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Sleep Positions in Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Comfortable Sleep Positions

Learn about comfortable sleep positions during your pregnancy.

Good positions and extra padding from pillows is often the key to a good night's sleep during pregnancy. Most women find that laying on their right or left side is most comfortable during pregnancy. Lying on your back is not a recommended sleep position in pregnancy, as this can compress your inferior vena cava (blood vessel that returns blood from legs to heart). If you compress this vein you'll find your blood flow restricted and you may feel lightheaded.

Most doctors recommend that pregnant women lie on their left side. This promotes optimal blood flow to your body and uterus. If however you find that you are more comfortable on your right side, there is no reason you shouldn't sleep on this side.

Most women will also find they need added support while trying to find comfortable sleep positions in pregnancy. This can most easily be accomplished through use of pillows. You may find it helps to tuck a pillow under your belly and between your knees. You can also use a smaller pillow to support your back so you don't roll over on your back while sleeping.

If you do find you rolled onto your back while sleeping, don't panic. Simply roll back onto one of your sides and go back to sleep. Most women will find a position they are comfortable enough in to catch some zzz's. Some women find they do best in a semi-reclined position. You may for example find that you sleep better in a recliner chair or in a position similar to that a recliner might put you in. If this is the case, go for it. What matters is your comfort, not the exact position you fall asleep in.

Sleeping on your abdomen is a perfectly fine sleep position in pregnancy, except the farther along you are in your pregnancy the more uncomfortable or difficult it will become to lie on your stomach.

The Best Sleep Positions for Specific Problems:

Backache: Sleep on your side and place a pillow under your abdomen. This will help support the weight of your pendulous abdomen and relieve the strain on your back muscles.

Shortness of Breath during Sleep: Make sure to sleep on your sides, left side is preferable, and not on your back. The side position will make sure you do not inhibit the blood returning to your heart and the feeling of not getting enough air.

Heartburn and Indigestion: To avoid heartburn when trying to sleep you can prop up your upper body with pillows, or raise the head of the bed up by putting blocks under the header legs of the bed frame.

Swelling: If you find that during the day you are swelling (water retention) make sure you sleep on your left side. This position will allow the water to leave your tissue and enter your circulation to be voided out of your body by your kidneys.

Carpel Tunnel: When you have problems with your hands going numb or tingling during the night make sure to sleep with your hands pointing away from your body and not inward toward your body. There are special hand braces that you can wear while sleeping to keep your hands in the correct position.

Leg Cramps: If you awake with leg cramps during the night, immediately straighten your leg and point your toes upper ward toward your head. This will relax the cramp and allow you to return to sleep.

Tips to Fall Asleep

Many women find drawing a warm bath or taking a warm shower prior to bedtime helps them relax enough to fall asleep. Others find sipping a bit of chamomile tea and inhaling a small bit of lavender essential oil is all that is needed to help them fall asleep.

Last but certainly not least, be sure you avoid products with caffeine in the hours leading up to your bedtime. Even a small amount of caffeine (like that contained in chocolate) may be all that is necessary to disrupt a pregnant woman's system and keep her awake. Instead try heating a bit of milk with some honey, which helps induce a naturally relaxed state prior to bedtime.

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