How To Sleep Safely When Pregnant

From the moment we wake up, to the moment we put our head on our pillows at night, we are thinking about taking good care of the life within. Even when we sleep, we can’t truly “rest” until we know how to sleep safely when pregnant.

Clearly, you can rule out laying on your stomach after the first couple months. And past four months, you’ll hear warnings about sleeping on your back.

So, you’re left to side-sleeping. But is the left side best, or is it the right side? And what can you use to help you get comfortable?

To set your mind at ease, here are some facts to help you sleep safely when pregnant – plus tips and tools for a good night’s sleep during your nine-month adventure.

The best position to sleep in when pregnant

Traditionally, midwives and doctors recommended sleeping on your left side throughout pregnancy, and for good reason. A person’s liver, one of the most important organs in the body, is located in the abdomen on the right side. We want to keep pressure off the liver so it can function optimally, especially as we get bigger.

Sleeping on the left side also puts less pressure on our vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from the lower part of our bodies back to our heart.

For mama, sleeping on the left side can allow for better blood circulation, which can reduce swelling, particularly in our ankles. If you haven’t experienced pregnancy cankles yet, just wait. They’re extremely common toward the end of pregnancy.

But let’s be honest here…

When we’re well into our second trimester and carrying at least 15 pounds of extra weight, sleeping on one hip all night can be a little… well… uncomfortable. Most doctors would agree it’s fine to sleep on your right side as well, just try to favor the left when you can.

If side-sleeping isn’t your natural position, make it a goal to get your body used to it sleeping on your side while you’re in the early stages. This will make it easier when you are bigger, more prone to insomnia, baby’s movements make it hard to fall asleep and you have less energy and momentum to try out new sleeping postures.

Why isn’t it okay to sleep on your back when pregnant?

The recommendation to sleep on your side is good news for women who prefer this position. But what if you’re one of the many who prefer your back?

Most doctors recommend against sleeping on your back past four months (some say as late as 20 weeks). For mama, it compresses your aorta, vena cava and organs, which can cause :

  • low blood pressure or high blood pressure
  • nausea
  • trouble breathing
  • dizziness
  • clammy feeling to the skin
  • pregnancy heartburn
  • abdominal pain

For baby, this reduction in circulation can potentially result in:

  • reduced blood flow
  • less oxygen
  • fewer nutrients

The good news is most mamas will instinctively wake up or shift positions if they roll onto their back in the night. (I know that I did.) After all, it ain’t very comfortable comfortable.

Sometimes, if mama doesn’t get off her back, baby will give her a hard kick as a reminder.

Interesting to note, some women’s uteruses never get heavy enough to compress the vena cava, so sleeping on their backs isn’t an issue.

As with many things in pregnancy, it’s what is best for YOU. Don’t get freaked out if you occasionally find yourself sleeping on your back. Just try not to make it a habit, as we want to sleep safely when pregnant.

But also keep in mind that for thousands of years, women have been sleeping in all sorts of positions, and the human race has survived 🙂 Now that we know more due to science, we can adjust our ways… but not to the point of becoming an insomniac.

How to get comfortable sleeping while pregnant

OK, so we’re twenty pounds heavier and stuck on our sides. How do we get comfortable?!

In a word: Pillows! These soft, squishy things can become a pregnant mamas best friend. You can put on between your knees to keep your hips more aligned and prevent back pain. You can hug a pillow to elevate your arm and keep your neck and shoulders in a good alignment position.

You can also invest in the king daddy, a body pillow, which will give you support all over. They come in a range of sizes and shapes, including:

The complete body-size pillow, made up to six feet in length, is especially popular because it gives a woman support from the head on down to the feet. Mama can lie against it, on it, or wind it around herself. Many expectant mothers like to wrap and twist the body pillow around their body to relieve whichever area is causing discomfort.

Other pillows are excellent support for specific parts of the body, like the neck, abdomen or back. For example, a U-shaped pillow offers dual support for the back and belly, reducing the chance of pregnancy heartburn. Wedge models, shaped like a triangle, work well for either the belly or the back.

Sleep Challenges and Solutions

Learn how to sleep safely when pregnant, plus get tips and tools to help you get a good night's sleep during your nine-month pregnancy adventure.When you first become pregnant, you will probably need more sleep than usual, so be sure you get it! Take naps when you can. Go to bed early. Whatever it takes. Your body is hard at work building life, so give it the extra support it needs.

Experienced mothers tell the newly pregnant to enjoy it while it lasts. The third trimester can sometimes be a nightmare of insomnia. The body is dealing with major hormonal changes, greater weight concentrated in the abdomen and an active baby in utero.

Be sure to check out some of these lifestyle/environment changes you can make to help but here are some tips for dealing with specific pregnancy challenges to getting a good night’s sleep:

  • Heartburn: the muscle connecting your esophagus and stomach relaxes due to changes in your hormones. Acid reflux is the result, an annoyance that can affect the quality and quantity of your sleep. To start, you can keep your head higher than your torso, propping it up with pillows. Be sure to follow these tips as well to reduce or eliminate heartburn naturally.
  • Frequent need to urinate: Your body is carrying up to 50% more blood volume while pregnant. This puts more strain on your kidneys as it’s continually filtering your blood and causing you to pee! Your uterus and baby are also growing each day, which press against your bladder. Try to get most of your fluids in before 3 p.m. and significantly reduce the amount of liquid you drink before bedtime so there is less fluid in your bladder.
  • Sensitive to light and noise: the less deeply you are able to sleep, the more aware you are of your environment. Earplugs and sleep masks are a good way to block them out. A noisemaker is also excellent for drowning out noise.
  • Nasal congestion: hormones can affect the lining of your nose, giving it a swollen, inflamed sensation. Treat it as you would a sinus or congestion problem. Try nasal strips, a vaporizer or a wet washcloth on the face.
  • Restless leg syndrome: this condition makes it extremely difficult to sleep. Many mamas have used magnesium supplements, sprays or baths to eliminate this problem.
  • Body pain: Be sure to get extra support from chiropractors and/or massage therapists. You can find practitioners trained in the Webster Technique, which is designed for pregnant mamas, here. By getting regular care, you can increase your chances for a natural childbirth.
  • Insomnia: Hormones can be the culprit and unfortunately, insomnia can be pretty common when pregnant. To help support your master hormone, melatonin, follow these 10 tips!

How other natural mamas sleep safely when pregnant

I asked the moms on my Facebook page if they had to change their sleeping position during pregnancy, and what position they used most often. Here are some of their responses.

  • I am a belly sleeper and I tried so hard other ways but could never fall asleep. So I propped pillows underneath one side and bent my leg upward and it worked great. – Deanna F. 
  • Left side as much as possible to increase circulation and help with my heartburn. – Rose B.
  • I mostly sleep on my sides but honestly I sleep however I can get comfy even if that means sleeping sitting up. – Natasia S.
  • I bought a wedge that went under my belly and found that it gave me the support I needed. I have an hourglass figure and it helped hold up the middle part without weighing my back down. This is my third pregnancy and I’m by far the most comfortable when I’m sleeping. I’m also getting chiropractic care every other week which is making so much difference in my sleep quality. – Veronica G.
  • My favorite position was my husband on the floor and having the bed to myself! Just kidding! But laying on my side and having as much room as possible was most comfortable for me! – Danielle F.
  • I slept on my back both times, even though I tried for my side. – Heather M.
  • Right side or awake. Not a whole lotta choice. – Liz V.
  • I used a body pillow. It could go between my legs, under my belly and I wrapped my arm around it. When I needed to switch positions, I just rolled over and it went with me. – Katie H.
  • I tried so hard to sleep on my left side with my first pregnancy (special pillows etc). Then it occurred to me that women have been sleeping however they want for tens of thousands of years and having babies so for second and third babies I just sleep however I want and usually wake up on my back. – Leanne B.
  • I’m a belly sleeper, but obviously during pregnancy I had to switch to my sides. I was never comfortable on my back even early on. I used a body pillow as well. I did get desperate a few times and formed the pillows into two mounds then laid face down with my belly between the two mounds. Lol. Felt great to get the weight off of my back briefly. – Sara F

How about you?

Did you have to change your sleeping position during pregnancy? What position did you use most often? Share with us in the comments below!

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 75,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

Learn to have an amazing birth

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22 Comments

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  1. Hi I’m currently 33 weeks pregnant and have been suffering from pelvic arthropathy since the beginning of July. Every week the pain in my pelvis seems to change. For a couple of weeks I’ve been woken at night with pain in my left hip and down my leg when I try to sleep on my left side. So I wake up lye in pain for a while then try to turn onto my right side as when I turn over I feel like my pelvis will tear. But as last few nights the hip pain is also in my right hip as well. So I’m getting very little sleep. I have a U shaped pillow and try to wedge myself so I don’t end up on my back. I was thinking about trying to sleep upright, just wondering if this would be as bad as sleeping on my back?

  2. I was struggling with side-sleeping before until I found out that it is the best way for the health of the baby and the mother, but now I don’t find it difficult anymore. Thanks to God and mama Natural.

  3. before i get to sleep in night i will turn almost 10 times before sleeping is it good for a pregrant woman?

  4. i have 31 wks of pregnancy i try as much to sleep on my left side bt i dont last long then i turn on my right and neven so i can sleep so i put a small pillow bottom of my belly and another big one at the back of my back so i stay kind of slanted on the left side and ofcourse with a medium size teddy bear in between my legs lol

  5. I’m 25 weeks and ive been having difficulties sleeping laying down. These past couple nights Ive been sleeping on the couch sitting up with pillows behind my back and neck, which feels so much better than laying down. Ive never had to go thru this so early on in my pregnancies, usually dont experience this until my last 3 weeks of pregnancy. I hope I’ll be able to lay back down soon, I cant imagine sleeping on the couch for the rest of my pregnancy 🙁

  6. With each of my pregnancies, I began sleeping sitting up (with a lot of pillows behind me) by 17-18 weeks. I switch it up a little by side sleeping for short periods, but no matter how many pillows I use, my hips and back start to ache after an hour or so of sleeping on my side.

  7. I like that you mentioned using earplugs to help you get into deeper sleep. I have been looking for a way to help my wife stay asleep while she is pregnant. I can see how it would be nice to buy her earplugs. That way I will be less likely to wake her up with my snoring.

  8. I am almost 5 months but I still sleep on my stomach and back because I’m used to those two sleeping positions. However, every time I’m in either position my baby gives a lot of kicks. I often wondered why not until now that I know the reason. Thanks so much for your help.

  9. I was always a left side sleeper. So it doesn’t really affect my sleeping and I just turn 20 weeks. But I’m not feeling any kicks yet is that normal?

  10. Hi Mama Natural
    I am currently looking for a pregnancy pillow. The variety is large and i’m confused.
    But i still need to pick one for a comfortable sleep throughout the whole pregnancy.
    Which shapes and brands would you suggest?
    Please elaborate on the subject.

    Many thanks.
    (p.s : The book is Awesome! i got it pretty quick too, considering i live in Israel)

  11. My babys’ head is on the left side, is it safe if i sleep on the left side?

  12. Before Pregnancy I was a side’s sleeper but now that I’m 24weeks I can’t sleep on either side because I have carpal tunnel in my right arm/hand which hurts and now my left arm hurts when I lay on it so I’m stuck sleeping peacefully on my back

  13. why it is not advisable to sleep on right side

    • It’s not advisable because it can restrict blood and oxygen flow to the baby. For the mother it can give you heartburn, nausea, trouble breathing, and low or high blood pressure. It’s best to sleep on right side for short periods of time and rotate from right to left side and avoid sleeping on your back.

  14. @jenna…yes ..even my mom insist me to prop up my legs by keeping pillows underneath…I am 31 weeks 5 days and I had vaginal spotting 3 days ago..i had it it till evening..i took medicine from very same day, prescribed by my dr and complete bed rest ..no vaginal spotting since second day..bt dr recommended bed rest till my next apppintment ..and my mom.!!.make me sleep on my back with legs propped up ..since then..to avoid preasure on cervix..??…even though i told her that sleeping on left side is best!!.. and sleeping on back with legs propped up is very uncomfortable for me…

  15. I am 29 week preagnet and i sleep on my left and right and still cant get in a. Position that i can sleep all the way thow the night

  16. I am a belly sleeper, and I have found it difficult to do left or right side! I sleep propped up by pillows at the moment in my third trimester, but that’s starting to hurt my bum cheeks. I’m out of options now I just can’t sleep anymore I’m a wreck 🙁

  17. I could not sleep on my left when I was pregnant and not because I didn’t want to or get used to it early… I did rather well in the beginning. Then as my daughter grew, she decided she liked the right side better. I would put a body pillow between my legs that also went under my side and stomach and another to wrap my arms around. It prevented me from rolling forward onto my belly (I was certainly paranoid as I tend to be a side/stomach sleeper). I tried it on my left, but it would not work for her. It was like she was throwing a party in utero (or maybe the left side of my uterus was uncomfortable for her?). If I was on my right, she would put her head down by my cervix and her feet up by my ribs and almost nestle into the pillow. I even brought my pillows to the OB office to get approval for how I was sleeping. In labor, the nurses told me to lay on my left. They couldn’t get a read on her as she was turning all over the place. When the doctor came in I told her what was happening and she said “Doesn’t she like the right? Lay on your right!” So I did. After that, she calmed right down, got herself settled and the nurses were able to track her vitals. I think making the effort in the beginning helped so much though. As a side note if people wanted to feel her move, all I had to do was lay on my left side!

  18. I have problem sleeping flat. My husband and I now have an adjustable bed because sleeping flat increases pain in my lower back and even more troublesome I wake up with massive pressure headaches. My whole head (especially my forehead, sinuses, and around my ears) feel like it’s an over pumped balloon. Not to mention the accompanying pain and nausea. How is sleeping with elevated feet and legs viewed during pregnancy?

  19. Babywearing, flu, heartburn, and now sleep…if I didn’t know better, all these recent posts would make me think you were expecting! 🙂

    • Probably because the most-viewed content is pregnancy-related. Makes sense.

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