sleep during pregnancyPregnant women may need to be more in tune with their sleeping habits, according to a new study from the University of Michigan. According to research in Ghana, pregnant women who sleep on their backs (supine) are more likely to suffer stillbirth than women who sleep in other positions. The study, published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, reported other health risks associated with the supine sleeping position.

Stillbirth affects as many as five in 1,000 pregnancies in the United States and other higher income countries. Lower income countries are more prone to stillbirth pregnancies with numbers reaching as high as 50 per 1,000 pregnancies. Researchers believe the higher rate of stillbirth may be somehow associated with sleeping habits.

Supine sleeping places undue pressure on the inferior vena cava, but the weight of the uterus does not have detrimental effects until much later in pregnancy, hence why it's considered stillbirth rather than miscarriage. Without proper blood flow from the inferior vena cava, lower birth weight may also be a side effect. According to study data, the supine sleeping position is responsible for a five-fold increase in stillbirth risk. Researchers believe the increased risk is directly associated with low birth weight due to a decrease in blood flow.

In underdeveloped nations, proper health care to reduce risk of stillbirth is not necessarily available for all women. Changing sleeping position costs nothing and the information can be spread across all developing nations with near immediate positive results. Researchers believe a simple change in sleeping position could reduce the number of stillbirths worldwide by up to 25%.

While reducing the number of stillbirths associated with sleeping in a supine position will account for many saved lives, providing advanced medical care and interventions to women at high risk for pregnancy complications remains the ultimate goal.

Source: Jocelynn T. Owusu, Frank J. Anderson, Jerry Coleman, Samuel Oppong, Joseph D. Seffah, Alfred Aikins, Louise M. O'Brien. Association of maternal sleep practices with pre-eclampsia, low birth weight, and stillbirth among Ghanaian women. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics - June 2013 (Vol. 121, Issue 3, Pages 261-265, DOI: 10.1016/j.ijgo.2013.01.013).