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Sleep Position of Expectant Mothers Linked to Stillbirth Risk

Sleep Position of Expectant Mothers Linked to Stillbirth Risk
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Women who sleep on their left side during the last night of pregnancy can significantly lower their risk for stillbirth. According to new research from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, women who sleep on their right side on the night prior to giving birth double their risk of late stillbirth in comparison with women who do sleep on their left side. The details of the study can be found in British Medical Journal.

Although the increase in risk for the occurrence of stillbirth remains very small, lead researcher Tomasina Stacey of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Auckland explained that the heightened risk may be due to restriction of blood flow to the unborn child caused by the mother lying on her back or right side for long periods of time.

The risk calculates to 3.93 per 1,000 pregnancies among women who sleep on their right side, which is about double the risk of 1.96 per 1,000 for those who sleep on their left side.

Another finding of the study indicates a strong association between stillbirth risk and routinely sleeping longer than average at night, or frequent sleeping during the day. Stacey pointed out that because of the small number of women in the study, further research on a larger scale will be necessary to confirm the study findings.

Regarding the results of the study, during a telephone interview, she stated, “It’s a new hypothesis and means we should start to look at this problem much more closely. It’s really a starting point for future research.” She noted that confirmation of the findings would mean a simple and natural method for decreasing the occurrence of stillbirth and added, “It’s something that’s very easily modifiable. You don’t need to take any drugs and there are no side effects.”

Study Details

For their study, the researchers gathered data on 155 women in Auckland who had experienced a stillbirth that occurred at a minimum of 28 weeks of pregnancy, during the three-year period from July 2006 through June 2009.

Comparison of the data was made to a control group of 310 women who were currently pregnant. The participants were interviewed and asked about details regarding sleep positions, sleeping habits prior to pregnancy and during the last month, week, and night before they believed the life of their unborn child was lost.

Other questions posed to the women included information about snoring, daytime sleepiness, frequency of sleeping during the day in the last month of pregnancy, how long they slept at night, and how often they got up to visit the bathroom during the night.

Study findings indicated that women who slept on their right side or back during the last night of pregnancy were significantly more likely to experience a late stillbirth. In addition, those who did not get up to go to the bathroom, or those who only went once were also more likely to experience a late stillbirth in comparison to women visited the bathroom more frequently.

Although the findings yielded no association between snoring or daytime sleepiness and an increase in the risk of late stillbirth, a significant link was revealed between daytime sleeping, or sleeping longer than average at night, and a rise in the risk of late stillbirth.

Earlier this year, a series of studies led by researchers from the World Health Organization indicated that greater than 2.6 million pregnancies end in stillbirth each year, calculating to more than 7,200 stillborn infants per day. Many of these stillbirths occur among women in poor countries.

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