Expert Advice

Is it safe to lay on your stomach while you’re pregnant?

It might be your go-to position, but is it safe?

By Rebel Wylie

If you're a stomach sleeper, pregnancy can bring up a few questions around how long you can keep up your comfy habit before it becomes unsafe for your baby and for you.

The truth is, that no matter what type of sleep position you favoured before pregnancy, the changes happening to your body are going to mean you might need to make some adjustments for comfort and for safety during your sleeping hours.

The increased size of your stomach, back and body pain, heartburn, breath shortness and insomnia are all things that could impact a sweet night's slumber during pregnancy, but what about the safety of your baby?

Laying on your stomach while sleeping during pregnancy

Laying on your stomach, particularly in the early days of pregnancy is unlikely to do your unborn baby any harm.

Midwife and Philips Avent Ambassador, Liz Wilkes says, "In early pregnancy, until you have a sizeable bump, lying on your stomach is both safe and generally comfortable."

While it might be safe, as your bump grows it probably won't remain comfortable. Your body will have ideas about just how long you can maintain that position as your stomach grows. Most pregnant women find that before too long they are simply unable to physically lay on their stomach before the discomfort renders them unable.

"Once you have a bump it is impractical but not dangerous," says Liz. "Some women will use various bolsters to lie on their stomach and this is perfectly safe."

What is often surprising for pregnant women to learn is that sleeping on your back is actually less safe for you and your unborn child.

Midwife and Philips Avent Ambassador, Liz Wilkes says lying on your stomach is generally safe. *Image: Supplied*
Midwife and Philips Avent Ambassador, Liz Wilkes says lying on your stomach is generally safe. Image: Supplied

Laying on your back while pregnant

While it might seem the most practically convenient, back sleeping has the potential to cause a lot of problems in your pregnancy.

"The position that is most problematic and potentially unsafe is lying on your back from around 20 weeks (average) as the weight of the baby and uterus can at this stage compress your aorta and decrease blood supply to your baby, " explains Liz.

"Lying directly flat on your back whilst not something that will cause a stillbirth is linked with a decrease in blood supply. Using pillows around you to assist you to remain on your sides and to be as comfortable as possible is the best practice."

Back sleeping during pregnancy can also lead to problems with your respiratory and digestive systems, backaches and even haemorrhoids.

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The best sleep positions for pregnancy

The recommended sleep position for pregnancy is sleeping on your side (SOS).

Most mums-to-be find SOS the most comfortable, but it is also the safest position.

SOS on the left side in particular, increases the amount of blood and nutrients that reach your baby via the placenta.

"Women recently appear to be being told to ONLY sleep on the left to decrease the rate of stillbirth but this has not been proven in research to be a factor," says Liz.

"The position of the baby is also impacted by the way that you sleep and therefore there is a recommendation that you try to sleep on your left side to both reduce the risk to the baby of a decreased blood supply and to also get baby into a good position for birth."

Investing in some extra pillows, including body length pillows, will also help you to get a good night's rest.

Typically SOS sleeping is when you lay on your side, knees bent with pillow between your legs, which is surprisingly more comfortable than it sounds.

Additional pillows can also be used to help with some common pregnancy ailments. For a sore back add one under your abdomen, and for heartburn you can prop your upper body up with extra pillows until you are in a comfortable position.

The recommended sleep position for pregnancy is sleeping on your side (SOS). *Image: Getty Images*
The recommended sleep position for pregnancy is sleeping on your side (SOS). Image: Getty Images

Laying on your stomach during exercise while pregnant

During the early days of your pregnancy, performing simple, gentle exercises while laying on your stomach is considered to be safe. While your uterus is still small, your pubic bone will act as a shield, and your tiny baby will be safe in the ever increasing protective fluid.

As your pregnancy moves along and your abdomen expands, laying on your stomach will likely become too uncomfortable to do for long enough to cause any damage to your baby anyway. Adapting the way you exercise by moving to your knees or using an exercise ball for balance and position is the best way to maintain your exercise routine throughout the later stages of your pregnancy.

Laying on your stomach is unlikely to cause injury to your baby, especially in the first trimester, however it is always better to be safe than sorry. Always discuss any plans you have to perform any kind of potentially risky exercises with your doctor or midwife.

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