Pregnant women who sleep on their back ‘have babies who weigh less’

Pregnant women who sleep on their back during their third trimester ‘give birth to babies who weigh 5oz less because the position restricts blood flow to the womb’

  • Scientists asked pregnant women in third trimester about their sleep position 
  • Those who nodded off on their back had babies weighing 7lb 8oz (3.41kg) 
  • Compared to 7lb 13oz (3.55kg) among those whose slept in another position

Pregnant women who sleep on their back during their third trimester may be more likely to have a baby with a low birth-weight, research suggests.

Scientists from the University of Auckland asked more than 1,700 women who were at least 28 weeks pregnant about their sleeping position. 

They found the average weight of newborns whose mothers nodded off on their back was 7lbs 8oz (3.41kg).

This is 5oz (144g) less than the 7lbs 13oz (3.55kg) among those whose mothers slept in another position, such as on their side.

Sleeping on the back during the third trimester has been linked to reduced blood flow to the womb, which could restrict growth, the scientists claim.

Pregnant women who sleep on their back during their third trimester may be more likely to have a low-birth weight baby because it ‘reduces blood flow to the womb’ (stock)

The risks of pregnant women sleeping on their back has thrown up mixed results.

Four studies found there may be a link between expectant mothers adopting this position and stillbirth.

Off the back of this, the baby charity Tommy’s recommends pregnant women who are in their third trimester sleep on their side. 

The charity stresses, however, the risk for uncomplicated pregnancies is low, with one in 200 babies being stillborn. But sleeping on the side lowers the risk even more, it says.

Pregnancy health charity Tommy’s gives a list of actions which would have a positive impact on the health of a pregnancy and the future child if done before the mother stops contraception.

Take folic acid 

Taking 400mcg of folic acid daily from two months before stopping contraception can help protect babies from developing neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Quit smoking 

Smoking during pregnancy causes 2,200 premature births, 5,000 miscarriages and 300 perinatal deaths per year in the UK.

Be a healthy weight

Being overweight before and during pregnancy increases the risk of potentially dangerous conditions such as pre-eclampsia and diabetes.

Eat healthy and be active

A healthy mother is more likely to give birth to a healthy baby, and both will help maintain a safe body weight. 

Speak to your GP if you are taking medication

Some medications may affect pregnancy, and it is best to check with a GP as soon as possible 

Source: Tommy’s 

To uncover whether sleeping position affects birth weight, the scientists looked at four studies on the subject.

The position people nod off in tends to be ‘maintained for the longest duration throughout the night’, they wrote.

Of the total 1,760 expectant mothers included in the study, 57 (3.2 per cent) said they had tended to sleep on their back during the past one-to-four weeks. 

Results – published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology – found these women’s babies were smaller than the other infants. 

This was statistically significant. However, both ‘groups’ of babies were still a healthy weight.

The average birth weight for newborns is around 7.5lb (3.5kg), however, between 5.5lb (2.5kg) and 10lb (4.5kg) is considered normal, according to the University of Michigan.

Aside from sleeping on the back, lying on the left, right or any other position was not found to have any effect. 

The scientists claim this may be due to their study being relatively small. 

Lying on the back towards the end of pregnancy is thought to compress the vena cava, the large vein that returns blood from the head to the heart, and the aorta, which carries blood to the rest of the body. 

This reduces the amount of blood a woman’s heart pumps out, which in turns lowers oxygen and nutrient supply to the foetus, the scientists wrote. 

Pregnant women can easily switch their sleeping position from their back to their side, the scientists wrote.

Tommy’s launched a Sleep On Side campaign in 2017. The scientists claim movements like this ‘have the potential to increase birth size’.  

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