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Sleeping On Your Back When Pregnant, Is It Really So Bad?

You, like many others I know and teach, have probably heard by now that you should not sleep on your back. You may have just heard that much. Or you may have heard that sleeping on your back puts pressure on two major blood vessels that could restrict flow of oxygen for you and your baby. Sounds scary right? Who wants to restrict oxygen? So you sleep on your side. Or on your left side, if you’ve heard that’s the “optimal” position for blood flow. But is it really so dangerous?

I frequently get women in classes fretting that they keep waking up on their backs. My response is always: Is it uncomfortable? Do you feel like you’re out of breath and you’re being crushed by your own pregnancy? The answer is always no because if a woman did feel crushed and uncomfortable, she would not have found herself peacefully sleeping on her back. She would have rolled out of that position and into something more comfortable (though the word “comfortable” needs to be taken with a grain of salt when considering a pregnant woman’s sleep).

There are doctors and experts who recommend left-side sleeping, but there are also many who don’t.  Dr. Michael S. Broder, author of The Panic-Free Pregnancy , is one of them. He writes: “Anyone who suggests that it’s dangerous to sleep on your back is talking utter nonsense. Not even the tiniest shred of evidence suggests sleeping on your back is dangerous.” I’ve heard many other medical professionals echo this sentiment. Dr. Broder is not a wild-man either, he is cautious about those things we know are dangerous for our pregnancies and he talks extensively about the importance of wearing a seat-belt. In all the nit-picking advice we get when pregnant, good old car accidents remain one of the leading causes of real injury.

But back to the back: Let’s think about it. How would 200,000 years of humans have survived if drifting off to sleep on your back was so dangerous? We’ve only had What To Expect for a few decades. What on earth did people do before that? Oh, maybe they slept!

I think the logic about any sleep position should be: your body will tell you if you’re not getting enough blood flow by making you feel bad. And you will move. In the third trimester, you may absolutely hate being on your back and that’s the end of it. I slept on my back often throughout pregnancy but in the third trimester I did feel a bit crushed and I rolled to my side. Some suggest side-sleeping early so you can get used it for the last bit of the pregnancy. I don’t know if it’s worth a full 9 months of left-side sleeping for that. It’s your call.

It makes me so sad that the endless stream of recommendations for so-called optimal or optimizing behaviors get pregnant women even in their sleep! It’s hard enough to get more than a few hours at a time… let’s make it worry-free. I say, if it’s comfortable and there’s no serious outstanding medical condition your doctor cites when making a sleep position recommendation, do what you gotta do.

photo: Edenpictures/Flickr

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