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Back Sleeping in Pregnancy Can Increase Risk of Still Birth

Research has found that sleeping on your back in the third trimester of pregnancy can increase your risk of still birth. Research published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that the risk of still birth almost doubles if mothers sleep on their backs in the third trimester.

In the Midlands and North of England Stillbirth Study (MiNESS), the maternal sleep position of 1026 pregnant women were monitored, with 291 of those pregnancies ending in still birth. Researchers focused on sleep positions before pregnancy, four weeks prior to giving birth and the night before giving birth. Women that had a late still birth were nearly 2.5 times more likely to report lying on their backs the night before they lost their babies.

Authors of the study explained that just under four percent of still births after 28 weeks were linked to back sleeping in pregnancy. The MiNESS study is the forth of its kind to support that their is an increased risk factor for maternal back sleeping and still birth.

A Sydney-based study undertaken in 2015 illustrated similar risk factors when trying to determine modifiable risk factors in still birth. While researchers aren’t sure exactly why back sleeping increased the still birth risk it was suggested that babies were less active when the mother is lying on her back. It was noted in the MiNESS study that babies were only active when the mother was lying on either her right or left side.

Another theory put forward by researchers included the combined weight of the baby and the mother’s enlarged uterus put pressure on the main arteries, and could possibly restrict blood flow and deprive the baby of oxygen.

Researchers made the following recommendations:

  • That public health education included a recommendation that pregnant women sleep on their side, particularly after 37 weeks.
  • Pregnant women put pillows behind their backs in bed to help reduce the chance of rolling on to their backs while asleep.
  • If the mother wakes during the night, to check her sleep position, and re-position herself on to her left side if required.

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