Study proves Sleeping on Back during Pregnancy increases risk of Stillbirth

Sleeping on your side during the last trimester of pregnancy reduces the risk of stillbirth by more than half, regardless of which side you sleep, according to a new international study.

The study, which assessed the risk factors for stillbirth by analysing five data-sets from around the world, also showed that from 28 weeks of pregnancy, sleeping on your back increased the risk by over two and a half times

The increased risk was irrespective of other known stillbirth risk factors, such as babies that are small for their gestational age.

Study co-author Associate Professor Camille Raynes-Greenow from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health said this was the definitive study of the risk of mum’s sleeping position on stillbirth.

“And we can confidently advise mums to adopt a side-sleeping position in the last trimester knowing that they are reducing their risk,” she said.

Co-author Dr Adrienne Gordon, from University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Sydney Medical School, was one of the principal investigators of the CRIBBS project (collaborative IPD in sleep and stillbirth) and led the Sydney stillbirth study which was included in the data meta-analysis.

“The study has confirmed that the risk of stillbirth associated with going to sleep on the back applies to all pregnant women in the last trimester,” said Dr Gordon, who is also Deputy Chair of Red Nose Australia’s National Scientific Advisory Group, and a neonatologist and Neonatal Staff Specialist with the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s Centre for Newborn Care.

“Stillbirth is a national tragedy, which has devastating and far reaching psychosocial impacts on women, families, caregivers and communities – as well as a wide-ranging economic impact on our health system and society.”

The meta-analysis, co-funded by Red Nose Australia and Cure Kids New Zealand, and led by Professor Lesley McCowan and PhD candidate and midwife Robin Cronin from the University of Auckland, included 851 bereaved mothers and 2257 pregnant women.

Professor Lesley McCowan said blood flow to the baby was decreased by up to 80 per cent, if a pregnant woman sleeps on her back, compared to her side.

“This is due to a major vessel in the mother’s abdomen, the inferior vena cava, being squashed by the womb, when a woman lies on her back,” she said.

“The mother’s aorta is also partly compressed when the mother lies on her back.”

Robin Cronin from the University of Auckland said the study conclusively demonstrated that something as simple as going to sleep on your side can reduce the risk of stillbirth.

“And we know that women report they can and will change the position they go to sleep in without difficulty, if this is better for the baby.”

See more from the study here

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