Tips for Sleeping on Your Side to Avoid Stillbirth

Tips for Sleeping on Your Side to Avoid Stillbirth

Pillows could be your new best friend and perhaps even replace your partner by having more access to you and the one you reach for more to get comfortable and cuddle up to sleep, during pregnancy! These can also be a great aid to ensure that you sleep on your side.

Pregnant women are exposed to a world of advice (sometimes welcome and sometimes unsolicited!) from the moment they test positive for their pregnancy. And among the advice that filters through as sound medical directive rather than old wives tales, is that related to sleeping on side during pregnancy. 

According to the largest study of maternal sleep position and risk of stillbirth published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, women who suffered a stillbirth after 28 weeks gestation were 2.3 times more likely to have slept on their backs than on their sides, the night before the stillbirth occurred.

Sleeping on side during pregnancy, and in particular sleeping on your left, has been reported to help ease the pressure off your liver and kidneys. This allows them to function better thereby flushing out waste products and fluids from your body, and reducing edema (swelling) of your ankles, feet, and hands in the process. 

Although we now learn that sleeping on either side is fine, there are reasons that you might choose to sleep on your left. It is still often regarded as the perfect scenario as it also allows for optimal blood flow from the inferior vena cava (IVC), which is a large vein that runs parallel to your spine on the right side, and which is responsible for carrying blood to your heart and also to your baby.

sleeping on side during pregnancy

Sleeping on your left side during pregnancy is often regarded as the ideal scenario. Photo: iStock

Sleeping on side during pregnancy

Tips to make sleeping on side during pregnancy work for you

So we have read the research and we now know that sleeping on side during pregnancy is the safest form of sleep, but what if you have always been a supine sleeper or a tummy-sleeper? What if you dislike sleeping on your side and find it difficult to get comfortable and drift off to sleep in such a position? 

Here are our top tips to help you fall asleep on your side and stay that way for the majority of your sleep episode – regardless of whether it is your daily seven hours of sleep at night, a daytime nap, or even going back to sleep after any night-time awakenings.  

Sleeping on side during pregnancy: Pregnancy pillows 

Pillows could be your new best friend and perhaps even replace your partner by having more access to you and the one you reach for more to get comfortable and cuddle up to sleep, during pregnancy! 

Always have a few extra pillows in bed with you. This can be just about any extra pillow that you have lying around, a bolster pillow, or you may want to invest in a pregnancy pillow that works all throughout pregnancy and can sometimes aid you through breastfeeding as well. 

sleeping on side during pregnancy

Pillows are great aids to side-sleeping during pregnancy. Photo: iStock

Pregnancy pillows come in all shapes and sizes. There are extra-long pillows that contour to the shape of your body and come in giant U or C shapes; these wrap around your entire body to help with side sleeping so you can position the pillow so that it runs along your back, and then hug the front while simultaneously slipping it between your knees. There are also wedge pillows that you can slip 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. There are even ones that are specifically shaped with a divided centre and fortress-walls to make sure you remain in a side position throughout your snoozing. 

Here are a few links on popular e-commerce sites linked up to pregnancy support pillows, to help you chose one that is best for you if you do decide to invest in one:

Either avail the use of such pillows or even use any extra ones that you may already have in your homes, to place around your belly and in between your legs so that your abdomen stays raised and your back and hips are adequately supported.

Wedging a pillow in between your legs helps to foster a more comfortable side-sleeping position by keeping your legs level. Pregnant mums usually report issues with discomfort and even pain while sleeping on the side, in which cases their top leg is almost always dipping down on to your bottom leg, but keeping them level using a pillow gets rid of this issue and facilitates a smoother side-sleeping experience. 

You may also use an extra pillow to prop up the head of the bed a few inches, which can also help to ease breathing and help prevent any backflow of stomach acid from reflux, reducing heartburn.

However, if you simply cannot get used to sleeping on your side, try using pillows to prop your upper body at a 45-degree angle so you do not lie completely flat, and sleep with bent knees to take the pressure off your back. This will also take the compression off your IVC. 


sleeping on side during pregnancy

Cultivate a good day-time routine to help you sleep better at night. Photo: iStock

Cultivate healthy habits during the day to foster quality night-time sleep

  • Exercise every day (but please check with your doctor first), for staying active can help in fostering better sleep quality. Try to take a 30-minute walk or a pregnancy exercise class (there are short pregnancy workout videos on YouTube for free as well), at your own pace. However, make sure your exercise is performed earlier on in the day and avoid any activity that brings your heart rate up, within 4 hours of bedtime as this can be stimulating enough to keep you up.
  • Try to stick to a relaxing nighttime routine. A warm bath and/or a massage, some relaxing tunes, deep-breathing exercises, and even a pregnancy yoga video are all good ways to relax before bed.
  • Stretching, especially performing leg stretches and concentrating on your calves and other areas that you usually cramp up in, can prevent nighttime cramps from springing sudden surprises on you.
  • Despite pregnant mums needing extra fluids, try to limit drinks later on in the day. Stop drinking within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime so you won’t have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Caffeine should be avoided as much as possible during pregnancy but in particular closer to bedtime as it can keep you up, as well as act as a diuretic that makes you have to use the bathroom more.
  • Make one last trip to the bathroom before you turn out the light to sleep.
  • Try to maintain a cooler temperature in your room, as you are bound to feel warmer while being pregnant.
  • Take daytime naps. Be sure to apply the same rules on sleeping on side during pregnancy while you take a day-time nap as well. 


Most importantly, relax. Try to apply the tips above to ensure you remain on your side, and if you’re especially concerned about your sleeping position, you may even ask your partner to check on you from time to time and help nudge you into a better position.

As long as you go to sleep on your side, it does not matter as much if you wake up in the middle of the night and find that you are in a supine position, as research indicates that the position you went to sleep in is held the longest during sleep. Simply roll back on your sleep and carry on sweet-snoozing mama!



Tips for Sleeping on Your Side to Avoid Stillbirth


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