Pregnancy Safe Sleeping Positions
Yes, You Can Sleep on Your Right Side
It might seem like the universe is playing a dirty trick on you: granting nine months of sleep deprivation before you’re expected to be up all night feeding that tiny milk monster. Isn’t it enough that you have to give up red wine and blue cheese? Now you also have to figure out the best sleeping position during pregnancy that *actually* results in sleep? That’s right. Welcome to mamahood. You’ve got this.
why sleep matters
Pulling all-nighters has consequences during pregnancy (and they look a lot different than they did when cramming for final exams or enjoying happy hour for a few too many hours). The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that lack of sleep puts you more at risk for gestational diabetes. Women who slept less than 6 hours a night also reported longer labors and were 4.5 times more likely to have a C-section. The amount of sleep you get can even impact your baby’s birth weight and APGAR score, according to the Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine. They also linked sleep deprivation during pregnancy to an increased risk of preterm labor. So, as you’re well aware, sleep is much more than beauty rest—but betcha didn’t know it was this important.
positioning is (almost) everything
Now that the scary part’s outta the way, let’s get you sleeping! Of course, pregnancy will always make this more challenging, but it’s a battle you can win (we know bc we’ve been there…). So how do you find the best and safest sleeping position when it’s so much harder to get comfy? It’s all about trial and error.
sleep position 101
Attn: Stomach Sleepers
If this is you, know that it might be easier than you think to give up because it will eventually become way too uncomfortable to do. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you’ll find other sleep positions all that comfy either ;) Some clever mamas have used donut pillows to buy themselves extra tummy time, but eventually, know that it’s not going to work or remain safe.
On Your Back Ain’t Best
You might be wondering, just how bad is it to sleep on your back when you’re pregnant? Not the answer you want but back sleeping can cause more problems than it’s worth. The full weight of your womb compressing the vena cava—which carries blood from your lower body to your heart—isn’t the best choice for a preggo-safe sleeping position. You’ll also notice this one gets increasingly more uncomfortable as you advance through the trimesters (don’t worry, it’ll be right there for ya as soon as babe’s out).
The “Right” Side
Finally, some good news. Many experts now agree that sleeping on your right side during pregnancy isn’t the bad move it was once advertised as. Is the left better? Yes. There’s a slight risk of compressing the vena cava if you’re a right-side sleeper. Is it horrible to sleep on this side? No. A 2019 review showed equal safety with sleeping on the right or left. Most moms end up alternating sides, and most doctors find this acceptable. *Whew*
To the Left, to the Left
Left-side sleepers, rejoice! It’s long been said this is the ideal sleeping position for pregnancy since it gives you the best of the best circulation. When you sleep on this side, babe gets all those great nutrients via your placenta, and you get less problematic side effects like swelling and (ugh) cankles thanks to decreased pressure on your liver and kidneys. Basically, when you sleep on the left, the increase in blood flow helps everything function properly. No detox necessary.
timing is everything
During the first trimester, it’s safe for you to sleep in whatever position that feels the most comfy for you. Then once you hit the second trimester, it’s time to switch things up if you’re a stomach or back sleeper (sorry, these positions aren’t safe from the second on…). As your hormones stabilize and your breasts start feeling a little less tender, you should get some relief when it comes to sleep quality. Use this time to spruce up your sleep hygiene and invest in a great pregnancy pillow that’ll keep you comfortably on your side. Keep reading for tips on how to find the best one :)
Don’t freak out if you’re past the first trimester and wake up on your right side or even flat on your back. These positions aren’t harmful enough that you need to worry about you or babe’s health when it happens on occasion. Today, a popular belief among experts is that it’s more important for pregnant women to get enough sleep however they can, especially during the third trimester, so please don’t stress about doing it perfectly.
best supporting role
Now that you understand why certain positions are better than others, let’s dive into how you can adapt to these preggo-safe sleeping positions with ease. It's time to make pillows your BFF...
When lying on either side, bending your knees can help alleviate pressure on your hips. So place a pillow between your legs, plus one behind you for low-back reinforcement. Some expectant mamas also find relief by wedging one under their belly to support those pesky round ligaments. Pillows are pretty much the MVP of pregnancy and when you’re breastfeeding too—you’re going to need a lot of them.
Some women prefer a standard body pillow, but the C-shaped or U-shaped pregnancy pillows are the most popular. They both provide full support under the neck and alongside the front and back of your body. However, the C-shaped pillow has a bit more curve to it and can be shaped to use in multiple positions. Fair warning… Your partner might try to steal it. Don’t let him.
As babe grows and places more pressure on your lungs and diaphragm, you might feel short of breath. If that’s the case for you, a propped-up position is the move to help offset some discomfort. With a few sturdy pillows behind you, try lying semi-reclined for a more restful night’s sleep (it also helps if you suffer from heartburn). Just a word of caution if you’re prone to hemorrhoids: reclining can exacerbate the problem. Don’t worry, it’s nothing that Motherlove’s Rhoid Balm can’t fix right up. Donut pillows are also great. Pillows FTW, again.
when positioning isn't enough
Just when you thought researching epidurals and padsicles was tough! If you tried all the moves, played with the props, and still aren’t getting the shuteye you need, understanding your sleep patterns just might be the answer. It comes down to science. During pregnancy, you make a boatload of progesterone—a hormone with a lovely sedative effect. However, estrogen comes along later and can keep you up until the wee hours of the night. While experimenting with sleep positions is going to be necessary, there are a few other tricks of the trade to help boost your odds of success. These include creating a sleep schedule, staying off screens, meditation, and more… read all about ‘em here.
Ultimately, you have to decide how much rest you need to maintain a healthy pregnancy (and your sanity). How do you feel each day? The answer to this question is your best compass for assessing whether or not you’re getting enough ZZZ’s. Hit the sack earlier than you did pre-pregnancy, and nap when needed. Start your day with a routine that’s likely to leave you feeling rejuvenated. Prenatal yoga or a walk around the neighborhood are great choices. Get creative, but most of all, get some rest!