Most pregnant women find it really hard to get comfortable in bed until they discover these great tips. Contrary to popular belief it is actually possible to get a comfortable night’s sleep when you’re pregnant. Here’s how…
During pregnancy it’s important to lie on your side
This is because you have a main vein (the Vena Cava) running up the side of your spine. Lying on your back with a heavy pregnant belly will compress this vein and restrict the blood flow for you and your baby. It’s likely to make you feel sick and breathless and your baby will kick and kick, trying to get a better position, and telling you to move.
Generally from 24 weeks onwards you’ll need to lie on your side (earlier if you’re carrying twins or more). It doesn’t matter which side you lie on (changing sides helps your blood flow and allows baby to move around to get comfortable).
From 34 weeks onwards it’s ideal for your baby to have his/her spine lying on the left side of your belly as this is a much easier position to start a good, healthy labour. When baby is awake and you’re lying on your side, make sure you lie on your left.
Put a pillow under your top leg but NOT between your knees
Putting a pillow between your knees puts too much pressure on your bottom leg and doesn’t correctly align you. Your lymphatic system doesn’t have it’s own pump so putting a pillow between your knees will encourage fluids to pool in your feet (oedema) as your foot drops lower than your knee and hip.
The other concern is that during pregnancy you have 40% extra and 40% thicker blood (more if you’re carry twins or more), which often has a hard time getting around the body. Varicose veins in the legs and groin are very common during pregnancy so putting the pillow between your knees will make it even harder for the blood to flow.
The picture above is a very thick, sturdy pillow between the knees. As you can see it still creates a twist and pull in the hips and knee. Having a thinner pillow will create even more of a twist and leave you rolling forwards onto the mattress, giving baby less space to get comfortable (baby will kick a lot during the night if you’re twisting hard).
The other problem with a pillow between the knees is that your lower back is pulled and your pelvis is tucked under as you try to keep your knees together. Bringing your knees up towards your belly, tucking your pelvis under or rounding your back will create pains in your lower back and prevent baby from getting their chin to their chest for an easier birth.
The most comfortable position for you during pregnancy, is to put your top leg on a thick pillow, and the bottom leg resting free, behind the pillow. A bit like recovery position.
Keep the hip, knee and foot of your top leg at the same height
So, placing your top leg on a pillow, you need to make sure it’s the correct height. If your leg is too high or too low you will feel pulling in your hips and/or lower back, which can be painful, or just uncomfortable.
The height of your leg has nothing to do with how big your belly is, this is purely about keeping your leg in alignment with your hip to stop you from twisting. This position will relieve lower back and hip pains, allowing your muscles to relax and giving you a really comfortable night’s sleep.
Our recommendation is to put two thick pillows inside one pillow case (so they go firm and don’t fall apart), put your top leg on the pillow and the bottom one resting behind the pillow. This way you should get relief, so long as your hip, knee and foot are at the same height. You could use other products like a yoga bolster, but they’re quite heavy to move around in the night.
Support your belly
From 20 weeks onwards it’s a great idea to put a wedge pillow under your belly when you sleep on your side. You have ligaments that attach from your uterus to the base of your spine. As you get heavier these ligaments can pull, creating discomfort in your sacrum (just above your bum) and a pulling feeling in your belly. A comfortable pregnancy pillow tucked right under your belly, and your leg up at the correct height, will have you feeling weightless!
There are many pregnancy belly pillows on the market. Go for a good quality memory foam pillow and it will last you a long time.
Hug a pillow
To prevent your shoulder from pulling and to protect tender breasts, hug a pillow (or a teddy bear!). Hugging a pillow will prevent your upper body from pulling forwards and can help to relieve pains around your bra line, neck and shoulders. It may also help relieve heartburn.
Keep your neck straight
If, before pregnancy, you normally lie on your front you’ll need to change your pillow while you lie on your side. Make sure the pillow is thick enough to keep your neck straight and your head aligned with your body. If your head is too high or low, you may experience headaches and neck and shoulder pains.
One size doesn’t fit all
Long body pillows are not ideal during pregnancy. If the pregnancy pillow is thin enough to support under the belly then it’s too thin to support the leg. If it’s thick enough for the leg then it’s definitely too thick for the belly (will cause twisting). Long pregnancy pillows sit in front of the belly and give little support.
All the pillows need separating out. Hugging on to a pillow is great for the shoulders but it should be separate from the leg and belly pregnancy pillows so you don’t curl or twist into it. You want pillows that are supportive to keep you correctly aligned and totally comfortable. Normal pillows lose their shape quickly. That’s why we recommend putting two inside a pillow case as it helps to keep them firm.
A Note About Lying On Your Back In Pregnancy
A pregnant woman who rolls onto her back in her sleep will normally wake up within minutes… because it’s uncomfortable and her baby kicks her to wake her up. The pregnancy sleeping position described above doesn’t need to support you behind your back because it keeps you comfortably aligned and helps you stay in one place longer.
If you do wake up on your back, just roll onto your side again. Having a pillow behind you will make you even hotter and also prevents your partner from cuddling up behind you (or having any space to sleep!).
Samantha Thurlby-Brooks is the founder and managing director of Mumanu Ltd. Having specialised in pregnancy, labour & postnatal massage for over 15 years, as well as being a qualified BirthWorks Childbirth Educator and a birth doula, she’s got a huge wealth of knowledge and experience with all things pregnancy, birth and postnatal.