pregnant woman resting her body against a pregnancy pillow

How to Use a Pregnancy Pillow for Better Sleep

By Christin Perry
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
March 07, 2024

Because of your changing body, aches and pains, and extra trips to the bathroom, getting a good night’s sleep during pregnancy can seem impossible.

But there’s a strategy that can help: using a pregnancy pillow. You can use your own pillows or get one specially made for pregnant people. Either way, pillow placement can help ease a variety of pregnancy discomforts and improve your sleep.

Pregnancy Sleeping Positions

Around midpregnancy, your doctor or midwife will likely suggest you start sleeping on your side (if you don’t already).

Side sleeping is considered the best way to sleep during pregnancy. “As the uterus grows, this position places the least pressure on internal organs and veins,” says Dorina Kroll, a pelvic floor physical therapist and pregnancy corrective exercise specialist at Potomac PT & Rehab in Maryland. Sleeping on your side promotes optimal circulation for you and your baby, which means nutrients and blood can be passed more easily.

Bonus points if you can sleep on your left side. “Sleeping on the left side is even more ideal because it will even further reduce pressure on the liver, which is located on the right side,” Kroll says. “Since the liver is such a large organ, less pressure on it means it functions better.”

Sleeping on your left may also help you avoid putting excess pressure on a large vein that carries blood to the heart, adds Mar De Carlo, a certified sleep consultant in Northern California. This can lead to better blood flow and prevent swelling in the legs and ankles.

Is There a Wrong Sleeping Position During Pregnancy?

There are a couple positions that aren’t advised during pregnancy:

  • Stomach sleeping: “Sleeping on the stomach is generally discouraged during pregnancy,” De Carlo says. “As the pregnancy progresses, the size of the uterus increases, and lying on the stomach can put direct pressure on it. This pressure may cause discomfort and potentially affect blood flow to the baby.”
  • Back sleeping: Sleeping on your back is fine in early pregnancy, but don’t lie on your back starting around 20 weeks on. This can affect blood flow. “Disruption to blood flow can potentially cause dizziness and/or difficulty breathing,” Kroll says.

That said, don’t worry if you wake up and find you’ve moved to either of these positions. Just roll back to your side and all should be fine.

How to Use a Pregnancy Pillow to Solve 5 Common Sleep Issues

It can be difficult to get used to sleeping on your side. Not to mention the aches, pains, and symptoms that can interfere with your sleep. Knowing how to use a pregnancy pillow (or any pillow, really) can help you relieve symptoms, get more comfortable, and sleep better.

1. Get Used to Side Sleeping By Snuggling Up to Your Pillow

sleeping pregnant woman on a pregnancy pillow

Try turning a pillow in your bed so it’s oriented from head to foot. Snuggling the front of your body against it can help cradle your body and your bump so you feel supported when side-sleeping.

For full-body support, you can use two standard-size pillows or a pregnancy body pillow, Kroll suggests.

2. Reduce Lower Back Pain Using Your Pillow for Support

To ease lower back pain in pregnancy, position yourself on your side with a pillow under your bump and between your knees. The goal is to have your thighs parallel as you lie on your side. This prevents putting extra stress on your sacrum (the bottom of your spine).

“A U-shaped pregnancy pillow can help as well,” Kroll says. “You can use the long part of the pillow in front to support your belly, then wrap the pillow between the knees and around to support your back as you sleep.”

3. Prevent Heartburn By Raising Your Upper Body

sleeping pregnant woman in bed

Relieve heartburn by angling your upper body up about 45 degrees. “Propping up in bed to create a slight incline can help keep acid from flowing up out of your stomach,” Kroll says.

You can do this with regular pillows or a pregnancy wedge pillow, which has an angular shape.

4. Ease Hip Pain with a Pillow Between Your Knees

pregnant woman laying on the bed with her hands on her belly

Place a regular or contoured pillow between your knees to help align your legs from hip to knee. You can also add a small pillow or rolled towel at the ankles to reduce hip rotation. “This can help tremendously” if you’re experiencing hip pain, suggests Kroll.

5. Relieve Pelvic Pain Using a Small Pillow

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to increased flexibility and mobility in the pelvic joints, sometimes causing pain and instability, Kroll says.

Placing a small pillow between the knees while in a side-lying position can make you more comfortable. “When rolling over in bed, squeeze the pillow between your knees while you roll to help reduce pain,” Kroll suggests.

How to Find the Best Pregnancy Pillow for Low or No Cost

Looking for a pillow designed for pregnancy? The best pregnancy pillows offer both support and comfort, and are tailored to your needs. And they don’t need to cost an arm and a leg.

To save money, you could:

  • Buy a used pregnancy pillow. If you’re really set on owning one, try searching a local online marketplace or a kids’ consignment shop.
  • Borrow from a friend. Ask around to see whether any of your friends or family members have a pregnancy pillow you could borrow for a few months.
  • Add a pregnancy pillow to your baby registry. If you’re having a baby shower in the second trimester, it might be perfect timing to receive a pregnancy pillow as a gift.
  • Use what you already have at home. Arranging bed pillows, rolled-up blankets, towels, throw pillows, or even couch or chair cushions can be a helpful substitute for a body or wedge pillow, De Carlo says. “Remember to focus on creating support for your belly, back, and knees, as these are common areas where pregnant people may experience discomfort.” Experiment with different shapes and sizes to find an arrangement that feels best.

Why a Good Night’s Sleep Is So Important

Good sleep supports your overall physical well‑being while you’re pregnant, says De Carlo.

It’s good for your future baby, too. De Carlo explains that getting good sleep during pregnancy:

Trust us: Pillows aren’t just for your head. They can add the comfort and support you need to get better rest. The more you’re able to sleep at night, the better you’ll feel during the day.

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