Sleep Position During Pregnancy


I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you that it’s important to get good sleep while you’re pregnant, plenty of people will be on hand to tell you how important it is to get those Zzzzzs in now before the baby comes!

It’s one of the most useless pieces of advice you’re regularly given, and comes at a time when there’s a dozen or more things conspiring against you during pregnancy to stop you sleeping well! Whether it’s needing the toilet every 5 minutes, not being able to get comfortable, feeling too hot, heartburn etc., at the time when you’re likely to be the most tired you’ve ever been in your life – especially if you’re deficient in iron, which is one of the reasons you’re regularly tested for anaemia!

But aside from this, there’s actually been some pretty important research done lately that show that the position you go to sleep in can be significant when it comes to reducing the risk of still birth.

Researchers first noticed a link between the position a woman goes to sleep and an increased risk of stillbirth in a small study in New Zealand in 2011:

Association between maternal sleep practices and risk of late stillbirth: a case-control study (117.6 KiB)

This result has since been replicated in 3 further studies, the most recent of which being the largest, involving over 1000 pregnancies.

Sleep Position, Fetal Growth Restriction, and Late-Pregnancy Stillbirth: The Sydney Stillbirth Study (362.9 KiB)

Going to sleep in the supine position is a modifiable risk factor for late pregnancy stillbirth; Findings from the New Zealand multicentre stillbirth case-control study (168.4 KiB)

Association between maternal sleep practices and late stillbirth – findings from a stillbirth case-control study (9.5 KiB)

While the numbers we’re talking about are very small (fewer than 1 in 200 UK pregnancies results in stillbirth), and the researchers are not sure of the reasons sleep position may have a part to play, it does seem like this small difference in the last three months of pregnancy is significant, and is what’s known as a ‘modifiable risk factor’ – something we can do something about.

Prof Alexander Heazell, clinical director at the Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, who led the research, advises women in their third trimester to sleep on their side for any episode of sleep, including daytime naps.

“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.”


If you’re really concerned that you might turn onto your back while you sleep, there are a few things you can do.

Firstly, try not to stress out too much. If you do wake to find yourself on your back, just turn onto your side and go back to sleep – the evidence showed it was the position people started sleep in that was significant.

You could try to put pillows behind your back, to prevent you from rolling backwards. Some women swear by a full body pillow like this one for comfort during pregnancy – presumably they’ve got pretty big beds, or hubby is sleeping in the spare room!

Maternity Body Support Pillow £40 from JoJoMamanBebe

As usual, we don’t know how the statistics affect bigger women – but we do know that as bigger women we’re at marginally increased risk for still birth, and this is something we can easily modify, if we’re back sleepers, to improve our chances of a healthy birth, so it is worth considering.