A close-up of a heavily pregnant woman's stomach while she sleeps on her side.
PREGNANCY TIP
FIT Fam

How to sleep safely and soundly in every trimester

FIT Fam

Discomfort and three pee breaks a night make getting a decent sleep hard enough when you’re pregnant!

To help you minimise any other potential disruptions, read this easy-to-follow guide laying out the safest pregnancy sleeping positions in each trimester, plus some simple tips to help you rest more soundly as your baby grows.

Trimester 1

Recommended sleep positions: Any
Unless you have been advised not to, sleeping on your stomach is perfectly fine during the first trimester. Your baby is well-protected in there!

If you’re a regular stomach-sleeper, you might want to start practising falling asleep on your side now so it’s easier when your growing belly makes lying on your stomach impossible.

Sleep tips for the first trimester:

  • Fatigue hits many women in their first trimester, so you should prioritise getting as much regular, deep sleep as you can – whether you get it on your side, back or belly.

  • Start trialling getting to sleep on your side a few nights a week. Like anything, it gets easier with practice!

Trimester 2

Recommended sleep positions: Left or right side
From about the 20 week mark of your pregnancy, sleeping on your side is encouraged. Why? It’s not just because sleeping on your stomach is starting to get difficult and uncomfortable.

When lying flat on your back, the weight of your enlarged uterus can compress the inferior vena cava (the vein that carries blood to your heart) and restrict blood flow to you and your baby. (This is why doing core crunches and other exercises lying flat on your back are a no-no at this time, too.)

You may have heard that only the left side is safe, but the most up-to-date advice (including guidance from authorities like the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) is that either side is fine. Avoiding long stretches of sleep on your back is what really matters. You can read more about the changing guidelines for side sleeping in the Trimester 3 section below.

If you wake up on your back, don’t stress! Simply roll back onto your side. The danger comes from long periods of uninterrupted back sleeping.

Find it hard to get comfortable on your side? Pregnancy pillows (or your own makeshift pillow fort) can help. You can find our guide to pregnancy pillows at the bottom of this article.

Sleep tips for the second trimester:

  • Restless legs syndrome affects about a third of pregnant women. You can help to alleviate it by exercising regularly and ensuring you get enough iron. (See the FIT Pregnancy Nutrition Manual if you need some help on the latter.)

  • Exercise consistently for better quality sleep. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just aim to move every day.

  • Thoughts on overdrive or struggling with anxiety? A sleep visualisation like Emily’s Warm Embrace could help you to drift off easier and sleep deeper.

  • Increased blood flow can inflame the membranes in your nose, leading to congestion. A humidifier can help alleviate this.

  • Turn on the fan. Your body runs hotter when you’re pregnant, so keep your bedroom cool.

A cartoon illustrating different positions to use a pregnancy pillow for sleep.

If you’re having trouble falling asleep on your side, try a pillow designed for pregnant women. There are plenty of shapes and sizes to choose from!

Trimester 3

Recommended sleep positions: Left or right side
A landmark New Zealand study found that sleeping on your side – either side – from 28 weeks can significantly reduce the risk of stillbirth.

While traditionally women have been advised to sleep on their left side during pregnancy to aid circulation and blood flow to their organs, that same study found that stillbirth risk was not influenced by which side mothers chose to sleep on. About a decade ago, a tiny study found an increased risk of stillbirth for right-side sleepers, but those results haven’t yet been replicated.

So: left side or right side? That’s a call only you can make. Understandably, many pregnant women take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach to sleep during pregnancy. But if you find it impossible to get any rest on your left side, you should know there’s little concrete evidence that it makes a difference. Speak to your doctor so you can make an informed decision based on what is right for you.

Sleep tips for the third trimester:

  • If you’re suffering from backache, research has shown that a wedge-shaped pillow placed beneath the abdomen is more effective than a regular pillow. So if you’ve been holding off on buying a special pillow, now might be the time to invest.

  • As you enter the last stage of pregnancy, the pressure on your bladder grows. You need to stay hydrated, but try not to drink too much in the lead up to bedtime. Less fluids will hopefully mean fewer trips to the bathroom.

  • If you’re suffering from heartburn, adding a pillow to elevate your head will help. (As will cutting down on spicy or acidic foods.)

  • If you’re struggling to sleep at night when you’re pregnant, it’s okay to nap during the day. Just aim to do it earlier in the day and cap it at 30 minutes.

Pillow talk: How to find the best pregnancy pillow for you

There are hundreds of pregnancy sleep pillows on the market, which can make finding the right one for you tricky. We’ve broken down the most common varieties, along with their pros and cons, so you can make a more informed purchase.

Bump wedge
Pros: Takes up minimal space, generally the more budget-friendly option, perfect for bump support.
Cons: No support for sore hips, back or other parts of your body, some women find the pressure on their stomach uncomfortable, doesn’t stop you from rolling onto your back.

U Shaped
Pros: Supports you in either direction so you can change sides overnight without rearranging, offers upper back support and can be placed between legs for lower-back support.
Cons: Can feel confining if you’re used to stretching and moving in your sleep.

C Shaped
Pros: Offers upper- and lower-back support similar to the U-shaped pillow, plus has space for large (or growing) bumps.
Cons: Will have to be rearranged if you want to change sides in the night.

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