How to Sleep With a Pregnancy Pillow

Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, CNM, RN
Reviewed by Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, CNM, RNWritten by Neve Spicer Updated on August 18th, 2021

You expected to lose sleep when the baby arrives, but you had no idea your nighttime issues were going to start as early as the first trimester. According to a 1998 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 78% of women report that they experience less regular sleep during pregnancy.1Sleeping While Pregnant: First Trimester

It can be frustrating to lose sleep at a time when you need it most. Fortunately, a pregnancy pillow can help you achieve a superior slumber.

We’ll explain how these simple bedtime accessories can save your sleep schedule while you’ve got a pea in the pod. Before we do, let’s talk about why it can be so hard to get a good night’s sleep during pregnancy.

Why sleeping is challenging during pregnancy

If you’re experiencing insomnia during pregnancy, you’re not alone. The vast majority of expectant women experience loss of sleep during their pregnancies. While racing thoughts may be contributing to your bedtime issues, physiological changes are even more likely to be the source of your sleep deprivation.

According to the experts, pre-baby insomnia may be caused by:

  • Hormonal changes
  • The frequent need to urinate
  • Stress & anxiety
  • Heartburn
  • Leg cramps
  • Sleep apnea

For many expectant moms, loss of sleep starts as early as the first trimester.2Sleeping While Pregnant: First Trimester

Raging hormones, a frequent need to pee, non-stop nausea, and racing thoughts are likely to keep you up during the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy.

By the second trimester, you may finally feel some relief when you hit the hay. The second trimester is the best time for you to try and squeeze in as many eight-hour slumbers as possible.

Keep in mind that experts advise women in their second trimesters to stop sleeping on their backs. While it’s not harmful to sleep on your stomach during pregnancy, it’s unlikely that you’ll be comfortable in this position as your bump grows.

By your third trimester, you may have no alternative but to sleep on your side. Sleeping on your left side is ideal, as this position will help you to optimize your circulation. In turn, your baby will get the nutrients it needs, and your body can function better.3Science Update: Sleeping position during early and mid pregnancy does not affect risk of complications, NIH-funded study suggests – NIH

During the last few weeks of pregnancy, heartburn can make things even worse. Plus, involuntary contractions in your leg muscles may leave you feeling awake and uncomfortable. Pillows may be your best bet when it comes to scoring a much-needed night of sleep.

The benefits of pregnancy pillows

Some pregnant women are reluctant to believe that a giant worm-shaped body pillow is going to save them from nine months of sleep deprivation. Let’s take a look at how a body pillow can help you eliminate a variety of gestation-related discomforts.

Improves circulation

Most experts recommend that women sleep on their left sides when they are pregnant. Studies show that sleeping on the back (the supine position) pinches a vein that is responsible for sending blood to and from an expectant mom’s heart and her unborn baby.4Cronin, R. S., Li, M., Thompson, J. M., Gordon, A., Raynes-Greenow, C. H., Heazell, A. E., … & McCowan, L. M. (2019). An individual participant data meta-analysis of maternal going-to-sleep position, interactions with fetal vulnerability, and the risk of late stillbirth. EClinicalMedicine, 10, 49-57.

With back sleeping out of the question and stomach sleeping made impossible by a burgeoning belly, pregnant women in their second and third trimesters are left with but one option: side sleeping.

Research shows that sleeping on the left side is the most beneficial to mom and baby. In fact, this position allows the blood to flow freely from the heart. On the other hand, back sleep limits circulation through the inferior vena cava (IVC). In doing so, it cuts off the flow of blood and oxygen to your baby.

Prevents back pain

Making matters worse, many women experience back pain during their pregnancies. During the first trimester, this type of discomfort is usually caused by the stretching of pelvic ligaments. As you gain more weight and your center of gravity takes a turn, you’re likely to experience even more lumbago and hip pain.

You can reduce a lot of your aches and pains by wrapping a full-body pillow behind your back and through your legs.


It can be hard to find comfort when you’re constantly experiencing the adverse side effects of gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Your hormones have your digestive system out of whack. Your mammoth uterus is coming down hard on your abdomen, and you’re feeling the BURN.

A J-shaped pregnancy pillow may help you lay off the antacids and finally get some shut-eye. GERD-erasing body pillows are super effective. Some researchers believe they will eventually qualify as medical devices.

Stops leg pain, cramps, and RLS

Leg pains, cramps, and restless leg syndrome can all disrupt your REM cycles. By placing a pillow between your legs, you may be able to take some of the stress off the pressure points below your waist. As a result, you may be able to finally score some much-needed sleep.

Shortness of breath

With progesterone pumping up your breath rate and your growing baby limiting the functionality of your lungs, it can be hard for you to get the oxygen you need.

You can use a pregnancy pillow to prop up your head and neck. You’ll also find it easier to get into a healthy side position with a pillow anchoring your roly-poly body.

How to use a pregnancy pillow

Are you struggling to get the sleep you need? Depending on the type of pillow you have, you may be able to get localized or full-body support.

If your support cushion is straight, prop it up against the front or back of your body. Run a segment through your legs and another section of the pillow under your head to take some burden off your pressure points and ease your breathing.

If your pillow is curved, wrap it around your back, swing it through your legs, and then pull it up and under your belly.

Or, try one of the following positions:

Bellycentric: Some women like to wrap their pillows around the fronts of their bodies. This type of pillow position seems to take some of the pressure off a woman’s back and hips.

Full-body wrap: If you’re a lifelong stomach sleeper looking to come to terms with your recent yet temporary bedtime limitations, try sandwiching your body between the two sides of a U-shaped pregnancy pillow. You may never find your comfort zone, but sleep is sure to come a little easier.

Pillow spoon: Place a straight full-length pillow in front of you as you lay on your side. Then, wrap your legs and arms around the support cushion as though you are spooning your partner. You should feel some relief in your legs, pelvis, and hips.

Heads/neck heaven: Use a wedge or a large support cushion to prop up your head and neck. You should feel your heartburn and acid reflux symptoms start to fade.

How to choose a pregnancy pillow

You must consider your preferences when investing in a pregnancy pillow. Nevertheless, here are a few additional things you might want to consider when choosing a support cushion:

Size: Pregnancy pillows are available in a spectrum of sizes ranging from pint-sized wedges to full-body offerings.

If you’re already sharing a queen-sized bed with your partner, you might want to reconsider that extra-large support cushion.

If you do opt for a full-body pillow, make sure that it extends the length of your body.

Material: Don’t expect to find a backup pillowcase at your local home goods store. Make sure that the included cover is made from a soft, breathable, and easy to wash material. Opt for one with an easy to clean, low maintenance appearance, such as a white or beige pillowcase.

What’s more, pay close attention to a pillow’s fill material. Some pillow fills, such as microfibers, are easily compressed over time. Meanwhile, other filling types, such as memory foam, take away from a pillow’s breathability.

Shape: Consider what’s keeping you up at night when choosing a pregnancy pillow shape. Some models offer full-body support. Meanwhile, others, such as wedges, provide more localized relief.

Tips for scoring zzz’s

Toss and turn a lot? Here are a few more tips for getting better sleep during gestation:

  • Avoid eating food before bed
  • Go to bed on time and limit distractions
  • Cutback on late-night fluid intake
  • Exercise regularly
  • Regulate the temperature in your bedroom
  • Do yoga or meditation

Pregnancy pillow bonus

Reluctant to invest in a sleep aid that won’t get much use after the baby’s arrival? Most moms say that their pregnancy pillows came in use long after their babies were born. The over-sized cushions come in handy during nursing and other nighttime activities, including television viewing and reading.

Wrapping things up

It can be hard to get a good night’s sleep when you’ve got a basketball-sized lump where your stomach once was. Still, experts recommend that soon-to-be moms get at least six hours of shut-eye each night.5Reid, K. J., Facco, F. L., Grobman, W. A., Parker, C. B., Herbas, M., Hunter, S., … & Zee, P. C. (2017). Sleep during pregnancy: the nuMoM2b pregnancy and sleep duration and continuity study. Sleep, 40(5).
A pregnancy pillow may offer you the extra support you need during this precious 9-month period.

Now’s the time to squeeze in some extra winks because you know you won’t be getting any when your new baby arrives. Did you use a special pillow during pregnancy? Let us know in the comment section below.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, CNM, RN
Reviewed by Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, CNM, RNWritten by Neve Spicer Updated on August 18th, 2021

Pin for later

Read this next