Pregnancy Information Stillbirth Prevention

Tommy’s Midwife Kate discusses Sleep on Side Campaign following research showing that going to sleep on your side in the third trimester helps prevent stillbirth

I was shocked to hear that going to sleep on your back doubles your risk of stillbirth

Kate Pinney, Manager of Tommy’s Midwives


Today Tommy’s is launching the Sleep On Side campaign to tell women that going to sleep on their side is safer for their baby. The campaign follows a fourth research study (also published today and part-funded by Tommy’s) that shows that going to sleep on your back in late pregnancy doubles the risk of stillbirth.

As a midwife I have long been telling women that sleeping on their side is better. There is a major artery running down the front of the spine that supplies the placenta with oxygen-rich blood, and when women in late pregnancy lie on their backs, this artery is compressed by the heavy womb, reducing the flow of blood.

We have heard women tell us they fainted from lying on their back before. And to be honest, this has, to date, been our primary concern.  Discussing sleeping position with pregnant women is not usually a priority during antenatal appointments. Often it is only talked about if women asked about it or wanted tips on how to get more comfortable when trying to sleep.

That’s why this new research is very shocking to hear. The data from the research shows it to be a higher risk factor in late pregnancy than smoking. We all know about smoking. There are campaigns everywhere to let women know about the risks of smoking. And I wouldn’t ever forget to discuss the risks of smoking in pregnancy with a pregnant woman.

As a Tommy’s midwife, I have been very proud therefore to be part this campaign to let women and my fellow health professionals know about the risk of going to sleep on your back in late pregnancy. We do not want to create anxiety but we cannot hold clear evidence-based information back from women.

We’ve worked closely with women in the third trimester and women who have suffered a stillbirth to make sure the message is not a frightening one. The going to sleep position is the important one, as it’s the one held longest in the night. Women need not be concerned if they wake up on their back, but just roll back onto their side.

Everyone is told about smoking. We are getting close to everyone getting the message about monitoring for changes in fetal movements. Going to sleep on your back in late pregnancy needs to be added to the key messages women should hear about having a safe pregnancy. Nine babies are stillborn every day in the UK. We lag behind other countries in reducing this figure and the research is showing that if we get this message across effectively, we could save up to 130 families a year from the devastation of stillbirth.

For more information about the research, the campaign (including what some well-known mums think of it) visit www.tommys.org/sleep and watch the campaign video here:

About the author

Lisa Newhouse