Welcome back to PregnancyPillows.org! We’ve talked a lot about back pain over the last few days, and a lot about sleeping position, and today we’re talking about a little bit of both. Pregnancy brings a lot of changes to your daily life. What you can eat, what you can drink, how much you can carry, and also, according to some, how you can sleep. Common wisdom says that a pregnant woman should sleep only on her side, and preferably her left side, to prevent all manner of terrible things from happening to her unborn baby. But if you are those who love sleeping on your back during pregnancy, is it really necessary to change your entire sleeping routine, and to give up precious hours of snoozing so that you can get used to a new sleep position? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s what we’ll talk about today as we explore research from experts and suggestions to make your sleep more comfortable.
There are a lot of odd myths about pregnancy. For years, people thought it was dangerous to lift your arms above your head while pregnant, because somehow that motion would move the umbilical cord like some prenatal marionette and wrap it round the baby’s neck. We now know this isn’t the truth, but it is certainly an example of how certain beliefs can become ingrained in our beliefs about how a pregnant woman should behave. For years, doctors have been telling women that sleeping on their backs during pregnancy could deprive their baby of oxygen and oxygenated blood, potentially causing brain damage or death. Their reasoning is a large vein, called the Vena Cava, which runs along the spine. The worry is that the weight of the baby can press upon the vein, denying both mother and child oxygenated blood. It’s a scary thought and one that has sent many mothers into a panic when they wake up realizing that they have rolled onto their backs. But does this have any basis in fact?
The answer, like most when it comes to pregnancy, is a straight-forward, definite, yes-but-no. It is absolutely true that the Vena Cava is a vital vein for both mom and baby during pregnancy, and that it is essential for getting blood to baby but also for ensuring that mom is getting proper circulation, especially to the legs. There is no denying that the Vena Cava is important. However. The doctors at Mommy Docs have stated that there is little evidence that back sleeping during pregnancy causes any damage, especially in the first two trimesters when baby is far too small and light to put enough pressure on the Vena Cava that it would become blocked. Also, because a woman sleeping too long on her back is likely to become short of breath, you would probably wake up long before you did any damage to your baby. It is important to always listen to your body and to change position if you need to.
With that said, it is worth noting that while back sleeping is probably not the worst thing you can do while pregnant, it still does carry risks, and sleeping on your left side is still the recommended position for pregnancy, and especially for late pregnancy. If, for whatever reason, you didn’t wake up after sleeping on your back for too long, there is a chance that you or the baby could suffer harm.
It is also worth noting that, dangerous or not, back sleeping will become increasingly less comfortable as your belly grows. No one wants to sleep with a watermelon pressing on their spine, and that is essentially what it is to sleep on your back in the third trimester. So even if it isn’t as dangerous as it has been made out to be, finding an alternate seep position is not probably a bad idea.
What you can do
First, relax. A nap on the couch or waking up after rolling onto your back are not terrible things, or the end of the world. You have not done permanent damage if you find that you have slept prone for an hour or two, so take a breath, realize that you and baby are almost certainly fine, rearrange yourself, and go back to sleep. In early pregnancy, if the only way you can sleep is on your back, sleep on your back without fear or doing any kind of permanent damage.
Second, sleep inclined. If you can’t sleep any way but on your back, but sleeping on your back is making your short of breath, you can often take the pressure off your spine and Vena Cava by sleeping slightly propped, either on the bed with pillows behind your back, or in a recliner. You can use a mix of a good maternity pillow and several regular pillows to ensure that you stay propped up well, and that you don’t fall sideways while you sleep. As hilarious as it might be to onlookers, you might not find it so amusing to wake up halfway out of your chair.
Third, change your sleep routine. Even if it is early in pregnancy, and therefore safe to sleep on your back, it is probably a good idea to begin preparing for the third trimester when sleeping on your back may not only be inadvisable, but uncomfortable to the point of impossible. Start getting comfortable on your left side. Invest in a pregnancy pillow that assists you in this, especially C and U shaped pillows that are specifically designed to help you sleep on your side during the later days of pregnancy.
Fourth, enlist the help of your partner, if you have one. If sleeping on your back makes you nervous, or if you have a medical condition that makes sleeping this way dangerous even in the first and second trimesters, your partner can be a big help. It may sound silly, and it probably looks silly too, but many partners have been enlisted to push their pregnant spouses back onto their sides during sleep. You may get so used to this, in fact, that you stop waking up when it happens and simply sleep on whilst your partner shoulders (literally) the responsibility. You can also place pillows behind your back to prevent you from rolling, or get a U-shaped pregnancy pillow that helps hold you in place during the night.
The Bottom Line
No, sleeping on your back is probably not quite the recipe for disaster you may have once thought it was, and it certainly isn’t a reason to panic if you wake up on your back. It is, though, not the ideal, and it may be a good idea to prepare yourself to sleep on your side, especially late in pregnancy. A good pregnancy pillow should be able to assist you with that.
At the end of the day, just try to relax, find a sleeping position that works for you, and go with it. You need your sleep and, as obnoxious as it is to hear it out in the real world, get that sleep while you can, because soon it will be a distant memory.