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Pregnant Women Sleeping on Their Back Increase Still Birth Risk

Update Date: Oct 13, 2012 10:48 AM EDT

A new study by Australian researchers suggests that mother's to be, who sleep on their back, could increase their chances of miscarriage.

For the study, the researchers observed 295 pregnancies over a span of five years from eight hospitals around Australia.

The findings revealed that women who slept on their back during pregnancy were 6 times more likely to have a stillborn baby. A still born baby is a baby that dies in the womb after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Previous studies have suggested that sleeping on the back for prolonged periods, restricted the blood flow to the baby, said lead researcher Dr Adrienne Gordon, from Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, according to a report in Mail Online.

Apparently, it is believed that sleeping on the right side or on the back reduces blood flow through a major vein from the legs to the heart, which affects the blood supply to the womb, the report said.

The researchers emphasized that pregnant women need not get alarmed if they sleep on their back sometimes.

Previously, it has been notes by researchers that three-quarters of pregnant women sleep on the left side most of the time. This is higher than the rate of non- pregnant women who sleep on their left side. This implies that pregnant women instinctively choose a position that is right for the baby.

In about half of the still births, the cause behind it cannot be established.

Stillbirth Foundation Australia, which funded Dr Gordon's work, pointed at the uniqueness of the study as the women observed for the study were more than 32 weeks pregnant.

"It's in this later stage of pregnancy that the largest proportion of stillbirths occur," director Emma McLeod told New Zealand's MSN Health News.

"For around 40 per cent of stillbirths after 32 weeks, they are otherwise perfectly healthy babies and there is no medical explanation as to why they died," she said.

Apart from the position of sleep other risk factors for stillbirth include the baby's movement and its size.

"We found an association with decreased movements and stillborn babies," Dr Gordon said.

In women who had healthy pregnancies, the frequency and the strength of the baby's moment tended to increase later in the pregnancy.

"This may de-bunk the myth that it's normal for a baby's movement to slow down at the end of pregnancy. We didn't find that at all," Dr Gordon added.

"Given the small number of women monitored in this study, it would be impossible to say whether the findings can provide accurate recommendations for pregnant women about sleeping on their back during the latter stages of pregnancy. What we do know is that 20 per cent of the 4,000 stillbirths that happen each year in the UK remain unexplained, and we certainly need further research to find out why stillbirth happens. Should women have any concerns or feel their babies' movements have decreased, they should contact their midwife or speak to our midwives here at Tommy's for advice," Emma Laing, midwifery manager for baby charity Tommy's said.

In a study last year by researchers from University of Auckland study, it was found that pregnant women who slept on their back or right-hand side on the night before giving birth were twice as likely to have a stillborn child compared with those who slept on their left.

However, researchers caution pregnant women not to be over-concerned by the finding. "It was an observational study, not one that can show cause and effect - all it does is show an association," said lead researcher Tomasina Stacey in the report.

"This research was undertaken using a very small sample of mums and we feel further investigation on a much larger scale is required before any link between sleep position and stillbirth can be conclusively drawn. Mums should be reassured that this study does not show their sleeping position was the cause of their baby's deaths and we would hate for information such as this to leave bereaved mums wondering unnecessarily if they had done something wrong," Janet Scott, research manager at Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity said.

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