This Sleep Position May Double Your Risk for Stillbirth

Henrietta Brewer
November 22, 2017

Now a United Kingdom study has found a link between increased risk of stillbirth and a common sleep position - adding more data to the idea you should try to sleep on your side during the last trimester of pregnancy.

If all pregnant women slept on their sides from week 27 onward, there would be a 3.7% decrease in stillbirth, saving around 130 babies' lives a year, The Midlands and North of England Stillbirth Study (MiNESS) found.

Lead researcher Dr. Alexander Heazell of the University of Manchester says this study confirms earlier studies that found a link between mothers sleeping on their back and stillbirths after 28 weeks of pregnancy. Knowing that sleeping on the back can influence this risk is vital for preventing more stillbirths from happening.

The researchers studied over 1,000 pregnant women for the study and interviewed them over their sleep behaviours.

"This is an important study which adds to the growing body of evidence that sleep position in late pregnancy is a modifiable risk factor for stillbirth".

Pay the same attention to sleep position during the day as you would during the night.

Heazell says he wasn't completely surprised by the results because previous studies have found similar conclusions.

In Canada, there was a total of 2,774 stillbirths in 2012. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that number is even higher: one in every 100 pregnancies ends in stillbirth.

If you're struggling to sleep on your side, Tommy's recommend that you put pillows behind you to prevent falling on your back.

The research was funded by four charities: Action Medical Research, Cure Kids, Sands, and Tommy's, with Tommy's now launching a public health campaign to alert pregnant women to sleep on their side, as that position is safer for their unborn child.

A baby may have died during late pregnancy (called intrauterine death).

If mothers-to-be change their position during sleep, for instance from lying on their left to their back, the baby quickly becomes "quieter".

"This is because people can reliably report the position that they go to sleep in, but cannot really do anything about the position in which we wake up".

"We know that when women sleep on their backs, venous return [blood flow back to the heart] is compromised, which will also make the woman feel unwell, and so we always encourage women to at least try to sleep on their sides", she tells Global News.

Dr Stacey was one of the first academics to highlight the association between sleep position and the increased risk of stillbirth in a paper that was published in The BMJ in 2011.

McCowan LME, Thompson JMD, Cronin RS et al, 2017, 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.

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