How to Sleep With a Pregnancy Pillow

Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, CNM, RN
Reviewed by Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, CNM, RNWritten by Neve Spicer Updated on November 27th, 2021

You expected to lose sleep after the baby arrived, but you had no idea your nighttime issues would 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
sleepfoundation.org
Frustrating as it can be to lose sleep at a time when you need it most, fortunately, a pregnancy pillow can help you achieve a superior slumber.

We explain how these novel bedtime accessories can come to your rescue and revive your prenatal sleep schedule. Before we do, let’s discuss why it’s so difficult to get a good night’s sleep while pregnant.

Why sleep is challenging during pregnancy

Experiencing insomnia during pregnancy? Then you’re not alone. Most women experience loss of sleep while pregnant.

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 can 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
sleepfoundation.org

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

By the second trimester, you may finally feel some relief when hitting the hay. This is the best time 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 helps you optimize your circulation.

In turn, your baby will get the nutrients it needs, enabling your body to function better. 3Science Update: Sleeping position during early and mid pregnancy does not affect risk of complications, NIH-funded study suggests – NIH
sleepfoundation.org

During the last few weeks of pregnancy, heartburn can make things worse. Plus, involuntary contractions in your leg muscles may leave you feeling awake and uncomfortable.

Pregnancy pillows could be your best bet when trying to score a much-needed nights’ sleep.

The benefits of pregnancy pillows

Some pregnant women are reluctant to believe that a giant worm-shaped body pillow will rescue them from nine months of sleep deprivation.

Let’s examine how a body pillow can potentially eliminate a variety of gestation-related discomforts.

Improves circulation

Most experts recommend that women sleep on their left side when pregnant.

Studies show that sleeping on the back (the supine position) pinches a vein that’s 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.
sciencedirect.com

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 one option: side sleeping.

Research shows that sleeping on the left side is beneficial for both mom and baby. In fact, this position allows 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 while pregnant. 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 more lumbago and hip pain.

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

Heartburn

It’s hard to relax 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’ll eventually be recognized 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 can remove some stress from the pressure points below your waist, resulting in some much-needed sleep.

Shortness of breath

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

A pregnancy pillow can be used 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 your chosen pillow type, you can achieve either 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 under your head to take some burden off your pressure points and ease your breathing.

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

Or why not 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 can take some pressure off a woman’s back and hips.

Full-body wrap: If you’re a lifelong stomach sleeper coming to terms with your recent, albeit temporary, bedtime limitations, try sandwiching your body between the two sides of a U-shaped pregnancy pillow. You may not locate 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 lie 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

Be sure to consider your preferences when investing in a pregnancy pillow. Here are some additional suggestions 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 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 white or beige.

What’s more, pay close attention to a pillow’s fill material. Some pillow fills, such as microfibers, are easily compressed over time. Meanwhile, others 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
  • Practice yoga or meditation

Pregnancy pillow bonus

Reluctant to invest in a sleep aid that won’t get much use after the baby’s arrival? Loads of moms swear they still use their pregnancy pillows long after their babies were born.

The oversized cushions come in handy during nursing and other nighttime activities, including television viewing and reading.

Wrapping up

It’s hard to enjoy a good night’s sleep with 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).
academic.oup.com

A pregnancy pillow could offer you the extra support you need during this precious 9-month period. Now’s the time to squeeze in those extra winks because, chances are, you won’t be getting many after the baby arrives.

Did you use a special pillow during pregnancy? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, CNM, RN
Reviewed by Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, CNM, RNWritten by Neve Spicer Updated on November 27th, 2021

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