The Best Sleeping Positions for Pregnant Women

Sleep becomes more difficult during pregnancy, and there’s no getting around that.

Insomnia and declines in sleep quality become far more frequent, and it may become increasingly difficult to find a comfortable position when trying to get to sleep.

Not only may many of your old sleeping positions leave you restless and sore, but some positions are actually dangerous for the health of both you and your growing baby.

Because of this, it’s best to know the risks and recommendations before it is too late.

Image: pregnant women asleepSleeping During Early Pregnancy

Although most of your troubles finding a comfortable position won’t come until later in your pregnancy, you may still experience some issues in the first trimester.

Although women tend to get more sleep early on in pregnancy, the quality of your sleep often takes a pretty big hit.

Between the changes going on inside your body and your rapid swings in hormones, it’s not uncommon for expectant mothers to wake up several times throughout the night, even during the first few months of pregnancy.

In terms of sleep position, as your breasts become more tender during the first trimester, sleeping on your stomach will become more and more uncomfortable.

While it won’t do any physical harm to keep sleeping in this position if it’s what you’re used to, it may make getting to sleep far more difficult.

Back Sleeping Becomes Dangerous

After the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, however, your sleeping position can start to have a far more serious impact on you and your child’s health.

Sleeping on your back in particular becomes a major hazard.

Due to the swelling of your uterus, sleeping on the back can place serious pressure on your inferior vena cava (IVC), a vein running up your back that supplies blood flow to the heart.

Back sleepers may find themselves waking up either short of breath and with racing hearts as their body’s try to account for lack of circulation.

You may also find yourself feeling lightheaded or dizzy either upon waking or while trying to get to sleep.

Back sleeping can also interfere with the flow of nutrients to the placenta, potentially causing your child harm.

Additionally, the way the uterus presses down on your inner organs can lead to difficulty breathing or digestive troubles, as well as backaches, hemorrhoids, and low blood pressure.

Overall, back sleeping is just a bad idea after the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Stomach Sleeping: Uncomfortable, Also Risky

Once the fifth month or so of pregnancy rolls around, it starts to become clear that sleeping on your stomach isn’t really an option, either.

Although you don’t need to worry about putting excessive pressure on your baby – even in the ninth month, the uterine wall is still thick enough to keep them safe – this will mostly just be an incredibly uncomfortable position.

Your breasts and belly will both feel very sore.

Additionally, like back sleeping, stomach sleeping also exerts pressure on the IVC, so you might experience some of those same heart palpitations and shortness of breath.

Image: another pregnant woman sleepingSide Sleeping Is the Way to Go

Since back and stomach sleeping are both pretty bad ideas, the only real option for pregnancy women is sleeping on your side.

 Your left side in particular will provide the best circulation to your placenta, allowing your baby to receive the nutrients they need.

Left side sleeping may also reduce the changes of heartburn, since it places your intestinal tract in a way that makes it harder to bile to slip out into your esophagus.

To make left side sleeping even more comfortable, you may want to place a pillow between your knees, and possible another one at your side.

This just helps align your body properly so that your weight is more evenly distributed.

Keep in mind, however, that sleeping positions can change throughout the night, so even if you start out on your left side, you may wake up on your back or stomach.

If this happens, don’t worry.

These positions are both pretty uncomfortable, so you’re unlikely to be left sleeping in one of them for too long.

Just turn yourself back onto your left side, and go back to sleep.

 If you find this happening more often than you’d like and you have a partner, you can also ask them to gently flip you over if they even notice you sleeping in a bad position.

How to Avoid Nighttime Heartburn

Another common problem pregnant women often face is nighttime heartburn.

Heartburn (also known as “acid reflux”) is caused by the leakage of bile out of your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) into your esophagus.

The LES is a ring of muscle separating the esophagus from the stomach.

It normally opens only to allow food to pass through, and then immediately closes shut.

However, as your inner organs reposition themselves during pregnancy, the LES sometimes doesn’t close the way it’s supposed to.

This makes stomach acid able to leak out of the LES and into the esophagus, causing that awful burning sensation as bile eats away at the esophagus’s outer lining.

Sleeping on your left side will help a bit in avoiding these symptoms.

Additionally, you’ll want to avoid eating anything too close to bedtime, since digestion is what causes heartburn to begin with.

In particular, steer clear of anything too spicy, too fatty, or too acidic.

Spicy and acidic foods irritate the esophagus, which may cause problems in your LES.

Fatty foods, on the other hand, cause an increase in gastric pressure as your stomach tries to break them down, which means the LES has to work harder than normal to keep everything under control.

Keep in mind that normally, when you’re sitting or standing upright, gravity is able to keep most of your bile down in your gut.

When you’re lying down, however, gravity isn’t able to help you as much, giving stomach acid a chance to slosh out and ruin your sleep.

To help with this, you can try propping yourself up with pillows around the neck and shoulders.

If you’re still waking up with heartburn, just get up and take an antacid, then lie back down.

Image: pregnant woman unable to sleepWhat to Do If You’re Still Not Comfortable

Now, unfortunately, some women may follow all of these instructions, and still wind up with trouble getting comfortable at night!

Some of these problems may be inevitable – after all, there are just some challenges inherent in any pregnancy.

However, much of the time, the solution may have less to do with you, and more to do with your sleeping environment.

Specifically, I’m talking about your mattress.

When to Get a New Mattress

Most experts recommend replacing your mattress about once every 7 to 10 years.

That number does vary a bit, of course – some latex mattresses last for up to 15 years, while bargain barrel futons typically won’t last most than 5 – but the point is, once your mattress is past its prime, it’s going to become increasingly difficult to sleep on.

Pregnancy is hard enough, and a bad mattress is one worry you simply do not need.

There basically two different routes you can take.

Option 1: A Mattress Topper

The least expensive option is to simply get a new mattress topper. 

By adding a couple extra inches of foam or latex, you can create a bit more padding between you and the uncomfortable surface of your mattress.

This can certainly help with your comfort issues, at least in the short term.

In the long run, though, there’s only so much this kind of layering can do!

Option 2: A New Mattress

The second option, of course, is to simply get a new mattress.

Most people will try to put off this option as long as possible, mostly because of how stressful and expensive the traditional mattress buying process is.

Mattress showrooms often jack up prices far higher than they need to be, while the salespeople (who are typically working on commission), will almost always steer you towards the most expensive options.

Thankfully, however, the mattress industry has actually seen a number of changes in recent years.

More and more companies are taking their products entirely online, where they don’t have to pay all the extra overhead that comes with a brick-and-mortar showroom.

This makes the buying process a whole lot easier and less expensive.

The best-rated mattresses out there cost no more than a thousand dollars, and some seriously high-quality products can still be found for even less.

A comfortable mattress is a simple way to steer yourself towards an easier pregnancy.

If that sounds like something you might want, we’ve compiled a complete buyer’s guide you can check out here.

Conclusion

Finding the right sleeping position during pregnancy isn’t as simple as you might expect.

Certain positions can be seriously uncomfortable or even harmful – and even in the best positions, there are always certain challenges.

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of the kind of position that’s going to work for you.

Let us know in the comments box below if you still have any questions.

Good luck, and congratulations!

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