Thanks to global stillbirth awareness campaigns, at most, if not all, pregnant women have heard the universally accepted opinions and research on sleeping on left side pregnancy benefits by now, including the most important of them all: lowering your risks of experiencing a painful and devastating stillbirth.
Sleeping on your side during pregnancy – and in particular your left side – allows for optimal blood flow to the foetus, from the Inferior Vena Cava (IVC) which is a large vein that runs parallel to your spine, responsible for carrying blood to your heart and also to your baby.
Sleeping on your left side has long since been considered the ideal sleep position during pregnancy, as sleeping on your back especially during the last trimester has been linked to stillbirth. According to the largest study about maternal sleep position and risk of stillbirth, women who suffered a stillbirth were 2.3 times more likely to have slept on their backs. What’s more, low birth-weight in infants has also been linked with supine sleeping positions during pregnancy.
However, for life-long back and tummy sleepers, changing this habit is easier said than done. theAsianparent spoke to one mum who was a back-sleeper prior to pregnancy, to find out how she successfully slept on her side throughout her pregnancy.
Sleeping on your side during pregnancy lowers your risk of stillbirth. Photo: iStock
Sleeping on left side, pregnancy tips
Start off early
When *Sarah found out she was pregnant again the first emotion she experienced was fear, and only then cautious joy. Her apprehension was stemming from a very painful miscarriage that she had faced prior to this pregnancy, from which she took very long to recover, both physically and mentally.
Instinctively she took to researching ways in which she could avoid miscarriage and stillbirth, and spoke to her doctor regarding this as well. While she stumbled on a wide variety of advice that was both solid and scientifically-backed she also came across a few old wives’ tales that sounded very far-fetched!
A good chunk of all the research she read and collected led back to sleep positions during pregnancy, and pointed to side-sleeping, and especially sleeping on one’s left side and during the third trimester in particular.
Being a back-sleeper her whole life prior to her pregnancies, this was a difficult concept for her to grasp, but she was determined to succeed.
“I knew I had to break the habit early, so I planned to sleep on my side from the very first time I read the research. It was around Week 8 of pregnancy, and I wanted to get a head start to sleeping on my side. I knew that although side-sleeping is especially important to avoid stillbirth only during the last trimester, there were other benefits to sleeping on the side,” she says.
However, this was challenging for her as she found it very difficult to get comfortable in this position.
“This was when I realised it was a good thing that I started early as I now knew that it would have been very difficult for me if I had waited until the last moment to start sleeping on my side. I started to research on pregnancy pillows and other ways in which I could ensure that I was sleeping on my side,” she says.
“My most important advice for fellow back-sleepers and tummy-sleepers would be to start early so you can identify problems earlier on and do something about it,” she adds.
Sleeping on left side, pregnancy pillows
Pregnancy pillows aid in maintaining a side-sleeping position during pregnancy. Photo: iStock
After researching the ways pillows aid side-sleeping, Sarah decided to invest in a dedicated pregnancy pillow.
“You can use just about any pillow that you already own, but I decided to buy a pregnancy pillow as I could also use it after birth to breastfeeding my baby and it would be useful for other purposes as well like propping the baby up to sit,” she says.
While there are a lot of pregnancy pillows on the market today, Sarah decided to go with an extra-long U-shaped giant pillow that contoured to the shape of her body. Such pillows wrap around your entire body to help with side sleeping. You can position the pillow so that it runs along your back, and then hug the front while simultaneously slipping it between your knees.
“I advise any pregnant mama to first check these pillows out at a store prior to buying. Some may not need the extra-long pillow especially if they suffer from over-heating at night. Sometimes a simple wedge pillow – that can be slipped under your tummy for a bit of extra support and to keep yourself from rolling onto you back, or under your knees to help ease the pressure off your legs – will suffice,” she says.
“Or you don’t need to buy a specific pregnancy pillow. Just use an extra pillow that may already be lying around your home and place it around your belly and in between your legs so that your abdomen stays raised and your back and hips are adequately supported,” she says.
Help from your partner
Sarah notes that on days she didn’t feel like sleeping with a pillow, she slept leaning onto her husband instead.
“It takes its toll! A pillow in between your spouse and yourself! Some days I just slept leaning onto him and asked him to prompt me to sleep on my side whenever he woke up in the middle of the night and found me on my back!” she said.
In addition to making sure she either slept with a pillow or slept propped up next to her husband, she also regularly made use of his services to receive a nice foot-massage or leg-rub prior to bedtime!
“I found that the more relaxed I was, the more I would stop tossing and turning in my sleep! So I got my husband to give me a nice foot massage to help me fall into deeper and more relaxing sleep almost every night!” she says.
Partners can pitch in too in helping a pregnant mother relax prior to sleeping. Photo: iStock
However, regardless of all the sleeping aids and tips she tried, towards the end of her pregnancy, it was very difficult for Sarah to sleep in a side position.
“As someone who has always slept on my back, I started getting really uncomfortable somewhere after week 36 of my pregnancy. So I abandoned side-sleeping and used an extra pillow to prop me up so that I slept at an incline on my bed,” she says.
Despite sleeping on your side during pregnancy being the ideal sleep position especially during the third trimester, lack of sleep (less than 5 to 6 hours) can cause other problems, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. If you absolutely cannot sleep on your side and find it very difficult to do, consider sleeping at an incline in bed, or even on a recliner with a pillow propped up behind your back for support and to avoid back pain, and your legs propped up on a stool.
Please let us know if you have any other tips such as these helpful insights from our expert mum on how to aid sleeping on your side during pregnancy. Happy side-snoozing mamas!
*This article was written for Project Sidekicks, a very special cause launched by theAsianparent. Through creating awareness around not smoking, sleeping on the side and counting baby’s kicks in pregnancy, as well as the need for proper support systems for pregnant women to foster healthy pregnancies, we hope to reduce the rate of stillbirth in Southeast Asia by 10% over the next three years.
To learn more about how you can support Project Sidekicks, click here.
To read more articles, infographics and view videos related to Project Sidekicks, click here.