Sleeping Safely in Pregnancy

If you saw yesterdays announcement on the link between sleep positions and the risk of stillbirth you may be wondering  what it's all about. Read on below to find out where this new advice has come from and what you can do to sleep safely.



Yesterday launched their #Sleep On Side Campaign to coincide with the release of a large scale research paper that demonstrated a four-fold reduction in stillbirths when women in their third trimester (after 28 weeks) start the night sleeping on their side.

The study included over 1000 women and is now the fourth good quality research paper to demonstrate this link throughout a range of countries and ethnic backgrounds. Whilst the risk of sleeping on your back still remains very low, it does seem to consistently lower rates of stillbirth when women start the night sleeping on their side, more so in fact than the already known link with smoking.

These sorts of announcements can be alarming but it is important to remember that if your pregnancy is uncomplicated you have a very low risk of stillbirth (1 in 200 births), this advice is there to make that number even lower. Overall, rates of stillbirth are reducing in the UK, this campaign and advice is simply there to inform women better on their choices in pregnancy.



Researchers are still looking into this link and its cause, but we know that in the third trimester (after 28 weeks), when lying on your back, the combined weight of womb and baby can put extra pressure on organs and major blood vessels to the uterus.  This can then reduce blood flow and oxygen to the baby and does seem to coincide with less activity and a change in heart rate patterns.




The advice in these studies applies to any time you fall asleep, including main night time sleeps, daytime naps and is also worth considering in extended savasana or relaxation in prenatal yoga classes.

Which side?

Again this is a question that needs more research.  One of the four studies found an even lower risk when women started the night on their left side instead of their right. However none of the other studies found this link.  Ultimately therefore, this decision can simply come down to how you feel most comfortable.  However there are other known notable benefits of left side lying for the stomach, bowels and to help kidneys get rid of waste products, so whilst the research remains inconclusive with regards to stillbirth you may still find benefits on your left.

What to do?

  • Start the night out with pillows behind you to ensure you are comfortable and supported on your side.

  • Often this is a matter of a little experimenting with what you find most comfortable.  Some women like to have a small support under their bump for comfort.   


  • If you have any pelvic girdle pain and find side lying uncomfortable, try starting out with a pillow between the knees.  If this doesn’t help you get comfortable on your side it may be worth finding a good women’s health physiotherapist who will be able to help you support and strengthen the pelvis.


What not to do?

  • Remember not to panic!  The position you start the night is usually the one you spend the most time in.  We cannot control our movements during sleep, and these studies have solely looked at the position of falling asleep. So if you find that you wake up on your back don’t worry, simply roll over to your side, get comfortable again and go back to sleep.  

Hayley is a Chartered Physiotherapist, Clinical Pilates and Yoga teacher in London and the South East.  With a Masters in Neuroscience, she specialises in combining mindfulness, movement and rehabilitation for all ages and conditions with a special interest in Pre and Postnatal Yoga and Pilates.  If you have any questions or thoughts about the #Sleeponsidecampaign or any of Hayley's work, she would love to hear from you -




  • Association between maternal sleep practices and risk of late stillbirth, BMJ, 2011

  • Sleep Position, fetal growth restriction and late pregnancy stillbirth: The Sydney stillbirth study, Obsetrics and Gynaecology, 2015

  • MiNESS Study

  • New Zealand multicentre stillbirth case-control study, PLoS ONE 2017