Is Sleeping on Your Back During Pregnancy OK?

The latter stages of pregnancy bring all kinds of discomforts, and many pregnant moms can add sleeplessness to the list. You feel like you’re huge, you can’t get a comfortable position in the bed, and when you do finally find one, you have to get up to go to the bathroom. Some pregnant moms find relief sleeping on their backs—but is it safe?

What Do the Experts Say?

The general consensus among experts appears to be a qualified “no.” Sleeping on your back is not the best position for your or your baby during pregnancy. But your body may have a way of solving the question for you: if you sleep on your back, you may wake up before long, anyway. You won’t have done any harm, but your body is most likely telling you that it’s time to change positions.

The Effects of Back-Sleeping on Body and Baby

Here’s why your pregnancy sleeping position matters. As your abdomen grows throughout pregnancy, the additional weight needs somewhere to go when you’re lying down. Early on in your pregnancy, it might not make much of a difference—and you’re often so tired you don’t even pay attention to your sleeping position, anyway. But as your body grows throughout your pregnancy, back-sleeping causes the full weight of your uterus to press on your spine, intestines, and major blood vessels. This additional pressure could cause digestive problems, hemorrhoids, shortness of breath, and lack of blood flow to the baby. That’s why lying on your back may cause you to grow dizzy and faint or experience lower back pain.

Alternative Sleeping Positions

Experts advise sleeping on your side—specifically your left side—to increase the blood flow to the placenta and your baby. If you’ve been accustomed to sleeping on your back or on your stomach, it’s good to start training yourself early in your pregnancy to get used to sleeping on your side. The earlier you can get used to this new position, the better. Before you know it, you’ll be at a point when there’s no other comfortable way to sleep except on your side.

Pillows Are Your Best Friend

A pregnant woman sleeping with a body pillow.

That’s not to say, however, that side-sleeping has to be an uncomfortable experience. Most women who have been through a pregnancy will tell you that the key is pillows, pillows, pillows. You can start with a slim pillow between your legs to keep your knees slightly apart and your hips aligned. Many moms also feel more comfortable when they have a slim pillow tucked underneath their abdomen to give it some support. Additionally, you may need a pillow tucked in behind your back to give you extra support from behind. If you’re used to back-sleeping, you can lean into your back pillow and create a compromise position between sleeping on your side and sleeping on your back.

Some women swear by the body pillows designed for pregnant women. They often look like a giant letter “C” and allow you to curl up on your side, surrounded by support and comfort. But before you go out and buy one, make sure that it gives you the kind of support you need. Experiment with your regular bed pillows and you may find that you prefer your own specially designed arrangement.

Develop a Relaxing Nighttime Routine for the Best Sleep

A pregnant woman reading in bed.

If you still have problems with sleep while you are pregnant, you should make sure that you are following healthy sleep habits. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up each morning at the same time. This predictability will be one less thing your body tries to adjust to during pregnancy. Try to get some modest exercise during the day (with your doctor’s approval), but not too close to bedtime. (It may energize you and disrupt a healthy sleep pattern.) Don’t drink caffeine or eat a lot of sugar in the evening, which will also energize you. Relax your mind before bedtime with a good book, an enjoyable television show or movie, some quiet time spent writing in a journal, or a warm shower. And remember that no matter how uncomfortable you may feel toward the end of your pregnancy, this time will pass and before you know it, you will be enjoying your beautiful new baby.