Pearl obstetrics | gynaecology

Getting better sleep in pregnancy

Sleeping is often a problem in pregnancy

Sleep is really important in pregnancy but is overlooked by just about everyone apart from the pregnant woman (and of course this obstetrician)! Pregnant women have often had poor sleep leading up to their birth for multiple reasons. Read our guide to sleep and try to optimise your rest as much as possible.

Why is my sleep poor?

You may start to sleep badly early on in your pregnancy. We don’t know why but it is relatively common.  Keeping active during the day helps.  You could do some light exercise or simply try to do some walking instead of using the car or public transport.

Right from the start, you may be peeing more than normal and you may find yourself waking frequently in the night to go to the toilet.  Reducing liquid intake after 7pm can help.

Worries about your pregnancy or the birth may be present, keeping you awake.  Money or job worries can be a problem in pregnancy.  Discuss these worries with your partner, a friend or colleague rather than bottling them up.

As your pregnancy progresses, it is quite normal to have broken sleep and some people joke this is practice for what is ahead after the birth

In the last month of your pregnancy you are likely to have a bump making it more difficult to move around the bed in the night.  You may find that you cannot turn over without waking yourself up and using your arms.  You may have heartburn, or various aches and pains such as tingling hands or an aching pelvis, which can make getting good sleep difficult.  You may also have to wake frequently to use the toilet, as your womb and baby will be exerting more pressure on your bladder.

Sadly, there is not too much you can do about this.  Try to catch up on some sleep during the day if you can.  If your obstetrician has recommended some paracetamol for your aching pelvis or back then it may help.  Indigestion remedies before you go to bed, and even during the night can help keep heartburn away.

There are many pregnancy pillows on the market, which are designed to help you sleep more comfortably.  Some are designed to put between your legs and help you to sleep on your left, and to prop up your bump so it does not feel so heavy in bed.  Many people just use an ordinary bed pillow between their legs and one under their tummy.


Can I sleep on my tummy?

You can sleep on your front as long as it is comfortable.  For some women this may be possible for a few months until their bump gets too big to make it feasible.  If you have very sore breasts, you may not be able to sleep on your front.  It is not harmful for the baby for you to sleep on the front.  He or she cannot be squashed or damaged in anyway.


I keep waking up on my back, is this a problem?

When you sleep on your back, the vein that returns blood to your heart may become compressed by the weight of your uterus and baby.  If this is the case, your body will alert you by waking you up, and you may feel faint or nauseous.  If this happens, you will usually just naturally roll back on to your side.  Do not panic if you wake up in the night on your back.

If you cannot sleep on your side and keep waking up on your back feeling sick, then you could prop the head of the bed up  (put an object under the mattress) and this should help relieve the pressure on your veins.


Do I have to sleep on my left-hand side?

Sleeping on your left hand side is thought to be good for the baby as it helps the flow of blood to the placenta.  Later in the pregnancy, if you are suffering from varicose veins or any swelling in your feet, it can help to sleep on your left to keep the pressure off your veins and help alleviate these problems.  In your last trimester as your bump and baby become much bigger, you will find that if you lie on your back, their pressure compresses the vein that returns blood to your heart.  This may make you feel sick or faint, and for this reason you will probably not want to sleep on your back.

Sleeping positions during pregnancy have not been researched thoroughly enough for any firm conclusions to be drawn and guidelines to be set.  However, it would seem that the best current advice would be to try and sleep on your left side if possible but not to worry if you find that you roll over onto your right or back in the night.

Other tips for sleeping in pregnancy

  • If you have young children, can someone else look after them if they wake during the night?
  • Can someone else get them ready in the morning?
  • Can you get a good afternoon nap after lunch?
  • Don’t watch TV or surf the net after 8pm.
  • Get the pets out the bedroom.
  • If the other half snores send him to the spare room until after the birth!
  • Go to bed and wake at the same time every day.
  • Have a warm milky drink before bed.
  • Have a tepid bath a couple of hours before bedtime.
  • If hot, use air-con if you have it, fans if not.
  • If you have heartburn try some antacids from the pharmacist, or even some over-the-counter Zantac – it’s safe in pregnancy.
  • Try an antihistamine like Piriton at night for its drowsy effects – it’s safe in pregnancy.

Please get in touch with your local Perth obstetrician if you have any further questions.

Dr. Mark Sillender. Consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist