her stomach during the second trimester. Sleeping on your back may become increasingly uncomfortable too— as a baby grows, sleeping on your back can place the additional weight of your growing uterus on your intestines, back, and major blood vessels like the vena cava and aorta, creating discomfort and reduced circulation.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the best sleep position during pregnancy is to sleep on your side. Sleeping on your side during pregnancy can provide the best circulation for mother and baby, puts the least pressure on blood vessels and internal organs, and increases the amount of blood and nutrients that reach your baby and placenta.
It may be more beneficial for expectant mothers to sleep on their left side, as it may provide more optimal blood flow and reduce pressure throughout the body and major organs— however, sleeping on their right side is fine as well. Be sure to keep your legs and knees bent also.
During the final months of pregnancy, it can be very difficult to get a full night’s sleep, even with the proper steps taken. Many women wake up during the night to use the bathroom or may experience additional discomforts such as heartburn or Restless Legs Syndrome, along with those created by a growing belly and approaching due date.
Sleeping primarily on your side is recommended here also, for the same reasons as above. However, if you wake up in a different position than when you fell asleep, even if you’re on your back or stomach, don’t worry! Shifting position in the night is normal, and won’t harm your baby.
How to Get Comfortable in Bed
Even if you sleep in the most beneficial position by trimester during your pregnancy, it can still be difficult to make yourself comfortable as you fall asleep. This is especially true if you have to get used to a position you don’t normally sleep in. Thankfully, there are easy ways to make sure you can get a restful night’s sleep, no matter where you’re at in your pregnancy or what position you’re in.
If you find that you need more support around your back, belly, knees, or elsewhere, pillows are an easy and accessible solution. Regular pillows can be used to provide additional support where needed around your body, but a specialty pillow may work better for your body’s needs.
A body pillow or a pregnancy pillow are both popular choices for many women, as these pillows are long enough to support your entire body. Some pregnancy pillows come in C or U shapes to provide better support for a woman’s abdomen and body while she sleeps. They can also help keep you comfortable and properly positioned while you sleep on your side.
There are even special pillows for stomach sleepers while they are still able to do so. These donut-shaped pillows have a space in the middle to accommodate your abdomen and support the rest of the body while resting on your stomach.
To help yourself fall asleep faster, consider incorporating relaxation techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises before bed. Proper sleep hygiene can also go a long way in helping you get a night of restful sleep— maintain a regular sleep routine, exercise safely during the day, and avoid caffeine or alcohol, especially during pregnancy.
If you’ve explored the options above but are still struggling to get a good night’s rest, it’s vital to consult your doctor or a sleep specialist as soon as possible. They can help you determine whether or not you have an additional sleep disorder like insomnia or Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and find the right treatment options for you. To find an accredited sleep facility near you, check out this tool by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Pregnancy can be a profound and deeply personal part of a woman’s life, but it’s important to ensure that she gets the sleep she needs from the initial discovery until birth. Adequate sleep is beneficial for both mother and child, and can even make for smoother births. Some sleep disturbances can be expected during pregnancy, but sleeping in a comfortable and safe position can make a significant difference for an expectant mother and her bundle of joy.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM
The Sleep Doctor