Sleeping with a Baby on the Way

Side sleeping linked to better pregnancy outcomes than sleeping on back

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Difficulty sleeping is a common problem during pregnancy. Women often report being unable to sleep comfortably. However, how pregnant women sleep might affect their babies.

A recent study found a lower rate of low birth weights and stillbirths in a group of African women who slept only on their sides and not on their backs.

Only a small group of the women slept on their backs, but the rates of low birth weights and stillbirth were higher among these women.

"Sleep on your side while pregnant."

The study, led by Jocelynn T. Owusu, MPH, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, looked at whether pregnant women's sleeping habits affected their pregnancies or children.

The researchers interviewed 220 women in Ghana within the first two days after they gave birth. The women were asked about their sleeping quality and sleeping habits.

Then the researchers compared these responses to the rate of pregnancy complications in the women, including high blood pressure during pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, premature delivery, low birthweight and stillbirth.

Pre-eclampsia occurs when a woman has high blood pressure and protein in her urine during pregnancy. The condition can only be treated by delivering the baby. Overall, 11 percent of the women had high blood pressure and 12 percent had pre-eclampsia.

Most of the women reported sleeping exclusively on their side. Four women reported sleeping only on their backs, so the researchers combined into one group the women who said they slept only on their backs and those who had "back and side sleep." This group included 21 women.

Almost a quarter of the women, 24 percent, reported snoring. There were not significant differences in the demographics of the women who snored or didn't snore, but the researchers did not compare the women's weights.

The researchers found that women who snored during pregnancy were three and a half times more likely to develop pre-eclampsia, after accounting for the women's age, their previous number of children and the week of pregnancy when they gave birth.

Women who slept on their backs were five times more likely to give birth to a baby with low birthweight and eight times more likely to have a stillbirth. These links remained after the researchers took into account whether a woman had pre-eclampsia, her age, the pregnancy week when she gave birth and how many children she already had.

There was a link between low birthweight and stillbirth as well, so improvements in the babies' birthweights might also affect stillbirth rates. The authors estimated that up to 17 percent of low birthweight babies and up to 26 percent of stillbirths might be prevented if all the women had slept on their sides.

"The present findings in an African population demonstrate that maternal sleep, a modifiable risk factor, has a significant role in pre-eclampsia, low birthweight, and subsequently stillbirth," the researchers wrote.

However, women in Ghana already have one of the highest stillbirth rates in the world. Therefore, the contribution of back-sleeping to stillbirth risk in this group may not translate at the same significance to women in other countries.

The researchers did not find any connections between snoring, sleep quality or length of sleep with babies' outcomes. There were no differences in rates of prematurity, delivery by cesarean section, low birthweight, a baby's need for the neonatal intensive care unit after birth or stillbirth based on whether women snored, slept well or got too much or too little sleep.

The study will be published in upcoming issue of the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. The research was funded by the National Center of Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health and by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 16, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013