A new study suggests that going to sleep on your back in the third trimester of pregnancy can double the risk of stillbirth, but researchers also urge women not to worry if they wake up that way- it’s the initial sleeping position that’s important
One in 225 pregnancies in the UK end in stillbirth every year, but new research published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology could help to save an estimated 130 babies’ lives, with a study showing that women who slept on their backs in the last three months of pregnancy were twice as likely to experience a stillbirth. Of 1000 women, 735 had healthy births, with 291 pregnancies resulting in stillbirth, and researchers st St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester linked going to sleep on your back in particular as a risk factor.
It’s still not known exactly why incidences of stillbirth increase when women sleep on their back later on in their pregnancy, however, it’s thought that oxygen and blood flow to the baby can be compromised due to the weight of the baby on the womb and blood vessels. Despite the warning, the study’s authors don’t want women to panic if they wake up on their backs after a nap or in the middle of the night, as lead researcher Professor Alexander Heazell explained to the BBC:
“What I don't want is for women to wake up flat on their back and think 'oh my goodness I've done something awful to my baby'.
"The question that we asked was very specifically what position people went to sleep in and that's important as you spend longer in that position than you do in any other.
"And also you can't do anything about the position that you wake up in but you can do something about the position you go to sleep."
Pregnancy charity Tommy’s has launched a #SleeponSide campaign in the wake of the study with information and advice on how to ‘sleep safely’ in pregnancy. Tips include placing a pillow behind your back to help you to sleep comfortably on your side, taking daytime naps in a sideways position and positioning yourself if you do wake up on your back- but not worrying about it. Both researchers and the charity report that there’s no difference between sleeping on your left or right side. Given that many of the eleven stillbirths in the UK each day go unexplained, this research and the simple changes that can make as a result could help women to feel more in control and empowered during the late stages of pregnancy.
For more support, information and advice, visit the Tommy’s website