Pregnancy can make it hard to do a lot of everyday things, including getting the sweet, sweet sleep you know you’re going to miss once your baby arrives. Luckily, figuring out how to sleep when pregnant doesn’t have to be impossible. There are a few tweaks you can make—both before you get into bed and once you’re between the sheets—to help make sleep a little more comfortable when you’re expecting.
1. Sleep on your side.
The further along you are in your pregnancy, the more uncomfortable it might be to sleep on your stomach. And sleeping on your back when you’re pregnant can lead to backaches, hemorrhoids, breathing issues, and even low blood pressure, the American Pregnancy Association says—all of which can screw with your ability to sleep comfortably at night. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also recommends that you sleep on your side, specifically pointing to how it can help with back pain.
Beyond that, a growing body of research is investigating a potential link between back sleeping and stillbirth, which is when a pregnancy is lost after 20 weeks, though the data on this isn’t conclusive so it isn’t currently a factor in the side-sleeping recommendations.
2. Put one or two pillows between your bent knees.
“Bending your knees can help stabilize you,” Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, tells SELF. That way, you’re less likely to feel uncomfortable or roll over onto your back. And the pillows? Those are to prevent back pain, which can be a major issue when you’re pregnant for a few reasons.
One is the strain your growing belly puts on your back muscles. As your pregnancy develops, your uterus becomes heavier and you naturally bend forward, ACOG explains. To keep you from toppling over, your posture changes, so you might lean backward, causing your back muscles to work harder.
Your abdominal muscles also tend to get stretched out and weaker than usual when you’re pregnant, and that can mess with the stability of your spine and increase your risk of hurting your back, ACOG says. Also, during pregnancy, your body releases the hormone relaxin to loosen up the ligaments in joints in your pelvis so the baby can eventually fit through the birth canal. This is a clutch way of your body looking out for you and the baby, but it can also cause pain if your joints become too flexible.
All of this leads to ACOG’s recommendation to put one or two pillows between your knees before you sleep. That extra cushioning can help keep your spine straight and alleviate pressure on your spine, hips, and surrounding nerves, Medhat Mikhael, M.D., a pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SELF. (You can try using body pillows made specifically for pregnancy if that’s more comfortable.)
3. Avoid eating any heartburn triggers before bed.
Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but eating right before you go to bed increases the odds that you’ll wind up with heartburn. This can occur during pregnancy because your digestive system works more slowly due to changing hormone levels, the Cleveland Clinic says. Your larger-than-usual uterus can also crowd your stomach and thrust digestive acids upward, creating heartburn in the process.
You may have noticed that certain items are more likely to trigger your heartburn, like spicy foods, citrus, chocolate, and fatty or fried foods, according to the Mayo Clinic. Or perhaps eating anything beyond a certain time does it for you.
Either way, follow the cues your body is giving you. If you notice you only get heartburn at night when you eat certain things, try to limit those to earlier in the day. If you notice it happens when you at anything at all in a certain period before bed, see if you can switch up mealtimes so you’re less inclined to snack right before you go to sleep.
4. Prop up the head of your bed.
If heartburn is the bane of your existence, you might find it helpful to keep the head of your bed higher than the foot of it. “This uses gravity as an advantage and should help you sleep better if you struggle with heartburn,” board-certified sleep medicine researcher and neurologist W. Christopher Winter, M.D., of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of the book, The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It, tells SELF.
You can do this by propping up that side of your bed, the Cleveland Clinic says, or simply by placing a mound of pillows under your shoulders.
5. Exercise regularly.
If you’re glaring at this suggestion through a haze of fatigue, we get it. Pregnancy can be tiring enough. But getting even 10 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, like by walking or cycling, can wear you out enough to help improve the quality of your sleep, The National Sleep Foundation says.
Over time, this can also do your back a solid, Neel Anand, M.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles, tells SELF. “Exercise can be one of the best ways to relieve back pain during pregnancy because it strengthens muscles at the same time as increasing flexibility,” he says.
6. Stretch your legs at night.
There’s nothing like wildly painful leg cramps to jolt you awake in the middle of the night. While it’s thought that pressure from your growing uterus may play a role here, “We don’t really know the exact cause of this in pregnancy,” Dr. Greves says.
To help lower the odds you’ll wake up in agony, Dr. Greves recommends making sure you’re well-hydrated (dehydration can increase your risk of cramping) and stretching your calves before you go to bed. Ask your ob/gyn which stretches in particular they suggest.
7. Pee at the very last second before you get into bed.
We can’t wrap up this list without talking about your pee.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, your blood volume increases, so your kidneys have to process extra fluid, the Mayo Clinic explains. All of this ends up in your bladder as more pee than you’re used to. Then, as a bonus, the baby gets heavier and starts to move down through your pelvis in the third trimester.
Your poor bladder is dealing with a ton of pressure at this point, so you might feel like you have to pee all the freaking time, including in the middle of the night. To try to avoid that annoying bathroom trip, Dr. Shepherd recommends peeing right before you climb into bed. It won’t always do the trick, but it’s worth a try.