Could Your Sleeping Position Reduce The Risk of Stillbirth?

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Most moms-to-be will tell you that finding a comfortable position to sleep in is a challenge as their body starts to change and grow.  But now a small study performed by New Zealand researchers suggests that expectant moms shouldn’t sleep on their right side as it may have an increased risk of having a stillbirth.

Lead author Tomasina Stacey, a graduate student in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Auckland suggested that their research showed strong links between the way a woman slept during late pregnancy and the chances of stillbirth.

“The increase in risk [from right-sided sleeping] is small for the individual,” stressed Tomasina, ”However, as many women do not sleep on their left side in late pregnancy, it may have an important impact on a population level.”

“This is a new and potentially exciting hypothesis, but further research is required before all women are advised to sleep on their left side in late pregnancy,” she concluded.

This may be because when a mom-to-be sleeps on the left side there may be improved blood flow to the fetus.

For the research the team spoke to 155 women who had stillbirths at, at least 28 weeks gestation period. They compared the results with 310 pregnant women. These women were asked about their sleeping position in the last month of the pregnancy, last week and the last day. They also asked additional information like snoring, if the women slept at daytime, the sleep hours at night and how many times they got up at night to use the bathroom.

While the researchers couldn’t find any connection between snoring, day time sleeping and stillbirths, they did find a link between the sleeping position and the risk of stillbirth.

They found that women who slept on their back or on the right hand side more frequently during the last month and the last day of pregnancy were two times more likely to have stillbirths than women who slept on their left hand side.

This theory however does not show that stillbirths will definitely occur as the absolute chance of stillbirth overall remained small. Comparatively, stillbirths occurred in 1.96 per 1,000 cases among women who slept on their left side, against 3.93 per 1,000 cases for those who slept in the other positions.

They also found that women who got up to use the toilet once or less on the last night of their pregnancy were also more likely to have a late stillbirth than women who got up more frequently. Also women who slept more at daytime and who had longer than average sleeping time at night had a connection with late stillbirths.

The study author however was quick to point out that this hypothesis can only hold true with further research.

“An observational study such as this cannot determine cause-and-effect but it has identified an area that urgently requires further exploration,” remarked Stacey.

Lucy Chappell, a clinical senior lecturer in Maternal and Fetal Medicine in the division of women’s health at King’s College London correctly points out that this research is not conclusive.

“This is an interesting finding, but we should be cautious about making a large jump to saying that this is the cause of stillbirth. And we should not rush out to run a large campaign to say pregnant women should sleep on their left side,” she said.

But Chappell also says that there might be truth in the assumption that left side sleeping is beneficial for the baby because of biological reasons.

“We have long believed that blood flow to the baby, womb and placenta may be better when pregnant women are on their left,” she said.

Study co author Ed Mitchell believes the findings are important in curbing the rate of stillbirths.

“If this finding is real and there is a causal relationship between maternal sleep and stillbirths, then the rate of stillbirths might be reduced by a third, which is tremendous given that the rate of stillbirth has hardly changed over the last 20 years,” he said.

If a gesture as simple as checking the sleeping position can help babies, it is a research worth further investigation for the greater benefit of many moms and babies.

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About the Author

Atula is a writer, traveler and a nature-lover. She is also mom to a boy who seems to have inherited all her creative genes. When Atula is not busy making up stories with her son, she writes for numerous magazines, websites and blogs. She is also working on her site on endangered species called

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