Updated: March 1, 2020
By: Mary Sweeney RN, BSN, CEN, ONN-CG
Sleep Is Your Number One Priority
When you’re pregnant and trying to sleep, comfort is your number one priority. The aches and pains that accompany this amazing time don’t just fade away when you get into bed – often times, they become more pronounced. With agonizing muscle spasms, irritating back pain, and generally feeling uncomfortable, you and your significant other can suffer from a horrible night’s sleep. With a baby right around the corner, you need your rest! How do you get it? A pregnancy pillow, of course. These can offer you the relief you need, stat. However, before you go rushing out to buy the first one you come across, read our helpful guide below on how to choose the one that fits all of your needs.
Common Pain Areas and How to Address Them
Aches and pains are a common complaint during pregnancy, but they are not problems without solutions. Some of the most common areas to experience pain during pregnancy are in your hips and lower back, and it’s for good reason. As your baby grows and your stomach gets bigger, your center of gravity shifts. You are carrying more weight on the front of your body, and you may unknowingly change the way you stand or carry yourself in order to accommodate the change in weight. This change in posture can put stress on muscles and ligaments that would not ordinarily be used. Thus, you may begin to experience lower back and hip pain or discomfort, even when you’re lying down.
While the aches and pains that come with a changing body are inevitable, there are some things you can do to help alleviate the discomfort:
Warm, moist heat: When you are experiencing muscular aches and pains, sometimes a warm bath or shower can help your muscles relax. Be sure to have someone nearby to help you into and out of the bathtub if you are nearing the end of your pregnancy. Sometimes you don’t realize how top-heavy you are!
- Heating pad: Heating pads offer relief without having to move off of your couch or bed, and may be a good option if you are not able to get in and out of the bathtub on your own. Be sure to use a heating pad that has an automatic switch-off, just in case you’re so relaxed you fall asleep with it on.
- Massage: In your second and third trimesters, massage therapy can be a great option for pain relief. When selecting your massage therapist, be sure that they have been certified in prenatal massage and that they have a pregnancy-friendly table available for you.
- Activity: If you were an active person before your pregnancy, try to continue exercising (or even just walking) throughout your pregnancy, as long as your doctor says it’s okay. Keeping your muscles activated and strengthened will do wonders for your back and hip pain, and may help you to adjust your posture painlessly. As always, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine during pregnancy.
- Extra support: Sometimes all your body needs is a little bit of extra support, and that’s where pregnancy pillows come into play. Read on to find out all you need to know about these wonder pillows and how they’ll help you get the best night’s sleep you could ever imagine while pregnant!
Sleep Positions During Pregnancy
All throughout your pregnancy, you will constantly be looking for ways to be more comfortable, especially while you’re in bed. Did you know that there’s actually an optimal sleep position for pregnant women? Doctors recommend that all pregnant women sleep on their side, preferably their left side. There’s actually a medical reason for this – sleeping on your left side will increase blood flow and nutrients to your placenta and to your baby. How, you ask? Well, you have a couple of large blood vessels that run through your abdomen (the aorta and the vena cava) that supply your whole body and your baby with blood and nutrients. If you are lying on your back, the weight of the baby may compress those blood vessels, causing reduced blood flow to you and your baby.
Sleeping on your side will also help you breathe better and may decrease your digestive issues like heartburn or acid reflux. As your baby grows, your diaphragm and lungs may be slightly displaced, causing you to feel slightly short of breath. Lying on your side decreases the pressure that is put on that area, making it easier to breathe.
Unfortunately for stomach sleepers, pregnancy really prevents you from sleeping where you’re most comfortable. Pregnancy pillows can help you adjust to side sleeping, and can prevent you from accidentally rolling onto your stomach and waking yourself up.
How Pregnancy Pillows Help You Sleep
Over the course of your 40 week pregnancy, your baby is constantly changing, growing, and shifting, all while inside a very small space that happens to be inside of you! As you can probably attest to, that can get uncomfortable. Babies tend to shift positions many times per day, and may come to rest in inconvenient places, like your bladder or your sciatic nerve. Baby’s position can also cause pressure in these areas while lying down, and you may feel like you need a little extra support when lying in bed. Enter the pregnancy pillow! Pregnancy pillows come in all different shapes and sizes, each attempting to provide your body with the support it needs. Sleeping with a pregnancy pillow in between your legs and underneath your growing stomach can provides loads of relief and can dramatically improve your sleep quality during pregnancy.
Pregnancy pillows can also help relieve some of the symptoms of acid reflux that tend to happen in the late second and early to mid-third trimesters. As your baby grows, he or she takes up more room in your abdomen, pushing your stomach further and further up. This, in turn, causes you to have less room in your stomach but leaves you with the same appetite. Food may not digest as quickly, causing you to have acid reflux, even if you didn’t have it before pregnancy. The good news is, it typically goes away after pregnancy. However, how do you deal with it during pregnancy? A pregnancy pillow! Propping up on a pregnancy pillow will put your upper body at an angle and will aid in the digestion of food while avoiding too much reflux.
Types of Pregnancy Pillows
There are a ton of different options out there when it comes to pregnancy pillows, so let’s break it down into the three main categories and talk about the options.
- Wedge: The wedge pregnancy pillow is a lot more low-profile than a traditional full-body pregnancy pillow. Literally shaped like a wedge, this kind of pillow can be used to provide support for your belly while lying on your side in bed. Not only will this support your stomach, but it will also provide you with a decent amount of lower back support if placed between your legs. Added bonus: it doesn’t take up nearly as much room in your bed as a traditional pregnancy pillow, so your partner will be able to keep their side of the bed!
- U-Shape: A U-shaped pillow is a full-size traditional pregnancy pillow, providing support for your belly and in between your legs on either side, plus support for your head and neck. This kind of pillow is fantastic for those who like to frequently change positions at night. There’s no adjusting the pillow to get the same kind of support when you turn over. Plus, when you need a break from having the pillow between your knees, all you have to do is roll over onto your back – without having to adjust your head support! This kind of pillow DOES take up more room than the others, so your partner may be banished to the couch… or just to the edge of the bed.
- C-Shape: The C-shape pillow provides almost as much support as the U-shape pillow, but gives you a little more of an option for sleeping positions. There are some mamas out there who may like to sleep with the pillow between their legs, but may want to shift and extend their leg out to stretch when they turn over. Enter, the C-shape pillow! There’s no sacrificing head, neck, or belly support, and your body will stay in alignment, giving you the good night’s sleep you need before all those night wakings and feedings that are imminent.
What Kind of Pillow Do I Need?
Pregnancy pillows come in all different shapes and sizes, and many pillows cater to specific needs. Before you go out and invest in one, think about any special needs that you might have. Are you a hot or cold sleeper? Do you prefer memory foam? Is a machine-washable cover important to you? Where will you be using it the most, in bed or on the floor/couch? Are you petite or plus-size? Side sleeper or back sleeper? Constant back pain or shoulder pain? All of these considerations are important when choosing a pregnancy pillow. Believe it or not, there’s a pillow for even the most discerning buyer out there.
Where to Buy Pregnancy Pillows
Pregnancy pillows are available at a wide range of retailers, so choose one that’s nearest to you for convenience. Target, Walmart, Buy Buy Baby, or even Bed Bath and Beyond stock them pretty regularly, and also have them on their websites. Or, if you don’t feel like leaving your house, Amazon is chock-full of pregnancy pillows and will drop it off right at your front door!
Make sure you know the return policy of whatever retailer you use. The first pillow you buy may not be the most effective for your needs, and you’ll want to know if you can return it and exchange for the one you need.
Best Pregnancy Pillows
- At an appealing price point, the Boppy Pregnancy Wedge gives your body simple support where you need it most – your bump or your back.
- Its compact size makes it easy to use at night while sharing your bed, and makes it super easy to pack for traveling. Store it under your bed when not in use, and easily carry it from room to room in your house.
- The cover is removable and machine-washable. Added bonus: it’s made of super-soft jersey material, so you’ll want to snuggle with it all night long.
- We like the pretty grey and white design, it’s simple yet tasteful and goes with a variety of bedroom decors!
Best Value Runner Up
- The official pillow of the American Pregnancy Association the Slumbar pillow is a great option for expecting moms
- One of our favorite lumbar pillows for improved lower back support for side and back sleepers the high sides of the Slumbar Pillows offer great support and prevent the spine from twisting.
- Can be used post-pregnancy in a variety of sleeping positions
- Removable and washable cover
Best for Back Pain
- One and done with this pillow. It’s C-shape offers support in all the right places without having to strategically position all of your bed pillows to get the comfort level you need.
- Its C-shape allows you to support your belly and align your spine, relieving lower back and sciatic pain and giving you a better night’s rest.
- This pillow comes in a variety of colors, including pink, grey and a pretty mint green.
- Coil it up and use it as a footrest while in bed or on the couch, providing your lower back with further relief from pressure.
Boppy Side Sleeper
Best Side Sleeping Support
- It’s weird looking, but ultra-functional. This pillow has supports on either side with a flat piece of fabric in the middle. No more waking up to adjust pillows in the middle of the night, this one stays in place!
- One side provides support for your belly, while the other side works to support your back while sleeping. If you want to change sides, no biggie. Just roll over and you are already situated!
- A removable, machine-washable cover makes this a cinch to keep clean.
- The grey and white lattice design is appealing, and will go with any bedroom and nursery color scheme.
PharMeDoc Pillow with Cooling Cover
Best for Hot Sleepers
- If you’re already a hot sleeper, being pregnant certainly doesn’t help. This pillow is made of body-contouring memory foam and has a cooling, jersey knit cover that helps to disburse heat.
- The contouring memory foam molds to your pressure points and provides unwavering support throughout your night, no matter how much you move around.
- Its large size accommodates all support needs, including neck and back support.
- This is also a great pillow when recovering from a C-section or when you’re nursing, so you’ll get a lot of use out of this one!
Zootzi U-Shaped Pillow
Best Oversized Pillow
- At a whopping 55x28 inches, this oversized pillow offers support to relieve sciatica, acid reflux, and muscle pain and strain all over your body.
- The filling is 100% hypoallergenic cotton, so it won’t aggravate your allergies. It also retains its volume and fluffiness, so you won’t constantly be fluffing it up when trying to get settled.
- The cover is removable, machine-washable, and made from a soft velvet fabric, perfect for snuggling.
- With its impressive shape, this pillow allows you to stretch out and find the most comfortable sleeping position, without sacrificing comfort.
Boppy Slipcovered Total Body Pillow
Best Overall Pregnancy Pillow
- A C-shaped pillow with an extra-long mid-section gives you the support you need for your neck, as well as your back and belly.
- The filling is moveable, making this pillow customizable throughout the duration of your pregnancy. This is especially nice because it’ll last through all stages of change that your body goes through!
- Many users report using this pillow during the postpartum period as well. It can provide you support after a C-section or while breastfeeding your brand new little one.
General Sleep Tips for Expecting Moms
Sleep may feel like a thing of the past when you’re pregnant, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some helpful tips to get a good night’s rest:
- Take a warm bath. Taking a warm bath can help relax you, and can ease the stiffness and soreness of muscles that are supporting the extra baby weight that you’re carrying around. Make sure the temperature isn’t too hot, and make sure you can safely get into and out of the bathtub before settling in. Try using a lavender-scented bubble bath to enhance the relaxation experience – we like Dr. Teal’s Soothe and Sleep.
- Use essential oils. If you have a diffuser at home, try putting it by your bed and filling it with scents like lavender and eucalyptus. A few drops can go a long way, and the diffuser may gently provide some humidified air, easing any congestion you might develop while pregnant. A house favorite is the This Works Deep Sleep Super Blend found at Anthropologie.
- Turn off those electronics. Recent research has shown that blue light that is emitted from electronic devices can mess with your sleep cycle. For that reason, it’s recommended that you turn off all electronics and TV at least an hour before bedtime. Try getting into bed and reading a book while propped up on some pillows, that can help turn your mind off and get you ready for a good night’s sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and sugar at bedtime. While you are allowed up to 200mg of caffeine daily during pregnancy, make sure it’s before 2pm. Caffeine can take up to six hours to get out of your system, so you don’t want it anywhere near your bedtime. Along the same lines, try to avoid sugary food and drink before bed. They can hype you up and make you feel like doing anything but going to sleep.
- Practice deep breathing. If you’re in bed and just can’t turn your mind off, deep breathing exercises have been found to be very effective. Close your eyes, breathe in through your nose for a count of 5, then exhale through your mouth for a count of 5. Do this three times, and you’ll start to feel the relaxation happen.
- Use pillows. As we’ve talked about throughout this guide, pillows can be an incredible lifesaver when trying to get some good sleep. In addition to relieving back and hip pain, propping up on a few pillows can alleviate some of the discomfort that acid reflux can cause. Instead of dealing with multiple pillows and readjusting, try a pregnancy pillow that gives you the support you need.
- Try guided meditation. Meditation isn’t just for yoga anymore! Apps like Calm and Headspace provide quiet, soothing guided meditation designed to help you calm your mind and relax your body. Try playing one of the meditations on your phone and shutting off the display, so you’re not exposing yourself to unnecessary blue light while trying to relax.
Hybrid Mattress History
The origins of the hybrid mattress couldn’t come from more different places. The two main components of a hybrid mattress is a memory foam outer layer and an innerspring bottom support system. Memory foam technology was developed by NASA in the late 60s while Innersprings were designed to improve comfort in horse-drawn carriages and first made their way into a mattress in the late 1800s.
While the innerspring mattress has been around for over 100 years and memory foam mattress for over 30 years, it wasn’t until around 2013 until they became popular. Around this time many memory foam mattresses were gaining popularity and at the same time, a lot of customers were complaining about heat issues. The hybrid mattress was the natural response, a mattress that combines the best of both worlds.
Pregnancy Sleep FAQs
What is the best pillow for pregnancy?
The best pillow for pregnancy is the one that offers you the support you need! We like the PharMeDoc Pregnancy Pillow because of its size and C-shape, offering you support as well as different options for positioning while sleeping. Its cooling jersey cover will keep you cool, which is something that every pregnant woman wants, especially in the summer!
Why is it bad to sleep on your back while pregnant?
As your stomach and baby grow, they can move your internal organs around temporarily. Your stomach may get pushed upwards, causing acid reflux. If you’re lying on your back with acid reflux, you may have more discomfort than if you’re on your side or propped up, and you can put yourself at risk for aspiration. Another good reason to lie on your side is to increase the blood and nutrients that flow to your baby. You have two big blood vessels that live in your abdomen – the aorta and the vena cava. When you lie on your back while pregnant, the baby can actually compress those blood vessels, decreasing blood flow both to you and your baby. Decreased blood flow can cause low blood pressure and lightheadedness for you, and can decrease the amount of nutrients that your baby receives from you.
When should I start using a pregnancy pillow?
Whenever you want! Using a pregnancy can’t hurt you, it will only make you more comfortable. As soon as you feel those aches, pains, and little twinges, get yourself a pillow and get ready for some relief. You may not feel like you need one until sometime in your second trimester, but that’s not the hard and fast rule for all pregnant women. Be sure to do your research and pick the one that meets all of your needs, and you’ll get a lot of use out of it, both during pregnancy and for some time afterwards.
What does a pregnancy pillow do?
Pregnancy pillows provide a number of different kinds of support. Many pillows provide different points of support for various muscles, from your head and neck to your hips and back. Pregnancy pillows also can offer some relief from acid reflux and indigestion by propping your upper body up at an angle.
What is the recommended sleeping position during pregnancy?
Sleeping on your left side is recommended by pregnancy health experts. This allows for the maximum amount of blood flow and nutrients to get to your baby, by taking pressure off of those major blood vessels that live in your abdomen. If you’re not a side sleeper, use your first trimester to get acclimated. Buying a pregnancy pillow during the first trimester may help – use it to remind yourself not to roll onto your stomach if that’s your preferred sleeping position.
Is there anything I can do to prevent frequent bathroom trips at night?
Ah, the frequent bathroom trips – one of the joys of pregnancy. While there’s not really anything you can do to stop your baby from tap dancing on your bladder, you can limit the amount of liquids you take in before bedtime. Avoid drinks with caffeine since they act as a diuretic, and try to have your last sip an hour before you go to bed to limit the amount of times your sleep is interrupted.
Hopefully this guide gives you some clarity and steers you in the direction of the pregnancy pillow of your dreams. See the references below for further reading, and happy sleeping!