Best Sleeping Positions (and Other Survival Tips) for the Trimesters of Pregnancy: a Sleeping Guide for Pregnant Women with Back Problems
Sleep on Your Left Side As Much as Possible
This is not a pregnancy myth. Whichever trimester you’re in now, it is a fact that sleeping on your left side is the best sleeping position for pregnant women.
It’s not just a way to be more comfortable in bed and support your back as your belly gets bigger. Sleeping on your left side can also improve the natural flow of blood and nutrients to the baby that’s growing inside you.
Here’s how to do it:
- Bend your legs at the hip and bend your knees to whatever degree that feels most comfortable.
- Stock up on pillows of different sizes and use these pillows as comfy supports under your head, behind your back, under your abdomen (when it gets big enough), and in between your knees.
- Get used to this sleeping position as early as possible. Sleep like this as much as possible throughout your entire pregnancy.
Do it for yourself and your baby. However, keep in mind that you can…
Sleep However You Want During the 1st Trimester
Pregnancy, the miracle of life that it is, also comes with several uncomfortable physiological effects that will interfere with regular sleep - starting at the first trimester. These effects may include some or all of the following:
- Tender breasts
- Frequent urination
- RLS or Restless Leg Syndrome
- Wild and strange dreams
- Insomnia itself
Given what you’re up against, you should do everything you can to get some much-needed sleep, including sleeping in whatever position makes you most comfortable.
Survival Tips for Pregnant Women in the 1st Trimester:
- While your belly may not yet require you to sleep on your side, it would be best if you tried to sleep on your left side as much as possible. However, if this is difficult, don’t stress about it too much and just focus on getting enough sleep.
- Plan and schedule sleep like you would any important family/work-related activity. Prioritize sleep as much as you can - we cannot stress this enough.
- Take advantage of the sleep-inducing effects of your rising progesterone levels, a hormone that’s responsible for the maintenance of pregnancy. This may make you more sleepy during the day and allow you to sleep earlier at night. Go ahead and sleep whenever your body tells you to.
- Drink tons of water in the day and gradually decrease fluid consumption as bedtime approaches to lessen trips to the bathroom.
- Use a nightlight, small lamp, or any subtle/small lights in the bathroom at night instead of using house lights. This will lessen the awakening effect of having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, allowing you to get back to sleep much more easily.
- Consider getting a mattress with a layer of memory foam. Even just a memory foam topper can make your bed more suited for side-sleeping. Try to find a mattress with cooling gel as well to increase bedtime comfort.
- Consider learning meditation, yoga, or zen archery. When it comes to dealing with the stressful effects of pregnancy, patience is your cheapest and most available weapon. All you need to do is wait for less than a year, give birth, and the terrible effects will soon go away. Anything that can teach you how to be patient until this happens will be well worth the time and effort to learn.
- Do some mild exercises. Walk around, do some light stretching, or do Hatha yoga - any non-strenuous physical activity that won’t make you feel like a couch potato will help you cope with the changes that come with pregnancy.
There Will be More Uncomfortable and Insomnia-Inducing Effects in the 2nd Trimester
- Heartburn. The diaphragm becomes restricted, breathing tends to become more shallow, and the esophageal sphincter and the intestines get displaced - all to make room for the enlarging uterus. The unfortunate consequence of this is esophageal acid reflux, also known as heartburn. Take it easy on the antacids.
- Nightmares. This is a normal occurrence during this stage of the pregnancy. According to some studies conducted by Dr. Kathlyn Lee, a healthcare expert from the University of California at San Francisco, 72% of women may experience frightening nightmares during pregnancy. The protective instincts of being a new mother may contribute to the frequency and intensity of nightmares as well.
Survival Tips for Pregnant Women in the Second Trimester
- As much as possible, sleep on your side with bended legs and knees to alleviate pressure on your back. Support yourself with pillows as directed at the beginning of this article.
- Avoid lying on your back for prolonged periods of time. This might’ve been okay during the start of the first trimester, but now, lying on your back can cause your baby to press on the vein that transfers blood from the lower body to your heart. This could make you dizzy and increase your nausea.
- Get your recommended 8 hours of sleep per night as much as possible. Keep prioritizing sleep throughout whichever trimester of your pregnancy.
- Avoid acidic, spicy, or fried food to lessen the risk of heartburn.
- Elevate your head with a bit more pillow support to lessen the risk of heartburn during sleep.
- Consult a therapist or counselor if your nightmares get too disturbing. If your nightmares are intense enough to make you fear going to sleep, ask your doctor for advice.
The 3rd Trimester is the Toughest, Most Sleep-Challenged Pregnancy Stage
Welcome to the last and most excruciating part of your pregnancy. Hold on - just three more months to go.
Prepare for the Following Additional Uncomfortable Effects During the 3rd Trimester:
- Increased belly weight may add to the exhaustion. It’s not easy carrying around a little human that’s growing inside you and using your body to nourish itself. You will definitely feel even more exhausted in the third trimester.
- More back pain, muscle aches, and general discomfort. In preparation for birth, the pelvic bones begin to soften while your joints start to loosen. This, plus the increasing weight of the baby, along with how difficult it becomes to maintain proper posture, can all contribute to general physical discomfort of this stage in the pregnancy.
- Randomly waking up at night. This may be alarming for first-time moms, so just know that it’s completely normal. In a study called “Sleep Disturbances During Pregnancy”, experts found that 97.3% of women in the third trimester woke up for an average of 3 to 4 times in the middle of the night. Two-thirds of those women suffered from this effect for 5 or more nights per week. This could directly interfere with your normal sleep cycles.
- Light to heavy snoring. This generally depends on how much the uterus is pressing on the diaphragm and causing nasal congestion. As much as 30% of women can develop snoring during the second to third trimester. This could result in temporary sleep apnea (really loud snoring and interrupted breathing during sleep).
- RLS or Restless Leg Syndrome. If you don’t already suffer from this, the third trimester is when it could kick in. RLS manifests as crawling and uncomfortable feelings throughout the legs, possibly disrupting sleep. Moving the legs can temporarily get rid of its symptoms.
- Leg cramps. These are fairly common in the second to third trimester of pregnancy. They tend to happen in the middle of the night, effectively disrupting sleep.
- Rib pain. Due to your expanding uterus, increased levels of progesterone, growing and tender breasts, increasing pressure on your diaphragm, and the hormonal changes that soften tissue, muscle, and ligaments (in preparation for birth), the second to third trimester may be accompanied by mild to moderate rib pain.
Survive Your Third Trimester with These Tried-and-Tested Tips:
- Keep sleeping on your left side and supporting your body with pillows. We’ve been through this.
- Posture up and lean back. Consistently doing this can relieve pressure on your ribs and tender breasts while expanding belly space. Lie back and stretch yourself out on a big comfy chair every once in awhile.
- Try to remain calm when you randomly awaken at night. Now that you know it’s a common occurrence, you can better calm yourself and go back to sleep even as your own body keeps waking itself up.
- If your snoring is accompanied by headaches, severe sleepiness during the day, and swollen legs, ask your doctor to check your blood pressure and urine protein. According to Dr. Jennifer Santiago of the New York Presbyterian Hospital’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, women who develop snoring during pregnancy are at much greater risk of preeclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction, and hypertension as compared to those who don’t snore.
- If you develop RLS, ask your doctor to test if you’re iron deficient. Iron or folic acid deficiency has been previously pinpointed as a direct cause of RLS in pregnant women. This can be remedied by eating iron-rich food or taking supplements recommended by your doctor.
- FOR LEG CRAMPS, STRAIGHTEN YOUR LEG AND FLEX YOUR FOOT UPWARDS. Practice doing this before bedtime to lessen the risk of leg cramps happening in the middle of the night.
- Take these steps to avoid and/or relieve Rib Pain:
- Sleep on either side of your body. If the rib pain is to your left, it’s okay to sleep on your right. Use as many pillows as you need to support your body and get comfortable.
- Wear loose clothing. Invest in comfortable pregnancy clothes and high-quality nursing bras. Avoid tight clothing as much as possible.
- Use warm or cold compress on the painful area. There’s nothing more relieving than ice bags on a scuffed rib or a hot, soothing bath to caress aching bones and muscles.
- If rib pain persists or becomes too intense, consult your doctor. Certain anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen may not be suitable for pregnant women.
- Consider getting body-supporting products designed for pregnant women. These include lumbar seat pillows, belly bras, body pillows, or any supportive products that may alleviate pressure on your back, belly, and ribs.
About the Author
Peter Mutuc is obsessed with natural, non-pharmaceutical solutions to insomnia and awry sleeping patterns, which comes in handy at his job as the web content writer for a small, Aussie startup mattress company called Onebed.