According to a new study, women who sleep on their backs during their third trimesters may be putting undue stress on their fetuses—which might, in turn, increase stillbirth risk. This is obviously an incredibly scary possibility, but is the risk really significant?
Researchers from the University of Auckland looked at the importance of maternal sleep positioning in predicting birth outcomes based on the study of 29 healthy pregnant woman. According to their findings, certain positions might affect fetal behavioral state and heart rate variability. Based on this, researchers have suggested that lying in the supine position may be mildly stressful for babies.
This isn’t the first study to suggest something along these lines: A 2011 study that involved 500 pregnant women also suggested that sleeping in the supine position might increase risk of late stillbirth—though other pregnancy complications may have affected these results. Our sister site, Parents, shared a reality check, though: While it might be ideal for women to sleep on their sides during pregnancy, the reality is that is most end up on their backs. Some experts have suggested that if these risks exist, they’re likely quite low.
We spoke with Sean Daneshmand, M.D., an OB/GYN and the founder of Miracle Babies, to hear the expert’s thoughts on this topic. “This was a study on low-risk patients with a very small sample population without any difference in pregnancy complications or newborn outcomes,” Dr. Daneshmand told Fit Pregnancy. “This is a common concern for women where they often ask: ‘Doc, I feel so bad because sometimes I wake up and notice I have been sleeping on my back.’ Given the very low incidence of stillbirths and the very high likelihood that majority of women can relate to falling asleep on their back at one or more times during their pregnancy, I do not think this is something of concern.”
Now that you’ve heard that, you can probably breathe a sigh of relief—after all, it’s definitely not easy to find a comfortable sleeping position when you have a baby bump to contend with—but Dr. Daneshmand added that side-sleeping is probably a pregnant woman’s best option. He even shared a tip for making the position a bit more comfortable: “Getting [a] pregnancy body pillow is often useful for patients struggling to sleep on their sides. While sleeping on your side, place a pillow between your legs for better back comfort,” Dr. Daneshmand said.
While this research does bolster the idea that sleeping on your side might be your safest option, don’t stress yourself out too much about the findings—and, as always, speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.