The New York Times reported this week on a study conducted by a graduate student at the University of Michigan that showed women in poor and developing countries could reduce the risk of stillbirth if they were told to sleep on their sides during pregnancy.
The researcher conducted a small study in Ghana, where she interviewed 220 women after childbirth about their sleep habits during pregnancy. The initial conclusion is that “if pregnant women avoid sleeping on their backs, 25 percent of all stillbirths in poor countries might be prevented”.
Sleeping on your side while pregnant is one of those rules that was thrown at me during my first pregnancy that made little sense to me early on. But by my third trimester I woke up on my back one night feeling short of breath and when I flipped to my side I felt instantly better. When you’re hugely pregnant and you lie on your back, the uterus compresses the blood vessel that returns blood to the heart and raises your blood pressure causing pre-eclampsia, which can starve the baby of oxygen and lead to stillbirth.
In the U.S. owning a pregnancy pillow is like a rite of passage. There are many varieties to choose from, all designed to keep a pregnant woman comfortably sleeping on her side during pregnancy. This luxury is obviously not largely available in developing countries, but this research suggests that even simply educating women about the benefits of side-sleeping could reduce the amount of stillbirths.