Has your doctor warned you about the dangers of sleeping on your back during pregnancy?
Or perhaps you’ve been doing your own research, and you’ve begun uncovering tips, tricks, and advice about your bedtime and which position is best. There’s a ton of information out there, and we’re here to sort fact from fiction.
While every woman and each pregnancy are different, there are some universal guidelines that will help you make the right decisions.
Don’t take personal anecdotes from friends or family as truth—always discuss concerns you may have with your doctor.
Ultimately, the position you choose to sleep in is entirely up to you, but we’re here to enlighten you on the potential dangers of laying on your back when you’re pregnant and our recommendation on the best position during all stages of your pregnancy.
Possible Dangers of Back Sleeping While Pregnant
As your baby and uterus grow, back sleeping can put extra pressure on both your pelvis and your back. The result is a backache that prevents you from resting well and makes you uncomfortable the next day.
In most cases, we’d recommend a pillow placed in the hollow area of your lower back, but when you’re pregnant, this isn’t something we suggest, and you’ll see why in a moment.
Snoring is more common in this position. Other conditions tend to creep up as well, including sleep apnea. To keep your airways open, we recommend sleeping on one side, preferably the left.
Heartburn and acid reflux are common occurrences during pregnancy. To avoid this discomfort, back sleeping should be kept to a minimum. The reason is that the increased progesterone in your system smooths the muscles that connect the stomach and esophagus. The result is an easier transport for acid to travel upward.
Low Blood Pressure
The largest vein in our body is the inferior vena cava, and it’s responsible for transporting blood between our heart and lower body. Your growing uterus increases in weight during your pregnancy, and when you’re lying on your back, this pressure can cut off blood flow, decreasing blood pressure.
Okay, things are about to get real. For those who are blissfully unaware, hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the anal and rectum area. They’re painful and uncomfortable, to say the least. They’re also a regular occurrence during pregnancy.
Sleeping on your back is one of the worst possible things you can do for hemorrhoids—other than, perhaps, sitting all day on a slab of concrete. Lying in this position puts extreme amounts of pressure on the pelvic floor, making the pain worse and potentially exacerbating the condition.
Remember the inferior vena cava vein we discussed a moment ago? It needs an adequate opening to circulate blood through your body. The weight of a growing uterus can restrict circulation, posing all kinds of dangers. Keep in mind that every woman’s uterus is a different size and grows at different paces. While one woman’s uterus could cut off circulation relatively early in a pregnancy, another female may not experience it during the entire term.
Lying flat promotes the travel of acid into the esophagus. It’s estimated that 80% of pregnant women experience gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD). If you’re susceptible, aside from loading up on Tums, avoid lying down for extended periods in this position.
As blood circulates between the heart and lower body, it delivers nutrients, which are desperately needed by both mom and baby. The uterus puts pressure on the vein that provides those nutrients, potentially cutting off the flow and harming your baby.
This article isn’t meant to be scary (that’s what WebMD is for), but we do feel it’s important to share that several studies show a link between back sleeping and stillbirth.
Which Side Should I Sleep On?
Okay, so you know you’re supposed to sleep on your side, but is one side better than the other? It turns out sleeping on your left side is best. Not only does it take pressure off the liver, which is important for filtration and detoxification, it promotes circulation by allowing more blood to flow through the heart.
If you need to move around and switch sides, definitely do! Your hips are bound to get sore if you stay on one side all the time. Just know that your left side is marginally better to sleep on.
How Can I Get Comfortable?
Pillows will be your new best friends! There are a ton of pillows to choose from. Some are made specifically for pregnant women, while others can be used for multiple purposes.
Here are some types we suggest that can help make you feel comfy and cozy:
- C-Shaped: Yes, this pillow looks like a giant letter C, and it will hug the heck out of you. Most women use the one part of the C to rest their head, and they wrap their legs around the lower portion of the curve. It’s like having two pillows in one!
- U-Shaped: This pillow looks similar to the C-shape we mentioned, but its edges extend out further. Therefore, instead of wrapping yourself in it, you use the broad base to rest your head, and you can wrap your knees and feet around the opposite side.
- Wedge: You’ll love wedge pillows for propping your head up, especially if you have congestion. These pillows are also fantastic for sitting on the couch or in bed to watch television.
- Bean-shaped: These look like travel airplane pillows but larger. What we love about this cushion is its versatility. It supports you while you're resting and also doubles as a nursing pillow or a resting spot for little one.
- Contoured Body Pillow: For times when you struggle to get comfortable, a full-body pillow offers total support.
Need more details? Check out our complete guide for best pregnancy pillows.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if I accidentally sleep on my back?
Many women report that they wake themselves up if they’ve been on their backs for too long. Your baby may also give you a swift warning kick telling you to move it. Above all, don’t overly worry and stress yourself out more than you already are!
When you wake up on your back, roll to your side and make an effort to stay in that position. Propping a pillow against your back to prevent you from rolling over may help.
Learn More: Complete Guide for Sleep During Pregnancy
How long is it safe to sleep on your back while pregnant?
This answer varies depending on how heavy your uterus gets. For some women, it never grows to be a size that poses a danger. In general, however, you want to avoid this position after your first trimester.
What to do if sleeping on my side feels uncomfortable?
Fortunately, you’ve got some time to train yourself. During the first trimester, any position will do, so use this time to work on making side sleeping more doable for you. Again, pillows will be a lifesaver because you can use them to position yourself perfectly.
Need help? Check out the most recommended mattresses for side sleepers here.
We’re firm believers in trusting our bodies to do what’s best for the baby and us, but sometimes it can be hard to have that blind faith, especially when you read the statistics about stillbirths.
If you’re feeling particularly nervous about whether your baby is okay, especially if you find yourself waking up on your back, try a technique called “count the kicks.” There are a few ways to count kicks, but the easiest is the Cardiff method. All you have to do is track how much time it takes for your little one to make ten movements.
If you notice a decrease in activity as you repeat this exercise, make sure you notify your doctor or midwife immediately.
Sources and References:
- Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy – americanpregnancy.org
- Is it safe to sleep on my back during pregnancy? – babycenter.com
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.