I never knew just how often I rolled over onto my stomach and back until I was pregnant and told that I couldn't. For most of us, it's not something you think much about normally, but when the ability is stripped from you, it becomes all too apparent how these unconscious habits shape our comfort in our days and nights. When I could no longer lie on my belly comfortably, and was told not to lie on my back, my sleep and relaxation suffered. But why do we avoid it? What happens if you lay on your stomach during pregnancy? Is this a huge no-no or dangerous to your baby?
The long and short of it, according to the journal Sleep Medicine, is that it simply becomes too uncomfortable, cumbersome, and virtually impossible to sleep comfortably or even lie comfortably on one's stomach while you're pregnant because of the nature of the shape and changes of (and in) your belly. It's like The Princess and The Pea, only that pea is a giant wiggling thing inside your uterus that you're attempting to lie upon. The position is just incredibly uncomfortable for you and the baby, and they're quick to let you know if they're irritated with you. (Honestly, you probably won't last long in that position either.) Just ask any woman who's ever tried to eat a delicious spicy meal while they're pregnant. Heartburn and swift kicks to the ribs for days.
I spoke to midwife and maternity consultant, Kathy Fray, and asked her about what happens when you lie on your stomach while pregnant. She tells Romper, "You squash your baby. Would we lie our whole body weight on top of our baby after its born? I think not."
OK, so there's some hilarious hyperbole there, but Fray clarifies, "In reality, it does depend on the pregnancy gestation. Lying on your tummy in the first trimester is likely to do nothing. Lying on your tummy in the third trimester can become both uncomfortable and practically impossible." When I was in my third trimester, my belly resembled a medicine ball beneath my skin. It was very firm, and had very little give. There would've been no way for me to lay on top of that mound comfortably. My chest, head, and legs would've been suspended above my belly like some sort of creepy carnival act, and it would've been impossible to sleep. Not to mention that even wearing my belly support band in those last weeks seemed to increase my need to pee tenfold. I can't imagine how often you'd need to go if you were applying even more pressure than that. Sleep? Not a chance.
"Interestingly, of way, way more concern is women lying on their backs," Wray says. The problem with lying on your back during your pregnancy is that your big old pregnant belly ends up putting a severe amount of pressure on the vena cava, a large vein that carries deoxygenated blood back to your heart, thereby blocking the flow, and it also can displace the subrenal (abdominal) aorta, according to Anesthesia and Analgesia. This can affect your cardiac output while you're pregnant, which is very dangerous.
Thankfully, there is relief for mamas who need to lie face down for a little while during their pregnancy, according to OB-GYN Dr. Renjie Chang. She tells Romper, "Most women are sleeping on their side after mid-pregnancy, around four to five months in. If you want to continue to sleep on your stomach, it is better to use a donut-shaped maternity pillow to support your belly. There are hundreds of them available on Amazon."
Sure, they look like you're sleeping on a giant worm that has a hole in the middle, but do you really care if you're comfortable? I know I wouldn't. Otherwise, it's just trying to find that perfect space on your side or propped on every pillow in your house until baby arrives. After that, the only risk of sleeping on your stomach is waking up in a puddle of milk. Worth it.