Women expecting babies for the first time are faced with an onslaught of red-flag warnings: don’t eat any cold cuts! Stop wearing your favorite high heels! No feta cheese on that Greek salad, miss! And for crying out loud, drop the afternoon espresso!
As if this pregnancy wasn’t already stealing all of your joy, then you’re told you can no longer sleep on your back?
For some expectant mamas this is no big deal – side and stomach sleepers have no adjustment to make. But for those women who habitually sleep on their backs, this can be a difficult obstacle to overcome while that bun grows in the oven. To put your mind at ease, we will explain the dangers associated with back sleeping during pregnancy and also offer some relief when it comes to “what if I wake up and I am on my back?” Don’t panic, Mama…it’s not as bad as it may seem. Read on to learn more about the changes you need to make when it comes to catching ZZZs.
Why the Warnings: What Happens When I Sleep on My Back?
Your ob-gyn will likely tell you to ensure you are comfortable sleeping on your side by week 20 of your pregnancy (mid-way through your second trimester). By that point, your growing body will have changed significantly, and when you are lying on your back for an extended period of time, the vena cava (which is a major blood vessel) can be affected by the weight of your uterus. (Obsessing about the weight you are gaining throughout your pregnancy? There are “warnings” for that, too!) Now, anything that potentially disrupts your vena cava’s job (carrying blood to your heart) is a cause for concern. You may be wondering now: if I sleep on my back does that mean I will mess up my blood flow and suffer from a pulmonary embolism?
The good news is this: even if you inadvertently move to your back during the night, the eventual discomfort caused by that pressure on the vena cava will cause you to turn to your side in your sleep.
But you should still make every effort to start out by sleeping on your side! Check out our article on pregnancy pillows for some great tools to help you achieve this.
Image: Pregnancy Pillow, Find it here on Amazon
It’s also important that your partner understands the need for you to sleep on your side, as he or she can gently “nudge” you back to your side if you are found belly-up during the night.
In addition to the peril placed on your pulmonary blood flow, back sleeping while pregnant can contribute to backaches and digestive problems. It can also result in hemorrhoids, and if that isn’t enough to scare you back onto your side, we don’t know what is!
Other Sleep Issues During Pregnancy
Positioning is not the only challenge you will face as you try to rest throughout your pregnancy. There are a number of factors that will disrupt your sleep, including:
Stress and Anxiety! Many expectant mamas find it difficult to rest while their minds are racing: what color should I paint the nursery? Did I remember to invite Sharon from the office to my baby shower? What if I end up on bed rest? How am I going to raise a HUMAN BEING? If your sleep is disrupted by anxiety, try some breathing techniques to relax, read a book (but NOT a pregnancy book), or try out a sound machine (enjoy the soothing sounds of a rain forest before your nights are filled with the cry of an infant, which can be louder than you’d ever imagine, by the way!) Relieving stress and anxiety can help to ease restless leg syndrome as well.
Heartburn! Making healthy dietary choices during pregnancy is obviously important for the growth and health of your baby, but you will also need to pay attention to the choices that cause heartburn, which in turn disrupts your much-needed sleep! Check out these 12 Ways to Soothe Heartburn in Pregnancy
Find 'Real Food for Pregnancy' book here on Amazon
A Bladder Doing Overtime! You will inevitably wake up more than ever before to empty your bladder, but you can do your part to try and minimize frequent urination by NOT chugging water right before bed. It is important to stay hydrated in your pregnancy but you can take care of that earlier in the day!
Leg Cramps! Anyone who has ever been jolted awake by a sudden muscle spasm or “charley horse” would probably describe the experience as something Satan himself had a hand in creating. Leg cramps and muscle spasms are bothersome for anyone, but especially for expectant mamas who are already overtired. If you are having them frequently, discuss this with your ob-gyn – you may be experiencing the cramps as a result of a calcium deficiency.
Healthy Habits for Sleep During Pregnancy
With all of these potential obstacles, you may begin to wonder if you will ever rest well during your pregnancy. There are a number of healthy habits you can adopt to promote more restful sleep while you are expecting.
Get some exercise! Physical activity during the day will help you sleep at night (and this is true for everyone, not just soon-to-be-mamas). Discuss an appropriate exercise plan with your ob-gyn, and reap the benefits of a brisk daily walk when it comes to bedtime.
Eliminate distractions! Turn your cell phone to “do not disturb” mode, use blackout drapes or blinds, turn that television OFF, and consider keeping your room a smidge cooler than normal. (If your partner objects, kindly suggest an extra blanket!) Creating a comfortable and soothing environment will result in better sleep.
Eat like an Early Bird! While an early dinner time may make you feel like a senior citizen, just know that it’s going to increase the likelihood of a good night’s sleep. Eating late, or too close to bedtime, can cause heartburn and keep you awake. If you MUST eat close to bedtime, make it a very light snack!