The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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If you haven’t already heard it, eventually someone is going to tell you to sleep all you can now because you won’t be getting any rest after your baby is born. Easier said than done, right?
Telling someone to “just go to sleep” is like telling someone to “just” pull a redwood tree out of the ground with his or her bare hands: It simply can’t be done. Sleep is what restores all those important connections in the brain that allow your mind and body to function at their best—something that’s doubly important when there’s a baby on board. But thanks to muscle pains, pee breaks, heartburn, hot flashes and more, pregnant women often face big sleep challenges.
We know you don’t want to take any medications if you can possibly avoid it. So to help, here are some ways to make getting the rest you need a little easier.
Lie on your left side
Sleeping on your side relieves stress on your back, which may be aching right about now thanks to your growing belly. But it’s also better for your developing baby than lying flat on your back: When you do that, the weight of your uterus compresses the blood vessels that feed the placenta. Additionally, lying on your left side is better than lying on your right side because it allows more blood to flow to the uterus.
Use pillows as props
If trouble breathing is keeping you awake, use pillows to elevate your upper body. This will allow your uterus to drop down, away from your diaphragm, making it easier for your lungs to inflate.
Banish the burn
If heartburn is a sleep stealer, elevate the head of your bed (not just your head) by putting blocks under the legs. This will keep stomach acid from rising up into your esophagus.
Mellow out with milk
Have a small glass of warm low-fat milk, but not after 6 p.m. (In fact, you should limit all liquids in the evening to avoid having to get up and out of bed and pee in the middle of the night.) The lactose in the milk is a sugar; this stimulates the release of insulin, which in turn helps milk’s calming proteins like tryptophan to enter your brain.
Keep your cool
The pregnant body runs hot, so if you want to avoid waking up in a sweat, open the bedroom window, run a fan or ratchet up the air conditioner.
Calm cramps and kicks
Many pregnant women’s sleep is disrupted by leg cramps or restless leg syndrome, which occurs when your leg reflexively spasms in a kicking motion. Applying a heating pad to the area can help, as can getting 800 micrograms of folate or folic acid a day; you can get your daily dose with a supplement or foods, such as fortified cereals and grains, spinach and lentils.
Consider safe meds
Quieting pain so that you can get the sleep you need is better for your mind and body than “toughing it out” in order to avoid taking medicine when expecting. Tylenol is safe to take if pain is keeping you awake. Benadryl, an antihistamine that makes many people sleepy, is also considered safe during pregnancy. You can also ask your doctor about taking the over-the-counter medication Unisom, which has been shown to help promote sleep during pregnancy. Just don’t use it for more than one week.