Body Pillows

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on March 05, 2024
3 min read

Body pillows are seemingly everywhere. You might have spotted them in stores, on television, and across countless feeds on Instagram.

But they’re not just fluff. Body pillows may help you rest more comfortably if you’re pregnant, healing from surgery, have a bad back, or just need something to hug.

You may be used to seeking comfort from aches and pain from your bed pillow or cushions. Body pillows may do much more. For one thing, they’re big. Full-sized ones can be 6 feet long. That’s something to keep in mind if you share your bed with someone. The pillows conform to your shape and come in different shapes. They usually stay in place even if you toss and turn.

Arthritis or fibromyalgia. Full-body support from ankles to shoulders may take pressure off your joints and muscles.

Back pain. If you have a herniated disk or other spinal conditions, the right body pillow can help keep your spine in the right alignment and lessen your pain.

Recovery from surgery, such as hip or knee replacement. Your doctor can tell you the best way to use your pillows so you heal quicker.

Pregnancy. Many body pillows are made with moms-to-be in mind. They support your back and make it easier to sleep on your side, which may be more comfortable after 20 weeks. Plus, you can support your belly, legs, and head without extra pillows.

Posture. A firmer pillow is often best for spine support. If you’re tall, look for a 72-inch pillow. That way, your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders line up the way they should.

Sleep apnea. This condition can stop your breathing up to hundreds of times a night. Sleep apnea is worse when you sleep on your back. Use a body pillow to stay on your side.

Body pillows come in different sizes, shapes, and types of fill. The most popular lengths are 54-60 inches. They may be long enough if you don’t need head-to-foot support or unless you’re very tall.

Body pillows can be straight, cylindrical, or shaped like a candy cane or alphabet letters.

C shape. Great for expectant mothers and many others. You can buy highly rated models for under $60.

U shape. Some people like this for back pain and for binge-watching. Some versions can weigh 10 pounds.

J shape. Side sleepers might like this one for head-to-toe support. One end tucks under your legs. The larger curled end supports your head and neck.

Cylinders. You can have your pick of sizes and firmness with this versatile shape.

What’s inside your pillow can determine how firm, warm, moldable, and expensive it is.

Down, or feathers and down. These are your softest and warmest fills. Down is the soft undercoat from geese or ducks. Feathers, on the other hand, are the outer growth with quills. Down costs more than feathers. If you can afford it, look for hypoallergenic down that’s ethically sourced and not treated with chemicals.

Down alternative. These can be an option if you are allergic to down. Alternative fills are usually polyester or a polyester blend. It’s usually much cheaper than down or feathers.

Memory foam. It’s made of a substance called polyurethane. Heat from your body softens it so it conforms to your shape. But it’s made with chemicals and can smell. If you have allergies or health concerns, you may want to avoid memory foam.

Biogreen” memory foam. This is usually a mix of polyester and bamboo or other synthetic or natural fibers. It doesn’t have chemicals or heavy metals. Look for the CertiPUR-US seal, which certifies that the foam isn’t made with lead, mercury, formaldehyde, and other compounds.

Latex. This is a natural foam made from rubber tree sap. It’s soft and bouncy and may last longer than memory foam.

Microbeads. Pillows with these are filled with tiny beads made of polystyrene, a type of plastic. You might often see them in pillows made for pregnancy or surgery recovery. They’re squishy, and they fit where needed. But a tear could mean a messy cleanup.

No matter which type of pillow you choose, go with ones that you can try out and return without much hassle. Make sure it has a removable cover, or that the whole pillow is machine washable.