Every pregnancy is different, but all pregnant women undergo a lot of changes. Some have morning sickness, while others feel sleepy or have heartburn. Managing one's way around the pregnancy's inconveniences is par for the course of pregnancy. One of the many discomforts is not getting a good night's sleep, especially in the third trimester. Doctors advise preggos to try to sleep on their side, but finding a comfortable position is tricky when you've got a huge and heavy baby bump.
Now there's a compelling and possibly life-saving reason to heed your doctor's advice. A new study published in the Journal of Physiology suggests that sleeping on your back in the third trimester of pregnancy can pose serious health risks for your baby.
Researchers at the University of Auckland had observed 30 women who were between 34 and 38 weeks pregnant and their unborn babies overnight. While it is a small one, it is the first study to monitor unborn babies overnight using an ECG device and at the same time record the mother’s position during sleep via an infrared camera.
The results showed that when pregnant women slept on their backs, their unborn babies were less active compared to fetuses of soon-to-be mothers who slept on their sides. It also showed how quickly an unborn baby's activity changed as the mother changed position during sleep. The researchers suggested that if the fetus was not healthy, the baby might have difficulty tolerating his environment.
"We are suggesting that there is now sufficient evidence to recommend mothers to avoid sleeping on their backs in late pregnancy," Peter Stone, professor of maternal fetal medicine at the University of Auckland and lead investigator, said in a statement.
While University of Auckland is a small study, there are other research that support its findings. A 2016 study found that preggos lying on their backs can add extra stress to the baby and may even contribute to the risk of stillbirth. Sleep issues have also been linked to preemie births.
Fetal activity is one of the indications that a baby is developing healthily inside a mother's womb. While counting kicks is not anymore the norm—each baby behaves differently in the womb—a decrease in the unborn baby's movements, especially during the later stage of pregnancy, warrants a call to your doctor.
Doctors today already advise preggos to sleep on their side. In an article for SmartParenting.com.ph, Shelby Freedman Harris, a psychologist and director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at Montefiore Sleep-Wake Disorders Center in the U.S., explained that the weight of the baby can compress the blood flow to your heart when you sleep on your back.
While there shouldn't be an issue on which side you sleep, sleeping on the left side might have an advantage, too. If you remember your biology, the heart pumps blood out through the right artery. Sleeping on your left side helps ensure that the flow of newly oxygenated blood from the heart isn't restricted.
Our final advice: Those pregnancy pillows can become handy when you want to sleep on your side.