Sleeping on your back in the third trimester increases stillbirth risk, says study

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A new study has found that sleeping on your back in the third trimester doubles the risk of stillbirth

Tossing and turning at night is a common problem for pregnant women. This is why knowledge about sleeping position during pregnancy third trimester is crucial. 

Not only does having to sleep with a growing belly cause discomfort, new research claims that mums-to-be have more to worry about when going to bed. Choosing the wrong  third trimester sleeping positions also poses health risks. 

According to a study published in British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology (BJOG), sleeping on one’s back during the third trimester doubles the risk of stillbirth. 

Sleeping position during pregnancy third trimester: What do doctors recommend?

sleeping position during pregnancy third trimester

Sleeping position during pregnancy third trimester – what’s safe? Image source: File photo

The study examined over 1,000 pregnancies: 291 that resulted in stillbirth and 735 that ended in a live birth.

Taking into account favoured third trimester sleeping positions, they found that mothers who had a late stillbirth admitted to sleeping on their backs. 

Other than this finding, researchers also found other worrying sleep behaviours.

These behaviours include: sleep duration on the last night, waking up to go to the toilet only once or almost never on the last night, as well as frequent napping during the day.

Here are some tips for sleeping on your side:

  • Support your back with pillows. This not only prevents you from lying on your back, it also adds comfort.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, make sure you haven’t shifted positions and that you are still on your side.
  • Don’t neglect daytime napping positions. Make sure you aren’t flat on your back during daytime naps.
  • It doesn’t matter whether you prefer sleeping on the right or left side.
  • Don’t panic when you wake up in a flat position. Just roll to your side immediately.
Sleeping position during pregnancy third trimester

Sleeping position during pregnancy third trimester. Image source: File photo

“The question that we asked was very specifically what position people went to sleep in and that’s important as you spend longer in that position than you do in any other,” reassures Professor Alexander Heazell in an interview with BBC.

Continuing, he said, “You can’t do anything about the position that you wake up in, but you can do something about the position you go to sleep.”

What other factors increase stillbirth risk?

Aside from being cautious about sleeping position during pregnancy third trimester, several factors can heighten stillbirth risk:

  • Mother’s low socioeconomic status
  • Mother’s age: Over 35
  • Smoking or taking drugs before pregnancy
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke while pregnant
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • History of diabetes
  • History of high blood pressure
  • No history of giving birth
  • History of stillbirth 
  • Small fetal size (or small for gestational age)
  • Pregnancy with multiples: twins, triplets, etc.
  • Pregnancy achieved through assisted reproductive technology, like IVF.

If you are a pregnant mum worried that you have been sleeping on your back for a while now, make sure to raise these concerns with your gynaecologist on your next visit.

Though findings such as these are insightful and helpful, each pregnancy is unique and it’s best to work closely with your doctor to have a healthy, worry-free pregnancy.

sources: BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, BBC News 

READ THIS ALSO: All you need to know about your third trimester

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Written by

Bianchi Mendoza