Is it Safe to Sleep on my Stomach during Pregnancy?

By Karli Büchling

Ask a pregnant woman what she misses most, and the answer might be a good old smelly cheese or sushi. But it is more often simply the ability to sleep on their stomach.

A good night’s sleep is the holy grail for most pregnant women. But if you sleep on your stomach, how do you manage this with an ever-growing bump? And then the mind whirrs (keeping you awake for even longer) as you start to wonder if it’s actually safe to do so.

You’ll be happy to hear that not only is it safe to get a good’s night’s sleep on your stomach – there are other benefits too.

Pregnant or not, sleeping on your stomach has medical proven benefits, especially when it allows you to get actual good quality sleep, like keeping your heart healthy, building a strong immune system, mental health, improves attention and concentration, the list goes on and on and on. Sleeping on your stomach also helps with snoring and sleep apnea.

But stomach sleeping when pregnant is medically proven to reduce back pain and eliminate sore hips and sides, assist with heartburn, improve blood circulation and placenta performance, assist blood and oxygen flow between you and the baby and promote optimal fetal positioning.

When you start digging, you’ll find that research in this area has been in motion since 1998.

The Japanese compared humans to other mammals – all of which carry their babies forward facing [1]. They also mention that mammals have far fewer birth fatalities than humans – could this be because we spend so much time sitting/standing/lying on our sides? And not enough on our fronts? A very interesting observation.  

In addition, they found that the women’ umbilical arterial systolic/diastolic ratios decreased when they were lying on their front. Now for non-medical people, the umbilical arteries are one of two arteries in the human body that supply the limbs of the fetus with deoxygenated blood and nutrients. Why is it a good thing when this decreases? Because higher umbilical artery ratios have been associated with asymmetric prenatal growth, poor weight gain and decreased myocardial (heart) performance in infants with HLHS (hypoplastic left heart syndrome) [2].

Fast forward to 2017, research undertaken in Brazil has shown that spending time on your front improves oxygen saturation, reduce systolic blood pressure and decreases respiratory rates [3]. In other words, blood and oxygen flow between mom and baby improves, while blood pressure goes down and breathing slows down (less stress basically, a relax state). Okay great, but why should I care?  Because this means that the placenta is actually performing at its best in providing your baby with three of the most important things (oxygen, nutrients and clean blood) to ensure growth and development.

In Australia, an observational study discovered that front lying during pregnancy has reduced the blood-pressure in some of their patients who suffer from preeclampsia [4]. This wasn’t for a very long time, but wow! Can you imagine if this is taken further and all this time the treatment for preeclampsia is simply spending time on your stomach! That would not only change lives, but save lives.

Fast forward to 2020 (what a year, hey?!), in Saudi Arabia, a woman, 28-weeks pregnant, was diagnosed with severe Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) due to a MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) infection (also called the MERS virus) [5]. She was placed on her front for 18 hours and showed an immediate improvement. As soon as the doctors turned her around, her oxygen levels started dropping again to life threating levels. So they turned her back on her stomach for 5 consecutive days and she walked out of hospital, baby intact.

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