Can I sleep on my back with pillows while pregnant?

Pregnancy is a time of profound physiological changes, affecting nearly every aspect of a woman’s body, including sleep patterns and comfort. As the pregnancy progresses, sleeping can become more challenging due to the growing belly, back pain, increased frequency of urination, and even shortness of breath.

One of the significant concerns many pregnant women have relates to sleeping positions. Traditionally, the supine position (sleeping on the back) has raised concerns among healthcare professionals, especially in the third trimester. Yet, with adjustments like using pillows, it may be made more comfortable and safer.

This guide delves into the topic of sleeping on the back with the assistance of pillows during pregnancy, presenting the benefits, potential risks, and recommendations.

How to Use Pillows for Supine Sleep During Pregnancy?

Using pillows to enhance comfort and safety during supine sleep (sleeping on your back) during pregnancy can make a significant difference. Proper positioning can alleviate many of the common discomforts associated with this sleeping position, especially in the latter stages of pregnancy. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use pillows for supine sleep during pregnancy:

  1. Choose the Right Pillows:
    • Invest in firm pillows that can provide support without sinking too much. Memory foam, wedge pillows, or full-length pregnancy pillows can be particularly beneficial.
  2. Upper Body Elevation:
    • Place a wedge pillow or stack one or two regular pillows under your upper back and head. This elevation can help reduce heartburn and alleviate pressure on the inferior vena cava, which can be compressed by the weight of the uterus when lying flat.
    • This incline will also aid in easier breathing, especially in the later stages of pregnancy.
  3. Support for the Lower Back:
    • Position a small pillow or a rolled-up towel under the curve of your lower back. This can offer added support, reducing back pain and ensuring that your spine maintains a neutral position.
  4. Leg and Knee Elevation:
    • Place a pillow or two under your knees. This helps in keeping the knees slightly bent and can alleviate pressure on the lower back.
    • Elevating the legs can also help reduce swelling in the feet and ankles, a common complaint during pregnancy.
  5. Side Support:
    • To prevent rolling onto your side or to provide a cushioned barrier, consider placing pillows on either side of your body. This can give you a sense of security and make it easier to slightly turn or adjust without fully rolling over.
  6. Additional Comfort for Hips:
    • If you find that your hips are feeling strained or uncomfortable, consider placing a thin, soft pillow beneath your hips. This can offer some cushioning and reduce any potential strain.
  7. Stay Hydrated but Mind the Bladder:
    • Keeping hydrated is crucial during pregnancy, but a full bladder can increase discomfort when sleeping on your back. Try to reduce fluid intake shortly before bedtime and always empty your bladder before sleeping. If you wake up during the night, use this opportunity to use the restroom.
  8. Listen to Your Body:
    • It’s essential to monitor how you feel when using pillows for support. If you experience any dizziness, shortness of breath, or discomfort, you might need to adjust the pillows or change your sleeping position altogether.

Remember, while pillows can greatly enhance comfort during supine sleep in pregnancy, always consult with a healthcare provider or obstetrician about sleep positions, especially if you have specific concerns or health conditions.

Concerns with Supine Sleep Position During Pregnancy

Sleeping in the supine position (on your back) during pregnancy, especially as you progress into the later trimesters, can raise several concerns. Here are some of the primary concerns associated with this sleep position:

  1. Pressure on the Inferior Vena Cava (IVC):
    • The IVC is a large vein that runs along the right side of the spine and returns deoxygenated blood from the lower half of the body back to the heart. As the uterus grows, lying flat on the back can put pressure on the IVC, potentially reducing blood flow to the heart and thus decreasing oxygen supply to both the mother and the fetus. This compression can lead to dizziness or even fainting in the mother.
  2. Reduced Cardiac Output:
    • Along with the pressure on the IVC, supine position can reduce cardiac output, which means the heart might pump out less blood with each contraction. Reduced cardiac output can compromise blood flow to the placenta and affect the oxygen and nutrient supply to the fetus.
  3. Exacerbation of Back Pain:
    • The weight of the growing uterus and baby can put additional strain on the back muscles and the spine when lying in the supine position. This can exacerbate back pain, a common complaint during pregnancy.
  4. Increased Risk of Hemorrhoids and Varicose Veins:
    • The supine position can increase pressure on the pelvic region, potentially worsening hemorrhoids and varicose veins, which are common vascular concerns during pregnancy.
  5. Aggravation of Heartburn and Digestive Issues:
    • Lying flat can allow stomach acids to flow back into the esophagus more easily, leading to heartburn or acid reflux, especially if the woman has recently eaten.
  6. Breathing Difficulties:
    • As the baby grows and occupies more space, the diaphragm has less room to move, which can make breathing more challenging. This can be exacerbated when lying flat on the back.
  7. Edema or Swelling:
    • Supine position can contribute to fluid accumulation in the lower extremities, leading to swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet.

It’s worth noting that every woman and every pregnancy is unique. While many pregnant women might find it uncomfortable to sleep on their back, others might not experience any of the above concerns. Regardless, it’s essential to be informed about potential risks and to listen to one’s body. If any discomfort or symptoms arise, it’s crucial to adjust the sleeping position and consult a healthcare professional or obstetrician.

Alternative Sleep Position:

  • The left lateral position (sleeping on the left side) is often recommended as the best position during pregnancy. It improves circulation to the heart, which benefits both the mother and the fetus. Using a body pillow or placing a pillow between the legs can make this position more comfortable.

Listening to Your Body:

  • It’s essential to pay attention to your body’s signals. If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or short of breath while lying on your back, change your position. Always consult with your healthcare provider about any concerns related to sleep positions during pregnancy.


Is it harmful to occasionally wake up on my back during pregnancy?

While the concerns associated with the supine position are important, many pregnant women might occasionally find themselves waking up on their backs. Brief periods on your back are typically not a cause for panic. The body usually sends signals, like discomfort or shortness of breath, prompting you to change positions. However, it’s advisable to start in a side-lying position when going to sleep and to use pillows or supports to discourage rolling onto your back.

When during my pregnancy should I be most concerned about sleeping on my back?

The concerns about the supine sleep position become more pronounced as the pregnancy progresses, especially in the third trimester when the weight of the uterus increases significantly. However, it’s a good practice to establish safe and comfortable sleeping habits from the second trimester onward.

Can using pillows make it safe for me to sleep on my back during pregnancy?

Pillows can help alleviate some of the concerns associated with sleeping on the back by elevating the upper body, supporting the lower back, and reducing pressure on the inferior vena cava. However, while pillows can enhance comfort, it’s essential to monitor how you feel and to always prioritize safety. If you experience any discomfort, dizziness, or shortness of breath, it’s crucial to adjust your position or consult a healthcare provider.


While sleeping on the back during pregnancy, especially in the later stages, can pose concerns, the strategic use of pillows can provide the necessary support and elevation to make it safer and more comfortable. However, always prioritize your comfort and safety, and if you experience any discomfort or concerning symptoms, adjust your position or consult with a healthcare professional. Remember, every pregnancy is unique, so what works for one person might not work for another. Listen to your body and seek guidance tailored to your individual needs.

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