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Health & Pregnancy

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Sleep Soundly During Pregnancy

When you're pregnant, a host of discomforts conspire to rob you of sleep. From heartburn to leg cramps to endless bathroom trips, catching those much-needed ZZZs can be a big challenge. Here's help.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD

Every expectant mom knows that sleep will be catch-as-catch-can after her baby is born. But sleepless nights plague women throughout pregnancy, too.

A National Sleep Foundation poll found that over three-quarters of women slept worse during pregnancy than they did when they weren't pregnant. What's more, new moms and pregnant women were more likely to suffer insomnia than any other group of women.

The reason: Pregnancy is uncomfortable. The discomforts that come with having a baby growing inside you don't go away when you turn out the light.

If you're accustomed to sleeping on your stomach or on your back, you must adjust to sleeping on your side. It will be physically impossible to lie on your stomach when you are heavy with child, and doctors warn against sprawling flat on your back. "There's some concern about that in the latter part of pregnancy," says Richard Henderson, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, Del. When you lie on your back, the weight of the pregnant uterus slows the return of blood to your heart, which reduces blood flow to the fetus. That means the baby is getting less oxygen and fewer nutrients.

Henderson says occasionally lying supine will not harm a developing fetus, but sleeping that way every night might. Nevertheless, you'll probably find that it's easier to sleep on your side as your tummy grows and grows.

Conventional wisdom holds that it's better to sleep on your left side than on your right. "For many, many years, the left side has been the preferred side," says Anne Santa-Donato, RN, spokeswoman for the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses. "It became a habit" to tell women that. But she says it really does not matter which side you sleep on: "It's what the science has borne out over the years."

Placing a pillow between your legs or sleeping with a body-length pillow can make you more comfortable. Some women may prefer to give up the bed entirely, and instead sleep in a reclining chair. "That's perfectly acceptable," Santa-Donato says.

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