With Child. And Without Sleep.

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You’ve prepared yourself for sleepless nights after your baby is born. But did you consider that your struggle to sleep could begin before your baby arrives? 

As an expectant mother, worrying for two may be keeping you from sleeping for two. And all that outside pressure may not help. You don’t need one more person advising you to “rest up” before the baby arrives.

If you find sleep hard to come by during pregnancy, you’re not alone – 78 percent of pregnant women have sleep issues, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll.

If you find sleep hard to come by during pregnancy, you’re not alone – 78 percent of pregnant women have sleep issues.

Common Challenges

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Following are examples of pregnancy sleep challenges you may encounter:

  • Morning sickness (at bedtime): Morning sickness doesn’t follow the clock. It can happen at night, too. Eat frequent meals and keep a cracker stash next to your bed for night-time emergencies. Generally, morning sickness will lessen as your pregnancy progresses.
  • Bathroom breaks: Especially in your first and third trimesters, rising levels of the pregnancy hormone hCG can cause you to race to the toilet often, day or night. Drink plenty of water during the day and cut back in the evening. Plug in a nightlight in your bathroom so you won’t have to switch on the overhead light and shock yourself awake. 
  • Heartburn: This can be an issue throughout pregnancy, though it can be especially rough in your last trimester. One study found that 30 to 50 percent of women deal with heartburn (known as GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease) throughout their pregnancies. It’s often worse at night.

    Normal heartburn relief strategies can work during pregnancy:
    • Eat supper at least two hours before bed.
    • Avoid foods that are greasy, spicy or too acidic.
    • Eat smaller meals. 
    • Keep your head elevated when you go to sleep.
    • Antacid tablets can help (or proton pump inhibitors, if your doctor gives the OK).
  • Insomnia and anxiety: You may be worried about your pregnancy and your baby – especially if you’re expecting your first child. Anxiety, hormones and the other sleep issues during pregnancy can contribute to insomnia. Avoid long daytime naps. Establish a solid sleep routine as you get ready for bed. Consider how not-so-great daytime habits (like afternoon coffee) may contribute to your sleeping woes. And talk with your doctor if nothing is helping. 
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): If you have strange discomfort in your legs (like pins and needles) and you constantly need to shift around, you may have restless leg syndrome (RLS). RLS can make sleep extremely difficult. Around 15 percent of pregnant women have RLS, generally in the third trimester of pregnancy, WhatToExpect.com reports. Talk to your doctor, as RLS has been linked to iron deficiency. Your doctor may recommend that you take an iron supplement. 
  • Leg cramps: No one knows why pregnant women get more leg cramps. These show up especially during the second half of pregnancy. Some think it may be because of a deficiency in calcium and magnesium, so getting more of these minerals in your diet can help. Talk with your doctor about whether to also add a supplement. Other tips: focus on drinking enough water, stretch your legs and wear compression hose (though, in summer, maybe not.)
  • General discomfort: As you and your baby get bigger during pregnancy, you also get more uncomfortable. Sleeping on your stomach becomes impossible, and sleeping on your back is discouraged (this can cause issues with blood flow). Getting used to a new sleeping position can be a rough adjustment. But it’s best to sleep on your side – especially your left side, because of blood flow. It can help to put a pillow between your bent legs – or use a  pillow designed for pregnant women.
  • Nasal congestion, snoring and sleep apnea: Pregnancy hormones increase blood flow throughout your body, including your nose. This causes your nasal passages to swell and produce more mucus. So, you may have a constant stuffy nose, and you may start to snore. Snoring can be more than embarrassing and annoying to your partner. It can be a sign of sleep apnea, when you briefly stop breathing during the night. Talk with your doctor if you are snoring, just in case she wants to evaluate you for sleep apnea. 

What Else Can Help?  

In addition to the suggestions above, you can try some of these tips to improve your sleep:

  • Avoid caffeine after noon (including chocolate).
  • Work out every day (not at night, since that can increase your energy as you’re trying to go to bed). 
  • Eat a small snack before bedtime.
  • Take a warm bath before bedtime.
  • Try out relaxation exercises to reduce stress.
  • Keep your daytime naps short.

When Should You Talk to Your Doctor?

Don’t stress about not sleeping (that never helps!). Lack of sleep during pregnancy has been tied to high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, preterm birth and other serious health issues. Tell your doctor if you are worried about your lack of sleep so that you can come up with a plan to help you sleep well, for you and your baby. 

Small Steps: Get Healthier Together.
As your partner is making healthy changes, join her. Find new recipes you’ll both enjoy. Offer to go for a walk together. Hold off on alcohol and caffeine for a while.