Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy and How to Sleep After Giving Birth

7 Min Read | By Sophia Rimmer

Last Modified 20 March 2023   First Added 28 September 2020

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

Being pregnant and having a baby are often associated with sleep deprivation. For pregnant women, their changing body shape and hormonal fluctuations are the leading causes of sleep problems, so the right sleeping positions during pregnancy must be considered. After giving birth and having no set routine for night sleeping, this can of course be challenging for new mums, and lack of sleep often comes into play.

Sleep like a baby: the best sleeping positions for expecting mums

You may have to adjust your normal sleeping position after discovering you’re expecting. Sleeping on your back during pregnancy, for example, is fine during the first trimester, but as your bump grows and gets heavier, the best sleeping position for pregnant women is on their side. Trying to get yourself into the new habit as early as possible will help you get used to it.

Some articles in the press state you should sleep specifically on your left side. However, when we spoke to Marie Hurworth, a midwife and author, she explained that either side is perfectly safe:

…yes, it’s better to sleep on your left-hand side, but it’s absolutely fine for you to sleep on your right. The most important thing is that you’re not sleeping flat on your back… if you are falling asleep on either side, that’s absolutely fine because the baby will be getting nice oxygen and nutrient-rich blood on either side…

With that being said, here’s a summary of the best and worst sleeping positions for mothers-to-be recommended by the NHS:

  1. Left or right side: Sleeping on your left or right side is the most recommended position during pregnancy. These bump-friendly positions help to improve your blood flow.
  2. Semi-reclined: Using a wedge pillow or propping yourself up with pillows can relieve and reduce back pain. This position also helps to prevent acid reflux.
  3. Avoid sleeping on the back: From 28 weeks, sleeping on your back can disrupt your blood flow and reduce oxygen to your baby; therefore, it’s best to avoid this position.
  4. Avoid sleeping on the stomach: Sleeping on your stomach may be uncomfortable and cause neck and back pain during pregnancy.

It is important to remember that every woman and pregnancy is unique, and what works for one woman may not work for another. Consult with your healthcare provider to find the best sleeping position for you.

How your snooze is affected during each trimester

There are three trimesters in pregnancy, and each one can potentially present different challenges when it comes to sleep.

During the first trimester (weeks 0-12), pregnant women typically get woken up by the urge to pee and can also start to suffer from night sweats.

During the second trimester (weeks 13-28), your bump is considerably bigger, which can put more strain on your bladder. Most women also feel their baby kick for the first time during this trimester, and sometimes the baby is, unfortunately, a lot more active during the night! These two things can have a detrimental effect on sleep quality.

During the third and final trimester (weeks 28-40), insomnia affects more than 75% of expectant mums. This is because your bump is at its heaviest, emotions are running high due to the fast-approaching due date, and other unwanted symptoms can start to appear, such as heartburn and indigestion, backache, water retention, constipation, and piles.

Pregnant stomach

Get your Zzz's with these pregnancy sleep tips

Marie told us about a few simple changes that could help your sleep quality while pregnant. These included slightly cooler temperatures in your bedroom, wearing loose clothing, and changing your bedding.

Other common tips for sleeping during pregnancy include:

  • Relax before bedtime with a warm bath and lavender oil
  • Read in bed instead of using it as screen time
  • Do some light exercise during the day
  • Avoid spicy food and heavy meals close to bedtime
  • Keep your bedroom ventilated and cool
  • Use a pregnancy pillow for extra comfort

What is a pregnancy pillow?

A pregnancy or maternity pillow is a long horseshoe-shaped pillow that wraps around you and helps to support your bump, hips and lower back. It has a bean filling, which allows it to adjust to your body’s changing contours. It also helps you remain sleeping on your side (this is advised during pregnancy) as it can go in between your legs for comfort and props you up from the back. Marie explained that pregnancy pillows are also helpful post-birth: “… they can come in handy for breastfeeding and just propping up your arm – if you plan to breastfeed, of course – so these things are good.”

For more information and advice about sleeping when pregnant, check out our guide on how to sleep when pregnant.

The sleep survival guide: navigating nights with your newborn

Sleep deprivation is arguably one of the hardest things to deal with after giving birth. New parents naturally want what’s best for their newborn but can often struggle to function correctly due to sleepless nights. This can, of course, impact general well-being and the ability to perform everyday tasks.

Here are some tips to help you sleep after having a baby:

  • Take short daytime naps (sleep when your baby sleeps)
  • Take turns in night-time care with your partner
  • Set up a bedtime routine to relax you and your baby
  • Make a postnatal plan
  • Always ask for help
  • Practice sleep relaxation techniques
  • Speak to your doctor

New mums are advised to sleep when their baby sleeps, but it’s often believed this isn’t possible as there are other important tasks to keep on top of. Apart from sharing duties with your partner, Marie advises that you should have a postnatal plan to help you make the most of the support you have available around you. She said:

… having a postnatal plan enables you to sleep when your baby sleeps, so things like building in extra support and any fixed dates that you know, for example, when your partner is going back to work – who’s going to be around you at that time? Having numbers on your fridge of people that you’re able to call at 4 o’clock in the morning, for example, when you’re struggling…

Typically, when new mums have guests to visit, the time is spent with loved ones cooing over the new baby and chatting with a cup of tea. When we spoke to Marie Hurworth, she also made a good point about this is not productive time spent, and it could be used for guests to help with household tasks, such as cleaning. She said: “I always say to women as well, visiting time is not an opportunity for someone to sit on your sofa and cuddle your baby. Visiting time, you should view that as an opportunity for an extra pair of hands to get things done…”

Baby feet in bed

If you’re trying for a baby or already have children, you can get support through the NHS pregnancy and baby guide.

The sleep and pregnancy podcast

Pregnancy, having a newborn baby, and getting a good night’s sleep can be challenging. In the antenatal stage, a changing body shape plus changing temperatures and energy levels from fluctuating hormones makes getting to sleep another issue to add to the list of what becomes more difficult. This can also continue in the post-natal stage, with night feeds, more hormonal fluctuation and plenty of other changes. But there are ways to help ease yourself into a peaceful sleep during and after pregnancy.

In this episode, Dr Pixie Mckenna is joined by actress Ali Bastian – who is currently expecting – and Marie Hurworth, a midwife and author. They discuss the topic of sleep as an expectant mother and as a new parent. Marie explains why pregnant women may struggle to sleep and suggest sleeping positions and other ways to help you relax and drift off. Ali shares her pregnancy experience and plans to get into a good routine.

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