National charity Tommy’s has launched the #SleepOnSide campaign to raise awareness of how important sleep position is during late pregnancy.
“Stillbirth is something that sends shivers down the achy spines of pregnant women,” she wrote of her experience in a blog on HuffPost UK.
“But stillbirth does happen, in fact every day, nine babies never get to open their eyes and see the wonderful world they were meant to live in. Nine sets of parents return home from hospital, empty handed and broken hearted.”
Fogle experienced a placental abruption, causing her to haemorrhage and her unborn son was starved of oxygen.
“Three years on, not a day goes by without me thinking about my third child, who we called Willem, the one I never got to know,” she added.
“I wonder what he’d look like and how he would have fitted in to our happy, hectic, loving family.”
Fogle has since worked with Tommy’s to learn about the work their Stillbirth Research Centre is doing to identify “modifiable risk factors” that women have the power to alter.
One of these risk factors is sleep position, so the charity has launched #SleepOnSide, after a study they funded - alongside Action Medical Research, Cure Kids and Sands - confirmed there is an increased stillbirth risk associated with pregnant women going to sleep on their back.
It looked into 291 pregnancies that ended in stillbirth and 735 women who had a live birth.
The MiNESS study found that women who go to sleep in the supine (lying on the back) position have a 2.3-fold increased risk of late stillbirth (after 28 weeks’ gestation) compared with women who go to sleep on their side.
Researchers estimated that if all pregnant women in the UK went to sleep on their side in the third trimester, 130 babies would be saved a year - a 3.7% decrease in stillbirth.
The study did not find a difference in risk between sleeping on the right or left side.
The advice to pregnant women is to go to sleep on their side for any episode of sleep in the third trimester, including:
- Going to sleep at night.
- Returning to sleep after any night wakenings.
- Day time naps.
Why stillbirth risk increases if a pregnant woman sleeps on her back is not yet known, but researchers from the MiNESS study shared several theories.
“In the third trimester, when the woman is lying on her back, the combined weight of the baby and the uterus (womb) puts pressure on the main blood vessels that supply the uterus, and this can restrict blood flow/oxygen to the baby,” they explained.
“Other possible explanations include disturbed breathing during sleep, which is worse when a woman sleeps on her back and in overweight or obese women, who also have an increased risk of stillbirth.”
Pregnant women shouldn’t be worried if they wake up in the night and realise they have been sleeping on their back as Tommy’s reassured women that they simply need to roll back onto their side before going back to sleep.
Edward Morris, vice president for clinical quality at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said the study added to a “growing body of evidence” that this sleep position is a risk factor for stillbirth.
“This new research is extremely welcome as a significant number of stillbirths remain unexplained, particularly those in late pregnancy,” he said.
“The impact of stillbirth on parents and professionals is devastating and the RCOG is committed to working collaboratively on research, audit and training for healthcare professionals in order to achieve a substantial reduction in the UK stillbirth rate.”
Tips for going to sleep on your side in the last three months of pregnancy:
- Put a pillow or pillows behind your back to encourage side-sleeping.
- If you wake during the night, check your position.
- Pay the same attention to sleep position during the day as you would during the night.
- If you wake on your back during the night, don’t worry, just roll onto your side.
Fogle is urging people to share the outcomes of the study.
“It is estimated that if we make sure every pregnant woman knows to go to sleep on her side, it will drastically reduce our unacceptably high stillbirth rate,” she wrote in her blog.
“So, this is something we really need to shout about. Tell your friends, even if they’re not pregnant; they might well be one day and this could save the life of their little ones.”
The Sleep On Side campaign (#SleepOnSide) is led by Tommy’s and endorsed by NHS England, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of GPs.