Stillbirth risk can be affected by sleep position


A study carried out by a lecturer based at Huddersfield University has been used as part of the official guidance provided by the NHS on sleeping positions for pregnant women. The research is part of the doctoral research of Dr Tomasina Stacey – a Reader of Midwifery Practice at the University.

The research looked into whether sleeping position is a factor in stillbirths and found that those women who did sleep on their backs while pregnant had a higher risk due to the weight of the uterus reducing blood flow to the baby. Stacey looked at 851 mothers who had  lost a baby and 2,257 women who gave birth to a live baby. The main finding was that sleeping on the back after 28 weeks increased the chance of stillbirth by 2.6 times – this was despite other risk factors.

The study looked into maternal snoring, daytime sleepiness and the sleep position when the woman first went to sleep and upon waking. The findings showed that sleeping on the back or the right side was a factor, with the left side showing the least harm. Getting up to go to the toilet in the night was also a factor in those who experienced fewer stillbirths. However, taking naps during the day appeared to be a risk factor.

In the UK around nine births a day are stillborn or 1 in every 225 births. The NHS hopes that this new advice will help to bring about a reduction in this number. They have now included the advice to sleep on the side as part of their Saving Babies Lives care bundle – advice given as part of a push to reduce stillbirths by half.

Dr Stacey began her research in New Zealand where the stillbirth rate was relatively high. She decided to look at factors that could be changed and sleeping position was one of them.  She points out that the next phase of her work is to ensure that there is consistent advice given to women by health professionals. She goes on to say that women are generally more than happy to change their sleeping position for the health of their baby.

The advice has also been included as part of the work done by miscarriage charity Tommy’s.

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