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#23: How to Sleep Better During Pregnancy, Postpartum, and Beyond



On this episode of the Mindful Womb Podcast, we are going to talk about how to sleep and how to sleep BETTER during pregnancy.


In this episode, we dive into the following:

  • What positions are best to sleep in during each trimester

  • How to find more comfortable sleeping positions during pregnancy

  • How to resolve common discomforts that impact sleep like heartburn, frequent urination, restless legs syndrome and leg cramps, and racing thoughts.

Listen to the episode now:

Some of the questions I get asked most as a doula are about sleep during pregnancy. The questions fall into two main categories, the first being about how to sleep while pregnant:


 "How should pregnant people sleep?"

"When can pregnant people sleep on their back?"

"Why do pregnant people lay on their left side to sleep?"

"Is it safe to sleep on my stomach during pregnancy?"


The second category of questions is about how to get improved sleep by resolving one of the following sleep disruptors:

We are going to unpack all of these questions. First, let's start with some basic information about how you should sleep during pregnancy.


Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy


During the first trimester, it is safe to sleep in any position whether it be on your back, stomach, or side. At this point, the uterus has not grown large enough to interfere with sleeping positions.


Starting in the second trimester (the 14th week of pregnancy) it is best to begin sleeping on your side. It is preferable to sleep on your left side because this position will maximize the blood flow to the uterus without putting any pressure on the liver. If you experience hip or lower back pain you may find comfort in placing a pillow between the knees and feet and bending your knees while you sleep. If you have a preference to sleep on your right side, do what feels best, sleeping on your right side is perfectly safe.


At this point in your pregnancy, it will no longer feel comfortable to sleep on your stomach and it's unlikely you will sleep in this position. There is currently no research showing that sleeping on your stomach is dangerous or harmful while pregnant so if you find yourself in this position, don't worry. Just do your best to readjust your positioning if you find yourself in this position.


In the third trimester (the 27th week of pregnancy onward) it is not advisable to sleep flat on your back. Sleeping on your back puts pressure on the inferior vena cava, the main blood vessels that deliver blood to the uterus. Sleeping on your back may decrease the oxygen supply to your baby and can cause other unpleasant symptoms like heartburn or dizziness. If you prop yourself up to be on a 20- to 30-degree angle while on your back, that's going to relieve any potential pressure on your inferior vena cava.


It can be hard to get used to sleeping on your side when you are most comfortable on your back or belly. Out of habit, many of us find ourselves rolling back into the most familiar position at some point during the night. If you find yourself rolling onto your back during the night, try positioning some pillows around your body to prevent you from rolling over. Don't freak out if you find yourself on your back, just move into a side-lying position or slightly propped-up position once you notice you have rolled over.


Getting Into A Comfortable Sleeping Position While Pregnant


As your baby grows, it can be difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position. I recommend spending time arranging pillows to support you and enhance your comfort. A pillow between your knees and feet and under your belly can feel great. Adding a pillow to support your back can also help you relax and prevent you from turning onto your back.


For many, a pregnancy pillow is a game changer. Pregnancy pillows range in price starting from around $25 with more luxury options costing over $100. Pregnancy pillows are specifically designed to accommodate the contours of the pregnant body and provide support where it's needed most. These pillows can be found in many different shapes and sizes to accommodate each sleep position and help prevent aches and pains. Most people get a pregnancy pillow around 20 weeks of pregnancy.


Is Nausea Preventing You From Sleeping While Pregnant?


It is not uncommon for nausea to feel worse when you are in a reclined position. Try not to lie down right after you have eaten. When you do lie down, laying on your left side promotes better coordination between your digestive system and gravity.


Check out my blog post 10 Morning Sickness Remedies: Natural Approaches for Instant Relief. We all know that morning sickness is not just happen in the morning. A combination of B6 and Unisom before bed can make a huge difference in curbing nausea and promoting deeper sleep. Other tips not included in the linked post include:

  • keeping a light starchy snack like crackers by your bedside that can absorb stomach acid

  • avoiding very fatty foods at dinner time

  • cracking the window for some fresh air


Frequent Urination Keeping You Awake At Night?


If you find yourself waking up numerous times in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, start limiting your fluid intake before bed. Also, avoid diuretics. Caffeine and some herbal teas are diuretics which means they increase the amount of urine your body produces. Two common teas that are consumed during pregnancy that are diuretics are Milk Thistle Tea and Dandelion Root Tea. Avoid consuming these before bedtime if frequent urination is bothering you.


When you are pregnant your body retains fluids throughout the day. When you lay down at night, the excess fluids in your legs are processed by your kidneys. Try elevating your legs for an hour each day and you can reduce your nightly bathroom visits.


How to Reduce Leg Cramps or Restless Leg Syndrome During Pregnancy


My top recommendation to soothe leg craps and eliminate restless leg syndrome during pregnancy is

MAGNESIUM. Make sure you are getting 350 mg of magnesium each day. Magnesium spray or lotion can also be extremely effective. I love 8 Sheep Organics Organic Sleepy Body Lotion which is specifically designed to support sleep during pregnancy and reduce leg cramps and restless leg syndrome during pregnancy. Use the discount code: CLARA11232 and get $5 off your order.


For leg cramps, I recommend doing some stretching before bed and in the morning (do not point your toes, try flexing instead). A warm bath before bed can help relax your muscles (you can even add some Epsom salts for more magnesium). Foods that can be helpful include coconut water, artichokes, bananas, brown rice, hazelnuts, pecans, and molasses.


Restless leg syndrome is a nearly irresistible urge to move the legs. This is VERY frustrating when you are trying to sleep. Remedies for restless leg syndrome during pregnancy include cutting our caffeine, taking daily walks, acupuncture, and some magnesium. Sometimes people need iron supplements like Ferrasorb.

 

Remedies for Nighttime Heartburn During Pregnancy


As your baby grows, your uterus gets bigger. The real estate around your stomach gets crowded and pushes stomach acids upward, into your esophagus. That's why heartburn is more common during the third trimester, the last few months of pregnancy. At the same time, pregnancy hormones relax the valve that normally keeps the acid in your stomach, so more of it can get through because of this may find that your indigestion and heartburn symptoms get worse when you're bending forwards, or when you're lying down at night.


My first recommendation for nighttime pregnancy heartburn is to eat a few bites of ice cream. The cold temperature of the ice cream and calcium will help encourage the esophageal valve to close and therefore eliminate heartburn. This is surprisingly effective!


Some other great remedies include apple cider vinegar (1-2 Tablespoons or 500mg of Apple Cider Vinegar Powder capsules) or hydrochloric acid pills. Eating 10 raw almonds or some DGL deglycyrrhizinated licorice can also help! These remedies also trigger the esophageal sphincter to close. If all else fails, try propping yourself up in a more upright position while sleeping. More on heartburn prevention and natural remedies can be found in my blog post: Natural Remedies for Heartburn During Pregnancy.


Are Racing Thoughts or Anxiety Keeping You Awake at Night?


My first recommendation to reduce nighttime anxiety is to practice good sleep hygiene. This looks different for everyone but it should include a wind-down routine that avoids screens for 60 minutes before bed. Why avoid screens? The blue light emitted by your cell phone screen and computers restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle. Using screens before bed makes it even more difficult to fall asleep and wake up the next day. Other practices could include deep breathing, nighttime yoga, diffusing some calming essential oils like lavender or eucalyptus, or meditation.


If you are having racing thoughts or are unable to stay asleep, try Magnesium (CALM) before bed. Start with a single dose and then titrate up until you get desired results. It can loosen stools so you want to titrate up slowly. Some people are more sensitive than others. The homeopathic remedy Cafe Cruda can make a huge difference. Try 30C for chronic issues with racing thoughts or 200C if it is a once-in-a-while sleep issue.


If you are anxious about labor and birthing your baby I encourage you to seek support. Enrolling in a childbirth education course can help you better understand what to expect during labor. Working with a doula can also make a huge difference. Hiring a doula is like having a birth-savvy BFF, childbirth educator, and life coach all in one! As a holistic doula, I offer childbirth education, birth doula support worldwide, and one-hour coaching calls to support people in preparing to birth their babies with confidence! Check out my offerings, and don't hesitate to reach out with any questions!



Disclaimer: This information does not substitute for a care provider-patient relationship and should not be relied on as personal medical advice.



 

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