Sleeping with a huge watermelon-sized ball on your stomach can be quite the challenge to say the least. And when you’re able to finally fall asleep, you also need to worry about whether you do it correctly or not. At least according to all the groundless sleep recommendations with vague but terrifying warnings that you might hurt your baby if you sleep on your back, right?

Researchers believe that sleeping on the back during third trimester causes compression of the inferior vena cava (IVC) blood vessel, and that this may reduce the blood flow to the fetus. Several studies show a correlation between sleeping on the back and an increased risk of stillbirth, however this is not as straightforward as it may seem. Interpreting research is quite tricky, but what you need to know is that if we break down these studies, and strip away all the other more or less known causes related to an increased risk of stillbirth, back sleep appears to contribute to only a fraction of this absolutely tragic, but thankfully very rare event.

So should you really worry about sleeping on your back? If you find yourself waking up on your back, don’t freak out. Your baby is fine. If you are in your first or second trimester and having a healthy pregnancy, please feel free to sleep however you may please. If you are in your third trimester, simply put a pillow under your right side if you love sleeping on your back It literally does not take more than a 10-15% incline of your upper body to prevent compression of the IVC. Women who sleep on their back ?have no higher risk of stillbirth compared to women sleeping on their left side.

Take home message: Three facts:

  1. Getting enough sleep is more critical to your and your baby’s overall health than how you position yourself during sleep. Lack of sleep is known to increase cortisol levels (cortisol=stress hormones) as well as associated with an increased risk of anxiety, pain, infection and/or other chronic illnesses (like diabetes) just to mention a few, so I think you can catch my drift here.
  2. Don’t be afraid to trust in your body’s competence during pregnancy. It is super- smart and knows exactly what it is doing! After all, it is growing a human baby in there completely without your conscious effort. Isn’t that just crazy AND amazing?!
  3. Your body is equipped with an amazing “alarm system” (otherwise known as the sympathetic branch of the nervous system in nerd-language), so more often than not it will actually tell you if something’s up. If you happen to find yourself in a position where your IVC in being compressed you will be able to feel it, and thus be “warned”. Your blood pressure will drop slightly causing you to feel a little woozy, nauseous and/or just a little “off”. This is your body’s way of gently telling you to simply move on to a different position for a while.

 

 Love Dr. Hilde