Finding a Safe Sleeping Position When You're Pregnant

A good night's sleep is essential during pregnancy—but finding a comfortable and safe sleeping position can be extremely challenging. Check out our expert tips to help you sleep soundly when you're pregnant.

Pregnancy Sleep
Anyone who has been pregnant will tell you that growing a baby takes a lot of energy out of you and sleep becomes your best friend. But, while sleep may be all you want to do, finding a sleeping position that works isn't always that simple. Instead of closing your eyes and drifting off to sleep, you find yourself in the battle between getting comfortable and not ending up in a position that will potentially harm your baby.

"Adequate sleep during pregnancy is important to one's health and well-being," notes Lynn Simpson, MD, chief of obstetrics at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. "But the changes that occur to one's body during pregnancy often makes sleeping more difficult."

Generally, the first trimester sleep challenges are a result of symptoms of pregnancy that make rest challenging: needing to use the washroom, nausea and vomiting, and insomnia due to the hormones surging through your body. But, once you hit midway through your second trimester and you start to pop, sleeping comfortably becomes a bigger challenge.

Finding a Good Sleeping Position

If you're naturally a stomach sleeper, this position becomes out of the question as you get further along in your pregnancy. "Earlier in pregnancy, mothers may be able to get comfortable on their stomach, however, the further along you are in your pregnancy, it becomes very difficult to lay on your stomach given the physical growth and changes of the abdomen," says Emily Silver, a certified nurse practitioner and co-owner of Boston NAPS, a private duty nurse company that offers prenatal education and postpartum nursing and lactation support.

Back sleeping is not recommended for pregnant women in the second trimester and on. "During the second half of pregnancy, it is not ideal to lay flat on one's back for prolonged periods of time," Dr. Simpson warns. "This is because the growing uterus can compress the movement of blood in the large vessels along the maternal spine." This compression can lower the mom's blood pressure, which in turn can decrease the blood circulation to the baby.

So, what's the most ideal sleep position for pregnancy? According to both Silver and Dr. Simpson, sleeping on your side, specifically your left side, works best.

"While either side is safe, the best side is your left side, as this position helps to increase the amount of blood and nutrients that travel to the placenta and the baby," adds Silver. But she also adds that moms shouldn't panic if they wake up on their back. "Mothers should start their sleep on their side. If they naturally end up on their back, don't panic, but rather once awoken on the back, re-position to another side again," she suggests.

If sleeping on your side isn't natural to you and it's hard to get comfortable, Dr. Simpson suggests using pillows to help keep you in place. "The strategic placement of pillows is one way to prevent rolling onto one's back in the middle of night," suggests Dr. Simpson. "A long body pillow can be useful for this purpose. Engaging one's partner to spoon with you is another way to sleep on one's side during the night."

Ensuring a Better Night's Sleep

Beyond finding a comfortable sleep positions, there are a few other things you can do to help make the nighttime more comfortable.

Dr. Simpson suggests limiting large meals before bed to reduce heartburn, and emptying your bladder fully right before bed, so you're not waking up in the early hours to do so. She also suggests keeping your bedroom dark and slightly cool and using breathable sheets, like cotton.

If you're having trouble turning off your mind, look for ways to wind down before bed, whether it's a little light reading or another activity. "Figure out what works for you," adds Dr. Simpson. "For some a shower or bath, or being intimate with one's partner may help one get a restful night."

Still having sleep trouble? Reach out to your health care provider. "Absolutely talk to your provider about any questions or concerns you ever have during your pregnancy," says Silver. "Even if you think they are silly questions or seem small, that is what we are there for and we want patients to have the best prenatal care. The more questions you ask, the better care we can take of you."

Having trouble sleeping can be a real struggle for many pregnant women. But a few small changes to your nighttime routine could help you find your nighttime rest again — until your baby arrives, anyway.