Michael C. Bartfield, M.D., F.A.C.OG.
Without any clear guidance from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it has been reasoned that if a pregnant woman was to sleep on her back, her enlarged uterus would compress the blood flow (along with nutrients and oxygen) from mother to baby. This action could lead to an increased risk of stillbirths (pregnancy loss after 20 weeks gestation).
Recently, several studies have looked at sleep position and its relationship to stillbirth. Although there are many risk factors that a given woman and her pregnancy may have for pregnancy loss, the studies confirm an increased risk when a woman sleeps on her back. One study showed an increased risk when the sleeping position is on the right as well. While this information is valid, it must be understood that all studies involved self-reporting of perceived sleep positions by the study participants. These were not randomized trials (the preferred method of scientific study).
My patients are guided to avoid sleeping on their back during pregnancy. If full left sided sleeping is uncomfortable, then a pillow or towel placed under the back allowing a left sided tilt is acceptable. If right sided sleeping is the only option, we discuss that option as well. Lastly, I reassure my patients that they should not panic if they awaken to find themselves on their back after falling asleep in a preferable position. My opinion is that the pregnant woman's body awakens her while she is on her back as a protective mechanism to force her to move to a better sleep position.
The views expressed herein are solely the views of Dr. Michael C. Bartfield and do not necessarily reflect the views of TherapeuticsMD, Inc. or any of its affiliates. This information is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider for medical advice.