A stillbirth is a worst nightmare for millions of expectant parents. But new research suggests that the risk of stillbirth might be cut – dramatically – by simply making sure you fall asleep on your side.
About one in every 100 pregnancies results in a stillbirth, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s about 24,000 babies in the U.S. every year. The causes of stillbirth are largely unknown, according to the CDC. It could be caused by genetic problems or birth defects, problems with the placenta or umbilical cord, or occasionally certain conditions in the mother, such as uncontrolled medical problems. Some don’t fit any of those causes.
Now, a new study from the U.K. called the Midlands and North of England Stillbirth Study suggests that expectant mothers may be able to halve their chances of experiencing a stillbirth by making sure they fall asleep on their side instead of in another position.
For the study, researchers looked at a sample of about 1,000 women – 291 of which resulted in stillbirth and 735 of which resulted in live birth. They found that the risk of stillbirth doubled when women went to sleep on their backs instead of their sides while in the third trimester.
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The reasons are unclear, but some possibilities might be that the weight of the baby and womb might but pressure on the blood supply to the uterus, which could cause problems, according to a press release from the pregnancy charity Tommy’s, which launched its #sleeponside campaign after the results were published to educate expectant mothers on the benefits of sleeping on their side.
If mothers followed the advice to sleep on their sides instead of their backs, has the potential to save as many as 100,000 babies a year worldwide, according to a press release from Tommy’s.
“This is an important study which adds to the growing body of evidence that sleep position in late pregnancy is a modifiable risk factor for stillbirth. This new research is extremely welcome as a significant number of stillbirths remain unexplained, particularly those in late pregnancy,” said Edward Morris, Vice President for Clinical Quality at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, in a press release from Tommy’s.
The study backs up similar research done in Auckland, New Zealand, in which researchers found that the baby was less active while the mother was sleeping on her back – and immediately became more active when the mother turned onto her side, according to a release from the Physiological Society.
Alexander Heazell, a clinical director at Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital, who lead the study, told the BBC it was much more important that women fall asleep on their side, and not be worried if they wake up later on their back.
“What I don't want is for women to wake up flat on their back and think ‘oh my goodness I've done something awful to my baby,’ ” he told the BBC.