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Sleeping on your back while pregnant can increase stillbirth risk

Article By: Sue Learner

Pregnant mums are being warned not to sleep on their backs during late pregnancy, as it can increase the risk of stillbirth.

The research carried out by Auckland University investigated the sleep positions of pregnant women by using an infrared video camera to record their position as they slept. They also recorded the heart rate of the women and foetus overnight using an ECG device.

They found that when the mother slept on her back, the foetus was less active. Foetal activity is used as one way of determining its wellbeing. Foetuses were only in an active state when the mother was on her left or right side. However when the mother changed position during sleep, such as from her left side to sleeping on her back, the baby quickly became quiet or still.

Peter Stone, one of the lead investigators of the study said: ā€œIn the situation where the baby may not be healthy, such as those with poor growth, the baby may not tolerate the effect of maternal back sleeping. We are suggesting that there is now sufficient evidence to recommend mothers avoid sleeping on their back in late pregnancy, not only because of the epidemiological data but also because we have shown it has a clear effect on the baby.ā€

The study looked at 30 women who were 34-38 weeks pregnant and all of them were healthy with healthy babies. The researchers are now investigating pregnancies where the foetus is not growing properly or the mother has reported decreased foetal movements, as both situations have been associated with an increased risk of stillbirth.

The research was published in The Journal of Physiology and can be found at


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