Being pregnant and having a baby are often associated with sleep deprivation. For pregnant women, their changing body shape and hormonal fluctuations are the main 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.
Our resident sleep expert, Dr Pixie Mckenna sat down with pregnant actress Ali Bastian and midwife Marie Hurworth. They discussed the topics of sleeping positions during pregnancy and how to sleep after childbirth.
How sleep 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 they also can 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 baby is unfortunately a lot more active during the night! These two things can obviously have a detrimental effect on sleep quality.
During the third and final trimester (weeks 28-40), insomnia is said to affect 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.
But all is not lost!
Pregnancy sleep tips
Marie told us about a few simple changes that could help with your sleep quality while pregnant. These included having the temperature in your bedroom slightly cooler, 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
The three ladies discussed the use of a pregnancy pillow – Marie uses one even though she’s not pregnant as she finds it so comfortable.
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 helps it to adjust to the changing contours of your body. 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 as well for breast feeding and just propping up your arm – if you do plan to breastfeed of course – so these things are good.”
Sleeping positions during pregnancy
You may have to adjust your normal sleeping position after you discover 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. This is advised by medical professionals. Trying to get yourself into the new habit as early as possible will help you get used to it.
There have been articles in the press that state you should sleep specifically on your left side, but Marie 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 baby will be getting nice oxygen and nutrient-rich blood on either side…”
How to sleep with a new baby
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 properly due to having sleepless nights. This can of course have an impact on general wellbeing and the ability to perform everyday tasks.
Here are some common tips for sleeping 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
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 tasks 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 over to visit, the time is spent with loved ones cooing over the new baby and chatting with a cup of tea. Marie made a good point that this is not productive time spent and it could actually be used for guests to help out with tasks around the house 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…”
If you’re trying for a baby or already have children, you can get support through the NHS pregnancy and baby guide.
Watch the full Dreams podcast with Pixie, Marie and Ali here