When you enter your third trimester, finding a comfortable sleeping position becomes tricky when you've got a huge and heavy baby bump. So sleeping on your side becomes almost necessary, and the need for pillows (sometimes lots of them) becomes more important than anything else. As it turns out, this position can be a lifesaver for babies in the womb.
A new study showed that sleeping on your side may be the safest position for your baby especially during the late second semester and the entire third trimester of pregnancy. Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand did a meta-analysis of the data gathered by five studies from around the world about the risks of stillbirth. (The U.S. Center for Disease Control Prevention defines stillbirth as "a loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy.")
If every pregnant woman napped and slept lying on her side once she hits the 28th week of pregnancy onwards, it could prevent about 6 percent of late stillbirths, according to the study, which was published in the Lancet. It could have the potential to save the lives of nearly 153,000 babies each year worldwide, the researchers stressed. (A late stillbirth is when pregnancy loss happens between 28 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.)
The study also found that sleeping on your back starting on the 28th week of pregnancy increases the risk of stillbirth by 2.6 percent regardless if you have other known risk factors for it. The position could put pressure on blood vessels (reducing the blood flow) and restrict oxygen supply to the unborn baby.
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Previous research has linked pregnant women who slept on their backs to stressed and less active babies in the womb. Sleep issues during pregnancy have also been associated with preemie births.
While there shouldn't be an issue on which side you sleep, sleeping on the left side might have an advantage. The heart pumps blood out through the right artery. Sleeping on your left side helps to ensure that the flow of newly oxygenated blood from the heart isn't restricted, allowing optimal blood flow to the placenta and to your baby. And if find yourself sleeping on your back in the middle of the night, even though you fell asleep comfortably on your side, there's no need to panic. You can just roll back to your side and go back to sleep.
The study's findings are not definitive proof that sleeping on your side will totally prevent stillbirth. Other factors that increase a woman's risk of stillbirth include getting pregnant at an older age; smoking; existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity; being pregnant with multiples, and having a history of pregnancy loss.