Being pregnant is hard work. Is it exciting? Absolutely. But is it also exhausting and, at times, frustrating? You bet it is.
Some pregnant women have it easier than others in certain aspects—not everyone experiences morning sickness or sciatic pain or unexpected complications. But one thing that seems to be standard across the board is the challenge of learning how to sleep comfortably and soundly with a belly that is growing bigger every day. There’s a lot of advice out there, but, as with most things in pregnancy, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for getting the rest you desperately need while growing a person from scratch. It’s a trial-and-error process to figure out what works for you.
So here are some tips for ways to possibly—HOPEFULLY—help you sleep while pregnant.
The back-sleeping situation
You may already know this, but after your 20-week mark, doctors recommend not sleeping on your back. Michael Cackovic, MD, a maternal fetal medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center explains, “When you lie belly-up, the weight of your uterus can compress a major blood vessel, called the vena cava, a large vein that runs up the right side of your vertebral column…compressing this can disrupt blood flow to your baby and…can also constrict the aorta, blocking off the main blood supply to your body and placenta.”
OK, this sounds really scary but don’t panic. While there are things you can do to avoid sleeping on your back, you do not have full control of what your body does while you’re asleep. Dr. Cackovick continues, “Don’t stress out over occasionally rolling over onto your back at night or waking up on your back. Your body would let you know if your baby was in any real danger of not getting enough oxygen.” So, if you wake up on your back, you likely woke up because your body is letting you know to roll to your side. It’s also recommended that you try to keep on your left side to maximize blood flow and nutrients to your placenta.
To make staying on your side easier, many women will invest in a body pillow, pregnancy pillow, or will stack several pillows behind them so they are either restricted from going belly-up or are sleeping at a 45 degree angle.
Midnight trips to the bathroom
Ahh, yes, the joy of frequent urination while pregnant. There are multiple factors that cause this inconvenience:
- Hormonal changes make your blood flow to your kidneys more quickly, filling your bladder more often.
- Blood volume also increases throughout pregnancy until you have almost 50 percent more blood circulating than before you got pregnant, so there’s a lot of extra fluid being processed through your kidneys and ending up in your bladder.
- Your growing uterus puts pressure on your bladder, increasing the problem even more later in pregnancy.
Basically, the odds are already against you and we are very sorry about that, BUT there are ways to minimize the nighttime bathroom breaks.
- Stay super hydrated during the day and then cut down on the fluids at least two hours before bed.
- Avoid diuretic beverages such as coffee, tea, or soda, as they increase urine production and make you need to ‘go’ more often.
- Empty your bladder completely before bed by leaning forward when you relieve yourself.
- Don't hold it. Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge, as waiting can weaken your pelvic floor muscles and make the problem worse over time.
Natural relaxation methods
Meditation, journaling, and warm baths are all good ways to wind down and promote relaxation before you climb into bed. Meditation and journaling help clear your mind and allow you to let go of stresses that may be weighing heavy and causing your thoughts to race while trying to fall asleep. Guided imagery meditation can be especially effective if you have anxiety and struggle to quiet your mind, as it draws your ability to visualize and daydream instead of simply sitting in silence. Journaling allows you to write about your day or even make lists of things you need to do so you’re not trying to make mental lists when you should be drifting off to sleep.
Over-the-counter sleep aids
We know a lot of people do not like to take medication at all, which is a personal choice we’re all entitled to. And taking prescription sleep meds during pregnancy such as benzodiazepines is not suggested unless the pregnant woman is severely sleep deprived and only with a prescription from their OB. But some women may feel the need to enlist the help of safe OTC antihistamines to get some shuteye if they’re really struggling. Antihistamines such as Benadryl and Unisom are considered to be safe for expectant mothers, but, again, should only be taken after you’ve first consulted with your physician.