A new study suggests that pregnant women in poor countries could drastically reduce the risk of stillbirth by sleeping on their sides. If this is true, it seems like it would be sound advice for any pregnant woman.
It was admittedly a relatively small study - 220 postpartum women in Ghana. They were interviewed about their sleeping habits just after giving birth. But because Ghana has such a high rate of stillbirth, Louise M. O’Brien, the professor at the University of Michigan’s Sleep Disorders Center who oversaw the project attests that “the conclusion seemed clear: If pregnant women avoid sleeping on their backs, 25 percent of all stillbirths in poor countries might be prevented.” From The New York Times:
The leading theory, she said, is that when a heavily pregnant woman sleeps on her back, the uterus compresses the vena cava, the blood vessel going up the spine that returns blood to the heart. That starves the fetus, leading to smaller babies and more stillbirths. Supine sleeping also closes the airways, leading to oxygen deprivation, which raises blood pressure. Closed airways lead to snoring.
I can tell you from personal experience that if you are in labor and your fetus appears to be exhibiting signs of distress, doctors will turn you on your side and administer oxygen. If this is the best position for baby to receive optimal oxygen intake, it makes sense that it would benefit us all to take the same advice.
I know for a fact that I could not comfortably sleep through the night on my back. I had a third trimester ultrasound a few weeks ago that required me to lay flat on my back on a hard table for 20 minutes and I almost passed out. I’m not kidding. I was very, very uncomfortable and having a hard time catching my breath. This is probably not true for all women. I’ve heard many women say they are able to still sleep on their stomachs and backs throughout their pregnancies. But if side-sleeping can reduce the rate of still-birth in poorer countries, it seems like an easy recommendation that we can all take for optimal health.
I guess I just love following easy advice. This simply requires laying on your side. From someone who has a hard time completing something as easy as Kegels – this is something that I can do with no problem. If you don’t know what Kegels are, they are basically one of the only exercises you can complete while staying completely still. Not hard. Not hard at all. I still can’t manage to follow my doctor’s orders of doing 100 a day to prepare for labor. But I can easily sleep on my side tonight!
At least I’m doing something right.