Do I really need to sleep on my left side while pregnant?

Finding out you are pregnant is one of the most exciting moments. Then, once you settle into it, you realize you often have to make some serious changes. From eliminating alcohol, to limiting your caffeine, to not sleeping on your stomach, to not sleeping on your back and then only sleeping on your left side? What?!

Being a hardcore stomach sleeper, this was an alarming change. Over the first few months, I was all over the place, left side, right side, sometimes waking up on my back. Around 5 months came the advice from my doctor to sleep on my left side. This was to ensure I didn’t cut off blood flow from the inferior vena cava (which favors your right side and runs along the spine). Really what the doctor means is sleeping on your left side is the safest while sleeping flat on your back could be risky. And here is why….

The medical term for this is Supine hypotensive syndrome. It happens when the inferior vena cava gets compressed by the weight of your pregnant belly (fetus, placenta and amniotic fluid) while sleeping flat on your back. As your pregnancy progresses and your belly gets bigger, this becomes a more important concern.

Weight of pregnant belly compresses the inferior vena cava while in supine position.

For weeks I agonized over waking up on my back and right side, (due to lower back pain and issues with my sciatic nerve), so I finally inquired more about this. Was I causing fetal distress by cutting off blood flow all these nights? The answer was no.

The most ideal position is your left side; however, you can also sleep on your right side. If you are truly on your side, the blood will flow. Even being on a 20 to 30 degree angle (leaning towards your back) will prevent compression on your inferior vena cava. (Now I am no medical doctor, so of course consult yours. These are my opinions and I’m sharing the info I’ve discovered through my in depth search).

So, Hallelujah! The simple fix has been wedging some extra duvet or a small pillow behind my lower back when I go to sleep. This has kept me from ending up flat on my back during the night. If I roll, I still end up on an angle. And with each bathroom break I rotate sides (left, right, left). Potential pregnancy crisis averted. Now I can conquer the 50 other worries on my list.

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