Picking sides

The idea that exclusive left side sleeping during pregnancy is a good idea has driven some women to set alarm clocks during the night. But yoga teacher and mum-of-two Claire Maguire advises just listening to your body

Most pregnant women receive unsolicited advice all the time and it is often obtained via online forums. This advice can be based on incomplete knowledge and sometimes even on myths. But some of it may be correct and of sound background, and some may just be plain common sense that you should follow. Take, for example, the idea that pregnant women should sleep on their left side so as not to harm their baby during pregnancy.

While visiting the hair salon one afternoon, a young expectant hairdresser began to share her concerns with me about this. After waking up on her back one night she was horrifi ed and decided drastic action was needed. Her partner would set his alarm each night to monitor her sleep position after being told by their health advisor that sleeping on her left side was best. She would continuously shift from her right side to sleeping on her back and on her belly. Her partner, keeping tabs, would then reposition her back onto her left side.

42 weeks www.42weeks.ie sleeping positions in pregnancy

Photograph courtesy of http://www.sheknows.com

During my prenatal yoga training in Washington DC, world-renowned yoga teacher Janice Clarfield asked us a simple question to put the left side sleep position into perspective. What would you do if your foot became numb after sitting in a particular position for however long? The answer seemed so obvious that none of us thought to shout it out. Move! And that is exactly what we would do if our sleep position became uncomfortable and required us to tap into our basic instinct and just reposition. If you sleep on your back,
you may wake up before long anyway. You won’t have done any harm, but your body is most likely telling you that it’s time to change positions.

“The whole concern about lying on the back or the right side is based upon concern about oxygen for the baby. The body’s largest vein, the vena cava, runs down the right side of the back body. Cardiologists advise some of their heart patients not to lie on their right side because there is a little more blood flow to the heart when lying on the left side. Then it was also decided that pregnant women should not lie on their right side,” explains Clarfield “Broad brush, fear-based advice recommends all pregnant women should not lie on the back or right side. But if not lying on the belly, back or right side, there are not many choices!”

According to midwife Carmel Kearns after 20 weeks a very small percentage of pregnant
women are advised against lying on their back as the growing womb may put pressure on the inferior vena cava and this pressure will pump less blood to the baby. Their blood pressure may drop and the mother may feel lightheaded and maybe even nauseous.
If you are in this small percentage, Kearns advises that you “shift your position onto your left or right side – it should banish the feeling of dizziness”.

But what is the best position if you are a healthy women in the midst of a routine pregnancy – is it the one that’s most comfortable? “Every pregnant woman is unique. If we trust the wise pregnant body that feels the need for oxygen for the baby, and we pay attention and listen to what is needed for that time, for that hour, we can confidently be guided by the body’s wise inclinations,” says Clarfield, who has been teaching yoga to pregnant women all around the world for almost 25 years.

Most women who have been through a pregnancy will tell you that the key is pillows and plenty of them. Some women swear by the all-body pillows specially designed for pregnant women. They often look like a giant letter ‘C’ and allow you to curl up on your side. Kearns adds: “Don’t worry if you wake up lying on your back. The more comfortable you are, the
more healthy and restful sleep you will have, which is good for everybody. If you are always feeling dizzy, nauseated or generally unwell please see your midwife
or doctor.”

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