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Pregnant women are being advised to sleep on their side to cut the risk of stillbirth

Pregnant women are being advised to sleep on their sides to reduce the risk of stillbirth [Photo: Getty]

Stillbirth. It’s that horrific thought that strikes fear into the hearts of all pregnant women. But tragically it does happen. According to recent statistics around 1 in 225 pregnancies in the UK end in stillbirth.

And now new research has revealed that the risk of stillbirth could be doubled if pregnant women go to sleep on their backs in the third trimester.

The Midlands and North of England Stillbirth Study (MiNESS) found that if all mums-to-be slept on their sides from 27 weeks onward, there would be a 3.7% decrease in stillbirth, which could save the lives of 130 British babies every year, and up to 100,000 babies a year worldwide.

The research found that women who go to sleep on their backs have a 2.3-fold increased risk of late stillbirth, after 28 weeks’ gestation, compared with women who go to sleep on their side.

The MiNESS study, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG) is the biggest of its kind, and confirms findings from smaller studies in New Zealand and Australia.

The reasons why the risk is increased are not conclusive, but there is a lot of data to suggest that when a woman is lying on her back, the combined weight of the baby and womb puts pressure on blood vessels which can then restrict blood flow and oxygen to the baby.

Of course mums-to-be will want to do everything in their power to try to reduce the risk of stillbirth but experts are keen to stress that the position in which women fall asleep in is most important and pregnant women should not worry if they find themselves on their back when they wake up.

Prof Alexander Heazell, clinical director at the Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, who led the research, advises women in their third trimester to try to go to sleep on their side for any episode of sleep, including daytime naps.

“What I don’t want is for women to wake up flat on their back and think ‘oh my goodness I’ve done something awful to my baby’.

“The question that we asked was very specifically what position people went to sleep in and that’s important as you spend longer in that position than you do in any other.

“And also you can’t do anything about the position that you wake up in but you can do something about the position you go to sleep.”

Pregnant women should go to sleep on their sides even when they are napping [Photo: Getty]

The advice coincides with the launch of the Sleep On Side campaign, led by the charity Tommy’s, which aims to educate women about the risk of going to sleep on their back in late pregnancy.

The charity has put together some suggestions to help women to go to sleep on their side including putting pillows behind you to prevent falling on your back, checking your position if you wake in the night and then going back to sleep on your side, and napping on your side as well.

The news comes after experts called for the development of a vaccine, which could help prevent nearly 150,000 still births and baby deaths worldwide, to be accelerated. 

Though more than 21 million pregnant women carry the bacteria, until recently group B streptococcus (GBS) was thought to be relatively harmless, but a groundbreaking report published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in Baltimore, revealed the scale of infection and it’s effects.

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