By Dr. Maria Simbra

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Could how an expectant mother sleeps impact the safety of her unborn child?

“When you are pregnant and uncomfortable and exhausted, you know, the first thing you want to do is sleep,” Alyshia Ravida said.

Ravida is in her third trimester and sleeping is a challenge.

“Before I got pregnant, I was a stomach sleeper. And so, this was a really rough transition,” Ravida said.

Finding a comfortable position is hard, let alone a position best for the baby.

“The only comfortable position is with my maternity pillow,” she said.

“A lot of moms to be ask about sleep position. What is the best sleep position for them,” St. Clair Hospital OBGYN Dr. Deborah Lenart said.

A British study points to certain sleeping positions as possibly harmful to the fetus.

Researchers looked at 1,000 women. About 300 of them had a stillbirth in the third trimester. About 700, for comparison, did not. They were asked about sleep the night before delivery.

“A lot of the women said they had slept flat on their back the night before,” Dr. Lenart said.

While this type of study cannot prove cause and effect, possible explanations aren’t so far fetched.

“It makes some physiologic sense. When a woman with a big uterus is lying flat on her back, it does obstruct the blood flow to the large vessels that return blood flow to the heart, secondarily would affect blood supply through the placenta to the baby,” Dr. Lenart said.

The most common reasons for stillbirths are problems with the placenta and with the mother’s blood pressure during pregnancy, but many have no known cause.

“We do need more information, and we do need more research,” Dr. Lenart said.

In the United States, stillbirth occurs in about 1 out of every 160 pregnancies. That’s 26,000 a year.

If women stopped sleeping on their backs in the third trimester, the researchers figure this unfortunate event could decrease by nearly 4 percent.

Dr. Lenart’s advice?

“At least, try to make a conscious effort to fall asleep on your side,” Dr. Lenart said. “So, we usually recommend too to get a body pillow, get yourself in a little pillow fortress, and that helps you to maintain your correct position.”

Ravida admits sleep position is a concern, but not an obsession.

“When you wake up in the middle of the night, and you’re worried about, you know, did I roll on my back? You just do your best, I guess, but it is worrisome,” she said. “There’s a thousand things already to worry about when you’re pregnant, and that’s probably the last thing you want to worry about.”

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