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Study: Sleeping on back may increase risk of stillbirth

Although being pregnant is one of the happiest periods in a woman’s life, it also brings about some discomforts and routine changes. One of the normal everyday routines that will either change or become disrupted is a pregnant woman’s sleeping patterns and styles. With a growing baby in the tummy, many pregnant women find that they have to adjust the way they sleep and the timing of their bedtime just to be comfortable. It turns out that it’s not just about comfort though — new studies have found that a pregnant woman’s sleeping position can have a real effect on the health of the baby.

The studies’ findings

Researchers in Ghana conducted a study on women who had given birth at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Ghana to determine the correlation between the sleeping patterns of pregnant women and their effect it on both the mother and the baby after delivery. They found a rise in the delivery of babies with low birth weight in women who reported that their favoured sleeping position was to sleep on their back by as opposed to pregnant women who did not sleep on their back. Women who reported sleeping on their back during pregnancy also delivered more stillborn babies than women who did not.The study concluded that the stillbirths and low birth weight of babies could be correlated with each other.

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Another study on maternal sleeping disorders and the part these disorders play in stillbirths conducted in Auckland, New Zealand from 2006 to 2009 involved 155 women who had given birth to a stillborn baby. The women were asked to report about their sleeping habits, including sleeping positions, prior to their child’s stillbirth. A control group consisting of women who were at the same stage of pregnancy as the women who experienced stillbirth was randomly picked and asked the same questions. Researchers found that while the risk of stillbirths for women who slept on their back and right-side were 3.93 births out of 1000 births, the risk was lower for pregnant women who slept on their left-side, which was 1.96 per 1000 births.

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How NOT to sleep

Experts advise have long advised pregnant women from sleeping on their backs, as the  position puts pressure on the interior vena cava — which is the vein that carries blood to the heart to the lower body – from the weight of the now-heavy uterus. Sleeping on your back can also cause more backaches and because it causes your to press onto your spinal area. What’s more, this sleeping position has also been said to aggravate any pre-existing conditions that you may have such as high-blood pressure and kidney disorders. Sleeping on your right side, while not detrimental to your unborn child, is also not recommended as the interior vena cava is still affected by the pressure from your uterus.

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Safe sleeping positions

You might then ask, what is the safest sleeping position to assume when pregnant? The answer is to sleep on your side, or what experts call SOS (Sleep on side). Or to be more precise, the safest way to sleep is by sleeping on your left side. This way of sleeping on maximises the blood flow to your uterus, boosting the amount of oxygen and nutrients reaching your baby and your placenta. You can make yourself more comfortable by using pillows to prop up your belly or your upper body – this has been said to relieve symptoms of heartburn. Of course, it is understandable that you might not be able to stay in the same position all night, every night — so that’s where the extra props and sleeping pillows can really help.

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