Anyone who has ever been pregnant knows that it doesn’t take long before it becomes basically impossible to sleep comfortably. Between the growing belly, and the need to get up to pee about a hundred times a night, pregnancy isn’t usually a time of restful slumber and you might want to take the ease off by lying with ur backs which is now considered dangerous.
— Tommy's Midwives (@TommysMidwives) November 20, 2017
So, why does sleeping on your back increase your chances of stillbirth?
Researchers can’t be completely sure but they do have several theories. It could be that during the third trimester, if a woman sleeps on her back, the weight of the baby as well as the womb may put too much pressure on the main blood vessels that supply the uterus, essentially restricting blood flow and oxygen to the baby. It could also be that when a woman sleeps on her back, the risk of disturbed breathing increases, which in turn increases the chance of stillbirth.
A large-scale study of pregnant women in England found a 2.3 fold increase in the risk of late stillbirth among those who went to sleep on their backs in the third trimester.
Researchers estimated there would be a 3.7 per cent decrease in stillbirth if all women in the UK went to sleep on their sides in the final months before childbirth – saving 130 lives a year.
Pregnancy support charity Tommy’s has launched the Sleep on Side campaign to raise awareness among women of the risks of going to sleep on their backs for any kind of sleep late in pregnancy.
The charity advises women to go to sleep on their sides, but not be concerned if they wake up on their back as the position at falling asleep is usually held longest during the night.
Should they wake in the middle of the night they should roll on to their sides before going back to sleep, the charity says.
The Midlands and North of England Stillbirth Study (MiNESS) was the largest of its kind to examine the impact of maternal sleep position on the baby loss.
Lead researcher Professor Alexander Heazell, clinical director at the Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester said: “Around 11 babies are stillborn every day in the UK. Stillbirths are devastating, with long-lasting effects on bereaved parents.
“Parents want to know why their baby has died, whether it might happen again if they try for another baby and what they can do to avoid further stillbirth.”
Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “The research findings are a great example of how through making small changes we can begin to bring down stillbirths rate. It is a simple change that can make a difference and it will be important to ensure that this is communicated effectively to women.”
If you’re worried about waking up on your back having gone to sleep on your side, researchers say that you shouldn’t be concerned as the going-to-sleep position is actually the one you hold for longest. They advise just simply rolling back to the side position. Other helpful ways to encourage staying put include putting a pillow or pillows behind your back to encourage side-sleeping and making sure you go to sleep on your side anytime you sleep whether that’s at night, returning to sleep after any night awakenings or during day time naps.