Shocking news: pregnant woman can't sleep. Please help me.
December 5, 2018 5:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm 25 weeks along and haven't been able to sleep due to weird specific pain for the past week. Please help me unlock whatever configuration of body pillows, white noise and prayer I need to remedy the situation.

Ordinarily, I'm a stomach sleeper. Early on (from the first trimester) I developed weird upper back slash chest pain that would only go away if I slept flat on my back. Now I have a scarily hard time breathing if I lie flat on my back, but if I lie on my side the chest pain comes back. I've had a comparatively easy pregnancy so far, but right now I'm tired and sore and breathless and cranky with SO MUCH LONGER to go and I need to find a solution.

I have a long sausage shaped body pillow, which is nice to cuddle but doesn't do much for the back/chest pain. I'm fine during the day when I'm upright; it's lying down that's bothersome. I do occasionally try to foam roll my upper back. I've still been lifting weights in the gym, I have not been doing pregnancy yoga because I (personally) don't care for yoga but I am extremely willing to look past this if it will genuinely help. I am willing to buy any pillow, class, truss or device it will take to help me breathe and sleep.

Pregnant people of MeFi, how did you get to sleep?
posted by nerdfish to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How is sleeping on a couch, for you? I liked it because I could side-sleep but also have the back of the couch as a firm surface for my back.
posted by xo at 5:22 AM on December 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

Are you able to sleep while reclining? Maybe a higher wedge pillow to prop you up, or a recliner to sleep in?
posted by jenny76 at 5:23 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

3rding the suggestion that you try to sleep in an more upright sitting position. Perhaps a BIG wedge?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:06 AM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hello from 29 weeks! What's helped me is one of those U shaped body pillows. That way I can kind of lean back into it and be kind of half on my back without the dizziness of actually being on my back. Maybe that would help?
posted by sonmi at 6:18 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wedge is a great shout! I just want to say that the last time I asked a medical-ish question I wound up buying incontinence pads for not-incontinence, and now I'm about to seriously look into one of those Liberator* wedges for not-boning. Thank you for keeping my search history exciting, MeFi!

*would include a link but I'm at work now.
posted by nerdfish at 6:37 AM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also little wedge pillow under your belly to sleep on your side! And don't forget to put a pillow between your knees to help your hips, which helps your spine, which helps your back and chest.
posted by lydhre at 6:47 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Have you spoken to your doctor about this? Including the difficulty breathing? I don’t want to scare you, but it’s worth talking to a doctor for this level of discomfort/difficulty breathing.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:50 AM on December 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Get all the pillows! I think I was using ten in various places on or under my body at different points in my pregnancies. Get a variety of sizes and firmness and try them in different places until you get to a comfy spot. I get pain in my chest if I'm on my side and kind of "caved in" when I sleep. So a pillow right in front of my chest that I can lay my top arm helps quite a bit.
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:59 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

To help with the breathing, try just a huge mountain of pillows to elevate the top half of your body while you sleep. It makes back sleeping an option for way longer, thankfully.
posted by 168 at 7:01 AM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

@rock 'em sock 'em Have you been pregnant?
Of course it can't hurt to talk to a doctor, but sleeping on the back is contraindicated for pregnant women due to the difficulty it can cause with breathing - imagine sleeping with a weight on your chest. I'm not a medical professional but I've been a pregnant person talking to a medical professional.
(Sorry if I am uncessarily pregnancy-splaining.)
posted by RoadScholar at 7:07 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have been pregnant. Pregnancy is both full of random aches and pains which are nothing and serious medical risks. It’s extremely difficult, maybe impossible, for us to determine what’s going on when someone says they have scary difficulty breathing and chest pain.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:25 AM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Again, OP, not trying to scare you and definitely also see if a wedge helps. I had reflux which exacerbated my asthma and a wedge is great for that. But also worth making sure there’s not something else (like asthma) going on that should get a more aggressive approach.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:27 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hello, 38 weeks here. Things that have helped me:
- Taking antacids right before bed; eating smaller meals; leaving at least 60-90 min after meals before going to bed (if chest pain is exacerbated by acid reflux)

-If you have the pregnancy pillow, lying on your side with the pillow next to your back and between your legs. It provides some support for the back because you can lean against it a bit. Pillow between the legs helps back/hip pressure in general.

-As noted above, if sleepless, try the couch if it’s firmer than your bed. Drape something over your eyes to block out light.

-Make use of your preferred destressing techniques (light exercise/bath/sex/talking about what’s bothering you). Prob not related to your pains but if I have something on my mind my sleep is 100% more likely to be restless and I notice pains more.

-I hated regular yoga but I LOVE pregnancy yoga and can really feel the difference after a session. It’s stretching in a good smelling room with other pregnant women, with whom you can have a nice bitch and moan sesh afterwards. Instructor always finishes class by having us put two yoga bricks in an L shape, propping bolster against it, and having us lean back against bolster with a buckwheat eye mask and thin blanket. SO COMFORTABLE, may be a helpful napping position for you.

I’m in the UK. Doctor and midwife both advised that I should not sleep, or even lie down for long periods, on my back or stomach, only on my side. This is due to difficulty breathing, and also that baby’s weight can be directly over a major vein, cutting off blood flow to you and them. Sorry as this is likely useful to know but not great to hear.

Hope propping yourself up a little more works! Otherwise this is probably one for your doctor. Good luck and best wishes for better rest soon.
posted by Concordia at 8:34 AM on December 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

I am a side sleeper and maintained that all through my pregnancy. I tended to wedge blankets under my belly and between my knees and, I know this one is strange, I clutched a firmly folded blanket to my chest. It pressed very firmly to my chest, helping with any back/chest pain that evolved from my sensitive breasts. However, I think that chest pain that prevented me from sleeping might prompt a call to the medical office. I mean, you know the nature of your pain best but it might be a good idea. They might be able to give you a better idea of how this pain is generated and how to deal with it. You need your sleep!

*Good luck! My Baby Pants is 4 months old and it's been worth every ache, pain, and sleepless night. *
posted by Foam Pants at 10:05 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I spent 600 bucks on a recliner when I found out I was pregnant for the second time in a year. It was heaven! We’re still using it 3 years later so it wasn’t a waste. Then later on in our guest bedroom when I found one of those mechanical beds (you know that has a remote attached and it raises the head or the legs) then I got that too. We probably won’t have anymore children but at the time I thought I might and I go big or go home. For my first pregnancy I just used a firm sofa pillow to raise the head of my mattress (were in Germany so my husband and I each have our own mattress twinned in a single bed... so this was not disturbing to him)... but maybe think about a used recliner!
posted by catspajammies at 10:25 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

In addition to the pillow mountain, pillow between the knees, eating less/smaller meals before going to bed, I also found magnesium really helped me with sleep when I was pregnant.
posted by dotparker at 10:32 AM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Coming to you live from 37 weeks. I’m a back sleeper. OB advised me that reflux could manifest as breathlessness or pain elsewhere and told me to take a Zantac before bed. It helped! So does a small humidifier near the bed, which adds moisture, coolness, and white noise. I don’t do yoga classes but know plenty of yoga stretches and make certain to do those about an hour before bed, around when I take a Zantac, so that I’m as loose and floppy as it’s possible for a person/whale hybrid to be at this stage. I mostly focus on my shoulders and back. I have a firm pillow on one side of my head and a fluffier pillow on the other side so I can switch immediately when I need just by turning my head a bit. Also I complain a lot.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 10:52 AM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Bean bag chair, still in the bedroom 30 years after my last pregnancy. It spent some time in the bathroom with the heater on and the shower running, as I recall. This works very nice combined in a room corner or against some sturdy furniture with a Thermarest z-rest pad for the lower body, and some quilts to get the upper body support just right.

Also, seconding scooting up in the corner of a well-padded sofa with an upholstered arm. Add pillows as needed.
Some couches have a recliner built in, but I tend to slide down into a puddle and wake up cranky.

And adding another vote for letting your health care professional know what is going on. This is why he/she makes the big bucks, and it can factor into your treatment options.

posted by TrishaU at 2:45 PM on December 5, 2018

Husband pillow. Better than a wedge, cheaper than a recliner. Using one was the only way I could sleep for the last trimester.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 3:47 PM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Speaking from 34 weeks, lifelong stomach sleeper.

I sleep with one pillow on each side of my torso, such that I can still be partly on my stomach, but there's something soft keeping me not fully on my stomach on BOTH sides. Having the pillow at my back has made a huge difference, since it keeps my back from arching too much one way or the other.

I have two memory foam pillows for my head so that I can avoid heartburn (ugh, don't wish it upon anyone).

Prenatal yoga I found useful for 1) teaching me that my body can still do whatever it likes, just slower and with more sensitivity to how I feel, 2) that kegels and squats are important, and 3) that there are lots of pregnant women in my neighborhood! Totally fine to opt out, it was a bit too woo for me.
posted by vacuumsealed at 7:16 PM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Back sleeping is not a good idea for pregnant women, especially after 20 weeks because the bulk and weight of a pregnant uterus can push on the large blood vessels aorta and inferior vena cava. The aorta is the largest artery in the body carrying oxygenated blood from the heart, and the vena cava is the largest vein, carrying blood back to the heart to oxygenate. These can't be compromised for very long without your feeling the consequences. Compression of these vessels can cause symptoms like low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, nausea, the sort of symptoms you might experience if you were very dehydrated or about to faint. A pregnant uterus can also push upwards on the diaphragm, compressing expansion of the lungs. This also could be contributing to shortness of breath.

Lying on your left side is the best pregnancy-approved position for both awake and asleep pregnant women, as it relieves the weight of the pregnant uterus and keeps it out of the way most efficiently. In this position there is no vascular compromise. I know it's difficult, as I am also a stomach-sleeper. In about your stage of pregnancy I was fantasizing about cutting a hole in the mattress so my belly could fit through, while the rest of me slept peacefully on my stomach. However, I ended up sleeping on my side in a snowdrift of pillows, including between my knees to relieve my hips. I was on bedrest with premature labor for months, so I tried every position and pillow on the planet, and side-lying with many, many pillows was best.

You may have acid reflux that is also contributing to your shortness of breath and chest pain, and I'd check with your doctor about prophylaxis, like Zantac or evensomething simple like Maalox at bedtime. If you're not someone who has heartburn you might not even recognize it, and it might go away after pregnancy never to return. A wedge will definitely help (you can also elevate the head of your bed by putting blocks under the top legs), but as your belly gets bigger it will probably worsen. Heartburn can be more than just a nuisance, and there are many cases of people who had major chest pain and thought they were having serious cardiac problems who turned out to have only serious heartburn, so it can definitely cause chest pain.

Honestly, the later parts of pregnancy are all about position. Concessions will be inevitable, but you must be able to sleep well to function. You will get through this!
posted by citygirl at 9:31 PM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

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