Researchers are warning that women in the last trimester of pregnancy may reduce their risk of stillbirth by falling asleep on their sides rather than their backs.
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A study of 291 pregnancies that ended in stillbirth and 735 women who had live births showed that women who fell asleep on their backs were twice as likely to have a stillbirth, compared with women who fell asleep on their sides.
Researchers are uncertain as to why a mother falling asleep on her back increases the risk of stillbirth, but there is evidence to support that by doing so, the combined weight of the baby and the womb places pressure on blood vessels, which can restrict the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby.
They also say that it is the position a woman falls asleep in that is most important, rather than whether they happen to be on their back when they wake up.
"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’.
Lead author of the study Alexander Heazell, Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre, St Mary's Hospital, Manchester
The question that was asked during the study was specifically about what position people fell asleep in, which is important, as people spend longer in that position than they do in any other, explains Heazell. Furthermore, the position you fall asleep in is something you have an element of control over, whereas nobody can do anything about the position they wake up in.
The study, which is called the MiNESS study is the largest of its kind and is published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG). It confirms findings from smaller studies that have been conducted in New Zealand and Australia.
Edward Morris from the BJOG welcomes the research saying: "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."