Sleeping Position Doubles Stillbirth Risk

Robyn Nazar RN BSN's picture
still birth sleeping
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Pregnant women who sleep on their left side may reduce their risk of stillbirth significantly compared to those who don’t, says new study in the British Journal of Medicine.

Although the risk remains small, Australian researchers found that on the last night before the baby's death, mothers who were sleeping on their back, right-side, or stomach had a doubled risk of stillbirth compared to those who were sleeping on their left side.

A stillbirth is a infant death that occurs in utero after the baby is more than 20 weeks gestation. There are between 2-3 million stillbirths worldwide each year and approximately 1 out of ever 160 deliveries in the United States is a stillborn. Unfortunately, in most cases the cause of infant death is unknown making prevention a challenge for pregnant women and their health care providers.

Study author Tomasina Stacey from the University of Auckland's department of obstetrics and gynecology said that the sleep-stillbirth connection may be due to the way maternal position affects blood flow. When pregnant, the weight of the baby in the uterus can shift and restrict blood flow to the placenta when a woman is on her back or right side. Stacey says that perhaps the infants in the study whose mothers were in these positions had prolonged decreased blood flow leading to the their demise.

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In the study, Stacey and her colleagues interviewed 155 women in Australian who had stillbirth infants between 2006 and 2009. These women were the compared to a control group of 310 women who were currently pregnant. The women were interviewed about their sleeping habits, which included sleeping position, snoring, regularity, duration, number of times they got up to use the restroom and daytime sleepiness.

The results of the interview showed strong links between sleeping position, daytime napping, and longer-than-average sleep duration at night. Furthermore, the women who got up less than once the night before the baby's death had an increased risk for stillbirth.

Although the authors did acknowledge that the size of the study group was relatively small and further studies will be needed before coming to definitive conclusions or making public health recommendations, they were still encouraged. "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," Stacey told Reuters in an interview.

This simple low-intervention is something that all pregnant women can incorporate into their daily routines. Other stillbirth risk factors which include African race, first-time mothers, age, weight, and smoking are much more difficult to control . "It's something that's very easily modifiable. You don't need to take any drugs and there are no side effects,” commented Stacey.

Resource:
Stacey, T. et al. Association between maternal sleep practices and risk of late still birth: a case-control study. BMJ 2011; 342:d3403
Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

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