Science Just Found 1 Simple Way Pregnant Women Can Help Prevent Stillbirth

If you’re a mom or mom-to-be, you’ve likely heard that the safest way to sleep during pregnancy is on your side, as opposed to on your back (or your stomach, obviously). That’s because when you sleep on your back, the pressure of your heavily occupied uterus can restrict blood flow to you and the baby, which is, of course, less than ideal. But there's another important reason to try sleeping on your side: According to a new study, making this simple shift during late pregnancy can cut your risk of stillbirth in half.


The study, which was published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that out of more than 1,000 women, those who slept on their back in the last three months of pregnancy had at least twice the risk of stillbirth compared with those who slept on their left side. Researchers estimate the lives of 130 babies could be saved every year in the U.K. (where the study was conducted) if pregnant women stop sleeping on their backs. That’s a pretty big deal, considering that approximately one in 225 U.K. pregnancies ends in stillbirth. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that number is even higher: one in every 100 pregnancies ends in stillbirth.

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It’s not completely clear why the connection between sleep position and stillbirth exists. Factors such as the duration of the pregnancy past 28 weeks, the size of the baby, and the mother’s weight did not affect the correlation. Most likely, the risks are tied to the aforementioned blood flow issues. But new research published in the Journal of Physiology also found that babies are only in an active state overnight when their mothers are sleeping on their sides. And considering what an easy precaution this is to take, it certainly seems worth the effort for pregnant back-sleepers to make the change. 

Of course, this advice could be worrisome for pregnant women who like to sleep on their backs or often toss and turn. What if you should wake up in the middle of the night and -- gasp! -- find that you’ve rolled over on to your back? Don’t freak out, say the experts. As Alexander Heazell, clinical director of Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Center in Manchester told the BBC, the position you fall asleep in is the one you tend to stay in the longest, so making sure that you fall asleep on your side is the most important thing. It should also be your left side, as this promotes optimal circulation. If you do end up on your back at some point, just roll over and go back to sleep, he instructs. Remember, sleep is important for you and your baby’s health, too – and very soon, you won’t be getting very much!

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Stillbirth is such a tragic and oftentimes mysterious occurrence. The fact that science is finding ways that women can take precautions is definitely positive, especially when the measures we need to take are relatively easy. If you're one of those people who can only doze off on your back, don't worry -- with your ever-changing and expanding pregnant body, you might find that you're actually more comfortable on your side, and there are plenty of pillows on the market designed to make this position as relaxing and supportive as possible. So rest easy, moms! 

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