Sleeping on your back can cause stillbirth

Pregnant women who sleep on their back are at greater risk of having a stillbirth, a new study suggests.

But impaired fetal growth is a far more likely cause, researchers say.

Mothers-to-be who sleep in this position are five times more likely to have a baby with a low birth weight, and for some women this results in the tragedy of a stillbirth.

More than a quarter of cases might be avoided simply by ensuring that women change their sleeping position, researchers said.

The study was conducted in Ghana, Africa, where between 20 to 50 out of every 1,000 babies are stillborn, compared with just 3.5 in the UK.

But a recent study in New Zealand suggests that supine sleep – the technical term for sleeping on your back – is linked to higher stillbirth rates in high income countries also.

The study’s senior author, Louise O’Brien, from the University of Michigan, said: “If maternal sleep position does play a role in stillbirth, encouraging pregnant women everywhere not to sleep on their back is a simple approach that may improve pregnancy outcomes”The data in this study suggests that more than one-quarter of stillbirths  might be avoided by altering maternal sleep position.”

Scientists found that pregnant women who sleep on their backs risk uterine compression on their inferior vena cava, which can lead to reduced cardiac output, and stillbirth.

Researchers said the study shows that giving pregnant women simple advice on how to sleep could radically reduce the number of stillbirths.

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