By Hayley Oakes LM, CPM ~
So, what’s the deal with hearing that sleeping or laying on your left side is best while you’re pregnant?
Well, firstly, your liver is on your right side and with the growing weight of the pregnant belly, it’s best not to put pressure on it so that it can function optimally.
Secondly and most importantly, laying on your left side puts less pressure on the vena cava – a vein that comes up from the lower part of the body carrying oxygenated blood to the upper part of the body i.e. your heart and brain. When this is compressed, so is the flow of blood circulation. As a result, you can feel woozy, lightheaded, clammy, etc. This is called supine hypotension. This is characterized by laying completely flat (supine) and having the growing weight of the uterine muscle, baby, amniotic fluid, placenta, increased blood volume, etc. put weight directly on that vein, which compresses it and causes your blood pressure to drop (hypotension). If your circulation is not optimal than neither is your baby’s.
However, not everyone experiences supine hypotension. Many women will go to sleep on their left sides and then wake up on their backs and feel completely fine – other than the panic of “Oh no! I am not supposed to lay on my back”. If this has happened to you, know that most likely you and your baby are fine. But check with your health care provider if you feel concerned. Also, if you end up rolling on your back and feel those uncomfortable sensations, the best and easiest thing to do is roll to either side.
That’s right, you heard me. Left OR right.
I am an advocate for not just laying on your left side for 10 months with an 25-35 pounds of weight added to your body. This could also contribute to some serious aches and pains. I believe it’s important to alternate sleeping on both the right and left sides.
Often times when you sleep directly on your hips you can get pinched nerves that result in sciatica, a lower back pain that on a scale could be anywhere from just distracting to debilitating. While this is a common occurrence in pregnancy, it is not normal.
Also, babies often sleep where they are not squished. So if you’re always on your left side then babies will spend more time on the right. As mentioned in a previous post “Right Sided Babies”, this can lead to more issues with your labor pattern as right-sided babies tend to move towards your back in labor and then you can have what’s called “back labor”. This can make for a very uncomfortable and long labor process and increase the odds of transferring to a hospital from a planned out-of-hospital setting.
If you are switching sides, this not only will feel better on your body but also will encourage your baby to rotate and get to know your pelvic landscape better.
Lastly, when switching side to side even that can get uncomfortable. There is a great labor position that I recommend for sleeping and it’s called the exaggerated side lying position. In this position, you are laying a little bit more forward onto the front of your hipbone and a little more on your belly.
You can put a rolled towel or swaddle on the underside of your belly for support. Your bottom leg is straight and top leg is bent and in the shape of a right angle with a pillow under that knee. This not only takes the pressure off your hips (in preventing sciatica) but also encourages them to stay open resulting in your baby sitting lower in your pelvis (a more optimal position for labor) while also maintaining optimal circulation to both you and baby.