What to Know About Pregnancy Pillows

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 18, 2022
5 min read

There are many discomforts that come with pregnancy, including body changes, mood swings, and unexpected pains. One unfortunate side effect is the way pregnancy changes your sleep. If you’re not a side sleeper to begin with, you may have to learn to adjust, both for your comfort and for the health of you and your baby. 

One tool that can help smooth that transition is a pregnancy pillow. Pregnancy pillows are specially shaped pillows that assist in sleeping comfortably on your side during pregnancy.

Preliminary studies have shown that sleeping on the left side is the best position for a healthy pregnancy. This position is associated with lower rates of late-term stillbirth compared to back or right-side sleeping positions. 

Back sleeping also restricts blood flow to the uterus, which can lead to low birth weights and other health problems for the baby.

Side sleeping has health benefits even if you’re not pregnant, as well. Sleeping on your side is associated with healthier breathing during sleep and is a common corrective measure for sleep apnea. Sleeping on the left side may also improve heartburn and acid reflux, and it can improve gut health by using gravity to aid natural digestion.

Despite its many positive health effects, side sleeping does have its drawbacks – namely, increased joint pain. While correctly positioned side sleeping can help reduce issues like lower back pain, many side sleepers experience more pain in their neck, shoulders, and hips, particularly in the side they sleep on, due to poor positioning or insufficient support. This is exacerbated by higher weight, so the weight gain associated with pregnancy can make this even worse.

Pregnancy pillows are designed specifically to help reduce the pain associated with side sleeping and to support your growing belly. 

They most commonly come in the form of a large body pillow that simultaneously supports your back, neck, belly, knees, and hips. This added support mediates the pain caused by poor positioning on your side, and helps prevent the joints from collapsing or twisting during sleep, especially on softer mattresses.

Although similar results can be achieved by using several regular pillows, movement during sleep can cause them to become misaligned or fall off the bed. Pregnancy pillows, on the other hand, more easily remain in place because they’re all in one piece. They also have a unique shape that is typically more contoured to your body — in particular, your pregnant belly — than standard pillows would be. This enables them to mold to each part of your body, providing just the right amount of support.

Pregnancy pillows can also be useful for side sleepers who are not pregnant, as they serve a similar function, minus the belly support. Many people find them comfortable in general, and compare them to being cuddled or spooned while you sleep.

Pregnancy pillows come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all designed to support you in different ways. 

Wedge pillows. The smallest types, known as wedge pillows or maternity cushions, are designed to be used wherever you need the most support. They’re roughly the size of a regular pillow, but are shaped like a round or triangular wedge to provide additional support.

Total body pillows. In contrast, total body pillows are the largest kind and are designed to support every part of your body at once. They come in U- or C-shapes, depending on whether you want to be fully surrounded by the pillow, or only covered on one side. They typically replace your regular head pillows, since your head and neck are supported by the topmost portion of the pregnancy pillow.

Full-length body pillows. In between these options is the full-length body pillow. This type of pregnancy pillow is similar to the generic body pillows you can buy at most stores, but it is typically contoured to accommodate your belly, and some are flexible or more easily manipulated to provide more customized support. These pillows may be combined with your regular pillows since they typically don’t provide head or neck support, although they can often be positioned to do so at the expense of supporting other areas, if you prefer.

Within these categories, there are other variations, including cover materials, firmness, flexibility, stuffing materials, and slight differences in shape, even among pillows of the same type.

Everybody is different, and this is no less true during pregnancy. Different pillows are designed to support you in different ways. Some important features to look for include:

  • Support where you need it most
  • A washable cover
  • A shape that conforms to your body
  • A design that accommodates your sleep habits

Think about your needs when you sleep. Where do you experience pain? The pillow you choose should support those areas more. Do you frequently change position? Maybe choose a U-shaped pillow that you won’t have to adjust when you roll over. 

Do you already have a regular pillow you love for neck support? Choose a pregnancy pillow that leaves room for you to continue using it. Do you sweat a lot, as many pregnant women do? Make sure the cover is easy to remove and clean. Carrying twins? An adjustable pillow that accommodates the extra growth in your belly might be the way to go.

Don’t be afraid to shop around or test out multiple pillows until you find the one that makes you the most comfortable. Proper sleep is so important, especially during pregnancy, so it’s worth the effort to find the best pregnancy pillow to help you get your best possible night’s rest.

You use a pregnancy pillow much like you would use any other supportive pillow. Depending on the shape and style you choose, position the pillow to support the areas you experience the most pain. 

With a C- or U-shaped pillow, for example, it may help to place your head on the portion at the bend in the U (or the tail of the C), wrap your arms around the middle, and place the end between your knees. With a U-shaped pregnancy pillow, you can also place the other leg of the U against or under your back for additional support.

With smaller pillows, like wedge pillows or full-length body pillows, place them where you most need support. You may be able to combine them with additional pillows to achieve the desired level of support.

Pregnancy pillows can continue to be useful after delivery. They can be used to support your baby while cuddling with them or breastfeeding. They can also help keep you comfortable while sleeping as your body starts to return to normal. Some people continue using their pregnancy pillow long after delivery, just because it’s more comfortable.