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Study highlights importance of consistent messages about going-to-sleep position in late pregnancy

29 Apr, 2021

A new report highlights the importance of clear and consistent stillbirth prevention messages, with most pregnant women following advice to go to sleep on their side from 28 weeks of pregnancy.

The study published in Women and Birth journal found that more than 85% of surveyed pregnant women in their third trimester (28 weeks’ or more) settled to sleep on their side, and were more than twice as likely to do so if they received this advice during pregnancy.

Over one third changed their going-to-sleep position based on advice received during their current pregnancy.

The advice to go to your sleep on your side in late pregnancy for overnight sleep and naps is due to an increased risk of stillbirth when going to sleep on your back. After 28 weeks of pregnancy, lying in on your back presses on major blood vessels, which can reduce blood flow to your womb and oxygen supply to your baby.

Senior study author and Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth director Professor Vicki Flenady said the findings are encouraging; however, inconsistencies in messaging remain a concern.

Only 66% of women surveyed received advice on sleeping position from a maternity care provider, with 63% of women finding information on the internet and nearly 39% receiving advice from family and friends. Information varied, with three quarters of women told to go-to-sleep on their left side, when in fact, both sides are equally safe.

“Unfortunately, some women are still receiving incorrect or confusing advice,” Professor Flenady said. “We need to make sure that stillbirth prevention messages are heard loud and clear for all women.”

Fellow study author and Stillbirth CRE chief investigator Professor Adrienne Gordon said while not all stillbirths are preventable, greater awareness of stillbirth and stillbirth prevention could make a difference.

“We also need to  make sure the safe sleeping position message reaches women who are at a higher risk of stillbirth, such as women living in remote communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and migrant and refugee women,” Professor Gordon said.

Earlier this year, Red Nose Australia launched a new stillbirth public awareness campaign in partnership with Sands, Stillbirth Foundation Australia, and the Stillbirth CRE. This campaign includes advice for pregnant women on going-to-sleep position, as well as other ways women can modify their behaviour to reduce the risk of stillbirth, including smoking cessation and monitoring their baby’s movements.


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Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth
+61 7 3163 3829 or + 61 7 3163 6326 |


Access the Women and Birth paper

Learn more about the “Still Six Lives” Stillbirth Public Awareness Campaign

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For stillbirth, pregnancy loss, and bereavement support, contact Red Nose Australia