Sleeping On Your Back Is Okay During Pregnancy (Sometimes)

Jenny Benjamin

sleeping womanI've slept on my side my whole life, but ever since I've been pregnant, it hurts my hips, it strains my belly -- it ain't comfortable! I figured, all right, no biggie, I'll just sleep on my back. So for awhile, I just propped up a few pillows and slept soundly and comfortably. Then, several friends started in with me about how horrible it is for pregnant women to sleep on their backs because it puts pressure on the vena cava, which supplies blood and nutrients to your baby, and to you. They all insisted that I get myself on my left side and STAT! So, I listened ... and barely slept for days.

I tried everything -- I put a pillow between my legs, I bought a pregnancy pillow -- nothing helped. Ultimately, I decided to just put all of my pillows to work and spent several nights experimenting with various versions of what can only be described as an adult fort. I had a firm pillow under my head, a pillow along my left side for tummy support, and then the L-shaped pillow behind me and between my legs to keep me from rolling onto my back. It was complicated ... and claustrophobic ... and I was waking up every hour. In the morning, my back would ache, my eyes would hurt, and I was just freakin' exhausted.

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I called my doctor and asked him if I really had to go through all of these sleep-time acrobatics. He told me that if sleeping on my back wasn't creating any problems yet, then it was okay to do it. He said there would definitely come a point where I wouldn't be able to sleep on my back anymore, so I might as well enjoy it while I can. Apparently, I will know when it's time to move to my side because I'll find that lying on my back makes me light-headed, dizzy, or out-of-breath. Okay, got it.

Then, just yesterday, at my ultrasound, the nurse told me that she slept on her stomach through both of her pregnancies and her kids are just fine. She also explained that the vena cava runs along the right side of your back, not straight down the center. Interesting, because although I sleep on my back, I've been naturally tilting a little bit to the left, almost instinctively taking pressure off of that one spot. So, that might explain why I'm still able to do it. And it might also explain how women have been having babies for thousands of years without this sleep position knowledge. Maybe our bodies just instinctively know what to do to take care of us and our growing babies.

Whatever, I'll take it! I'm finally sleeping through the night again, my back and hip pain have subsided, and I no longer have to spend half a lifetime building a wall of pillows around myself before bed ... at least for now.

Were you able to sleep on your back during your pregnancy?

Image via Alyssa L. Miller/Flickr

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