Safe sleeping during pregnancy
As your pregnancy progresses you may find it increasingly difficult to get a restful nights sleep. This may be influenced by the physical changes taking place and the ever changing challenge of finding and maintaining a comfortable position, worsening heartburn, hip and pelvic pain, hormonal changes, baby’s movements, or the one constant influence of poor sleep – frequent trips to the toilet!
Rest is so important for a healthy pregnancy though so try and catch up as much as you can. Take occasional naps as you need to, but try not to make it habit or routine, particularly in the afternoon as this may influence your sleeping patterns at night. Try to avoid having late dinners and while drinking plenty of water is very important throughout the day, be mindful in the evenings that your bladder capacity is steadily decreasing as the size and weight of your baby increases.
Sleeping positions will vary throughout your pregnancy as your comfort and preferences change. You may find that the positions in which you slept before you were pregnant are no longer comfortable, or maybe not advisable during pregnancy, but don’t loose more sleep worrying about safe sleeping positions!
It is best to just find what is comfortable for you – but remember that this may change as your pregnancy progresses. For obvious reasons it is not recommended that you sleep on your stomach, particularly after 12 weeks. You may have heard or read that you must not sleep on your back, or that you must sleep on your left side; but please don’t feel alarmed if you wake up on your back or if attempting to sleep on your side all night is keeping you awake from discomfort.
The reason it is recommended that you avoid laying flat on your back for prolonged periods is because the weight of a growing baby and uterus can compromise the blood flow back to the heart, but rest assured compromise to the baby is rare as usually the woman becomes symptomatic first and the position, and blood flow, is rectified before any adverse outcomes occur.
The vena cava is a large vein that is responsible for bringing all the un-oxygenated blood back to the heart. This blood is delivered to the right side of your heart, sent through your lungs to be oxygenated, circulates back to the left side of the heart and out to your brain and body. While pregnant, it is sending blood to the uterus, which in turn feeds this blood and oxygen to the baby via the placenta and umbilical cord. Once the uterus and baby reach a certain size, the vena cava can become compressed when you lay flat, as mentioned above, which can delay the return of blood circulating back to the heart. If this occurs for a long period of time, it can potentially decrease supply to your baby, however as mentioned, be reassured that if compression is significant, you will begin to feel symptoms of hypotension such as dizziness, sweaty or clamminess, shortness of breath or nausea – in which case you would change positions or sit up, allowing for adequate flow to return. These symptoms will rouse a sleeping mum-to-be long before the baby in endangered.
Every woman is different and some can rest for short periods on their back without experiencing any of these symptoms, whereas others may find that laying flat almost instantly causes this reaction. The key is to listen to your body. Ideally, lying on your left side allows for the most optimal blood flow throughout the body, but altering positions is important for your comfort too. Don’t be alarmed if you fell asleep on your side and wake up on your back – simply ensure you are feeling ok and when comfortable to, roll back to your side and dream of the day when that manoeuvre won’t be such a colossal undertaking! Alternately, you may find that sleeping propped up by a few pillows behind your shoulders or back (whether on your back or side) allows more comfort if hip pain is a problem, as well as a pillow between the legs, or to place a small pillow or wedge under your hip to shift the weight of the uterus.
If you are having particular trouble sleeping, whether it be due to discomfort, restlessness or if you are anxious about safe sleeping positions and would like to know more, please talk to your midwife or obstetrician at Kindred at your next appointment.