Can you lie down on your back during pregnancy?
Medical advice has traditionally warned against lying on your back during the later stages of pregnancy, due to the risk of developing Supine Hypotensive Syndrome (SHS). This condition occurs when the weight of the belly compresses the main artery that transports nutrients to the fetus, leading to reduced blood and oxygen flow. Symptoms of SHS include dizziness, nausea, sweating, increased heart rate, and a drop in blood pressure, usually appearing within 3-10 minutes of lying on your back. However, these symptoms are temporary and can be resolved by changing position, such as tilting to the left. Therefore, short periods on your back are safe and tolerable, but prolonged periods may pose a risk. So, can you lie down and sleep on your back during pregnancy?
Research suggests that prolonged periods of lying on your back during late pregnancy can have negative effects on fetal outcomes. Reduced blood flow to the uterus is linked to fetal growth restriction and an increased risk of stillbirth after 28 weeks gestation. Healthy fetuses can enter a state of decreased oxygen consumption to compensate for restricted oxygen. However, the duration before any negative long-term effects occur is unknown.
Can you lie down on your back to sleep?
Experts generally recommend sleeping on your side during pregnancy. The left side preferred to alleviate pressure on the liver and improve circulation to the heart, uterus, and kidneys. However, the evidence for these recommendations is inconclusive. Some experts suggest that blood flow is similar on either side. Ultimately, it’s important to find a comfortable sleeping position that works for you.
Alternatively, you can sleep on your back with your upper body elevated to promote better uterine blood flow. Place a pillow beneath your knees in this position, it can also provide additional support and comfort.
Can you lie down on your back to exercise?
Many international organizations advise against supine exercises after 16 weeks of pregnancy. However, recent research by Mottola et al. (2019) suggests that these cautionary recommendations are primarily based on expert opinions rather than explicit scientific evidence.
As the available evidence is inconclusive, we recommend that you use your discretion and prioritize your comfort level when considering exercises on your back during pregnancy. If you feel comfortable doing gentle stretches on your back and experience no symptoms of Supine Hypotensive Syndrome, then it’s generally considered safe to proceed. Similarly, movements such as bridges that involve consistent motion while on your back are typically well-tolerated, as long as you’re not remaining still for extended periods. However, if you begin to feel discomfort or any of the SHS symptoms mentioned earlier. It’s advisable to switch to your side or elevate your trunk to a more upright position. The symptoms should subside quickly.
Generally, being on your back for short periods of time should be fine — especially if you are on your back and moving (like a bridge) or performing a gentle stretch — but always let comfort be your guide.
Modifications for exercises performed on your back
An alternative to most conventional supine exercises is relatively simple. Consider the objective of each movement on your back and try to identify an alternative exercise that achieves a similar outcome. Check our video here with a few recommendations for common supine exercises.
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