Study shows that sleeping on your back during your third trimester could increase stillbirth risk

Women who sleep on their backs during the third trimester are more than twice as likely to suffer a stillbirth, according to leading experts.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG) showed that there would be a significant decrease in stillbirths – by up to 3.7 per cent – in the UK if pregnant women slept on their sides during the final trimester.

The researchers carried out the study on 1,204 women in the final months of pregnancy, and 291 suffered a stillbirth at 28 weeks or more into their pregnancy.

Previous research indicates that unborn babies’ heart rates are a lot less active when their mothers sleep on their backs. This may be due to the weight of the foetus putting pressure on blood vessels and restricting their own oxygen supply.

The new findings come as Tommy’s charity launches a public health campaign – Sleep On Side – to educate women about the risks in the later stages of pregnancy.

Talking to the Daily Mail, lead author Professor Alexander Heazell from Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester said: ‘Around 11 babies are stillborn every day in the UK.

‘Parents want to know why their baby has died, whether it might happen again if they try for another baby and what they can do to avoid further stillbirth.’

Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), added: ‘This addition to current knowledge is very welcome. It is a simple change that can make a difference’.

The research also showed that the tragedy of stillbirths are also more likely to occur if women sleep less than 5.5 hours the night before, get up in the night to use the toilet or have a nap every day.

Sleeping on your back while pregnant does not influence a baby’s size or the length of a woman’s gestation.