A Sleep Guide for Expecting Mothers
Becoming a new mom is an amazing experience that brings many feelings of excitement, love and joy. You experience profound changes within your body as you carry and grow your new little babe. But these beautiful changes also come with challenges that are both mental and physical. Poor sleep is a common challenge to face as an expecting mother; however, there are strategies you can employ to improve the quality of your sleep. This guide will help you gain an understanding of what may be causing your sleep problems and provide some tips and tools to implement right away for improved sleep while pregnant.
Sleep in the Stages of Pregnancy
Sleep is affected in different ways during the various stages of pregnancy. Each trimester involves new changes within the body which bring on corresponding challenges.
First Trimester - the first 12 weeks following conception
The first trimester involves changes in the levels of sex hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone. These hormonal fluctuations have specific functions that prepare the body for pregnancy. They are also responsible for the various symptoms experienced by many women, such as disrupted sleep patterns associated with elevated levels of progesterone, as well as nausea or morning sickness. At this stage, the growing fetus may cause pressure on the bladder, which can cause frequent urination throughout the night and disrupt sleep. The growth of the fetus may also disrupt sleep due to discomfort caused by breast tenderness, cramps, and pelvic pain.
Lifestyle - include non-strenuous exercise each day to combat fatigue and body aches; taking short naps in the evening can help you feel more rested
Nutrition - avoid caffeine as it stimulates the nervous system and can make it harder to fall asleep; increase water consumption throughout the day to stay hydrated and limit consumption at night time to lessen the chances of frequent urination during the night
Herbs -ginger root tea to improve nausea and vomiting
Second Trimester - weeks 13-27
At this stage, the body will be getting more used to hormonal changes and symptoms now become more associated with the growth of the fetus. The baby will begin moving more frequently and the movement will become more profound and noticeable. You may experience more pressure on the bladder, causing frequent urination throughout the night. Cramping is very common in the second trimester, especially leg cramping, which is also associated with the growing fetus. Other common discomforts at this time are heartburn while laying down and intense, vivid dreaming throughout the night, both of which might decrease sleep quality.
Lifestyle - elevate the head at night to reduce heartburn; get relaxed before bed - consider following a night time routine; magnesium oil (topical magnesium is great for easy absorption, it can help soothe muscles, cramps, spasms, morning sickness, promote relaxation and sleep). Taking a warm bath with Epsom salts before bed can be wonderfully calming, relaxing and ease aches and pains.
Nutrition - avoid spicy, fried and acidic foods which can contribute to heartburn; include magnesium and calcium balanced foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds and drink plenty of fluids to reduce muscle cramping
Third Trimester - weeks 28-birth
As the baby reaches its full growth in the womb, a large amount of stress gets placed on the back of the mother, which can lead to pain and discomfort. Cramping from the second trimester may carry into the third trimester and even intensify. This may make it difficult to get comfortable while trying to fall asleep. At this time there will be even more pressure on the bladder, causing night time urination to become even more frequent. Discomfort at this stage may not only make it hard to fall asleep but also to stay asleep.
Lifestyle - stretch before bed to reduce tension in the muscles and back; meditate to connect with the body and promote relaxation; use pillows and blankets to find a comfortable sleep position; follow a night time routine to ease into sleep; use magnesium oil for tension in the body and to promote relaxation. Prenatal yoga is an excellent option to incorporate both movement and stretching, while also preparing your body for the birthing process.
Nutrition - continue with the same recommendations for the second trimester.
Herbs - red raspberry leaf tea (uterine tonic that can ease labor and prevent complications)
Nausea and Vomiting (a.k.a morning sickness) is most common in the first trimester and likely due to the changes in hormones
make sure your diet is high in protein
Keep snacks on hand like gluten free crackers & raw almonds
increase fiber to improve elimination
include a high-potency multivitamin/mineral formula to insure adequate nutrient levels - try taking the prenatal multi at night just before bed (ask your holistic practitioner about plant-based or alternative options for prenatals)
200-500 mg of magnesium per day
Several cups of ginger tea a day for Nausea
keep water and a snack beside the bed to take before rising during periods of sickness - raw almonds are an excellent choice as they are rich in magnesium as well as protein and fats
Heartburn is very common in pregnancy and usually comes about in the second and third trimester as the baby is growing and crowding the internal organs, as well as the change in hormones which can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax and allow stomach acid to travel into the esophagus
avoid foods that trigger heartburn such as spicy, acidic and fried foods
avoid large meals and instead have smaller meals more often
sleep slightly propped up to avoid heartburn while sleeping
*avoid antacids as a remedy - they commonly contain aluminum and can cause even more underlying issues/side effects
1/4 tsp of sodium bicarbonate dissolved in water and taken between meals on an empty stomach can provide emergency relief if necessary
Leg Cramps can be caused by the growth of the fetus as it places pressure on internal organs as well as imbalances or lack of various nutrients
Make sure you’re hydrated
include a high-potency multivitamin/mineral formula to keep nutrients balanced
consider supplementing with magnesium, and vitamin C
foods high in potassium, such as avocado, acorn squash, sweet potato, spinach and salmon, are important for leg/muscle cramps
As we now know, pregnancy brings on various challenges such as cramping, back pain, heartburn, and general discomfort, which can all affect the quality of sleep. Especially progressing into the third trimester, getting comfortable becomes more and more challenging. You will begin to notice that your usual sleeping positions might not be working as they used to. Finding a comfortable sleep position may lead to a more restful sleep while also improving the health of your baby.
In general, sleeping on your side is considered to be the best position for sleeping while pregnant: specifically the left side, as this maximizes the flow of blood and nutrients to the fetus. To reduce back pain and pressure, it is suggested to bend the knees while on your side side and place a pillow between them, or under your abdomen. If heartburn is an issue, place an extra pillow under your head to keep the body in a slightly upright position, adjusting to find comfort.
There are some amazing body pillows designed specifically for pregnant women that can make a variety of shapes to transition with you as your comfort needs change.
Finding a sleeping position that works for you may take some time and trial and error. One thing to avoid is sleeping on the back, as this position can cause added stress to the back, increase heartburn, and impact arteries that are important for circulation. Sleeping on your belly, although not likely to harm the baby, may be very uncomfortable and could place strain on parts of the body.
Pregnancy is a beautiful journey filled with many changes and challenges. It is important to connect with your body and embrace this experience while it lasts. Using the strategies in this guide will help you to understand where the challenges might be coming from and help to improve your sleep. They will also help you as you transition from expecting parent to new mother.