Side Slumber #Sleeptember
Sleep Tips For Expectant Mothers
(Personal Account by Rashanda Michelle Mc Kenna)
A year ago, I cradled my beautiful baby girl in a loving embrace with anxious anticipation for the first time and I thought to myself, “what a journey!” The birthing was a moment of enormous joy and gratitude but also one of relief. I say relief because the joys of my pregnancy were overshadowed by the tyrannical nature of my unabiding sleep cycle, non-compliant gastrointestinal tract and persistent Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). I was effectively relegated to bed rest at the behest of my unborn, who, through no fault of her sweet soul, had caused dear mommy to descend into insomniatic cycles, such that the routine of my days and nights became pain, illness, dizziness and hyperventilation. “If only I could sleep the pain away!” Even that seemed impossible given the circumstances.
I dare say, as awestruck as I am about the result of my laborious parturition, there is also the horrid aspect of pregnancy that no one dares to speak of. The highly popularised fantasy of pregnancy, a fallacy purported by the few lucky ones, whose gestational phases wisp by without incident, is a phenomenon not known to the few of us, who suffer in silence, sometimes with the callous and insensitive critique of those who haven’t the faintest idea of what some women endure during the course of their pregnancy and birthing process.
By virtue of my lived experience, I feel compelled to share a few sleep tips with other expectant moms who might be confronted by the nightmare of insomnia, induced by co-occurring underlying and sometimes unknown conditions that utterly dispel the picture-perfect fantasy that is supposed of pregnancy. For many women, pregnancy is not glitters, rainbows and bunnies – In fact, for many women, including myself, pregnancy looked something like this:
- (Hyperemesis Gravidarum) Acute morning sickness (All day sickness). It’s like calling a hurricane a little bit of rain. HG is not the same thing as morning sickness, it’s severe and debilitating nausea and vomiting that has a significant impact on a woman’s life. HG is potentially life threatening, affecting 3 – 10 % of women globally. It’s characterized by nausea, vomiting, dehydration, weight loss, (in severe cases, organ failure and death of mothers and babies). HG is not regular morning sickness
- Headaches and having to lay in a dark room for most of the day
- Passing out from severe dehydration and having to live on IV fluids
- Not being able to work
- Back pains, severe pelvic pains, calf pains
- Insomnia and other sleep related conditions
- Difficulty breathing
- Extreme heartburn
- Constant hospitalization
- Anxiety, depression
- High blood pressure
- Gestational diabetes
- Body recognising baby as an invader due to opposing RH factors
- Brain fog, mood swings and triggered emotional responses (especially due to high stress levels).
- Frequent urination
- Breast tenderness
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Higher body temperature
- Frequent nighttime urination
- Leg cramps
- Food cravings and a supersonic sense of smell
- Issues with memory and information retention
Why Does Sleep Change During Pregnancy?
Sleep is an essential aspect of prenatal care, and over the course of a pregnancy, every organ in the body changes, muscles and joints shift and justle, the heart’s pounding rhythm speeds up, blood roars through the arteries and veins, ignited through a range of hormones. Whether you are in your first, second, or third trimester, or at the beginning of labour, pregnancy can have profound effects on your ability to sleep.
As any pregnant woman can attest, there are dramatic hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. These changes affect many aspects of the body and brain, including mood, physical appearance, and metabolism. Hormone changes also affect the pattern of sleep or sleep architecture. I had to seriously examine the best ways to sleep in pregnancy, including the role of hormones, possible solutions to sleep problems, and the best positions to relieve incessant back pain and insomnia.
As time wore on, falling asleep and staying asleep became a distant memory. In my case, I was confined to bed for almost 7 months. One of the most daunting assignments was identifying a comfortable position to accommodate my growing and ever so active baby bump. Anxiety was also a frequent visitor as I pondered the upcoming labour, having given birth years prior, or other worries kept my mind racing. In my third trimester, I experienced vivid, disturbing dreams, resulting in sleep paralysis, hyperventilated cycles and air gasping marathons. I was lucky to have a pulse oximeter and oxygen concentrator from ISD Health Solutions. The pulse oximeter came in two modes, night mode and active mode, it served to monitor my heart rate and blood oxygen levels. The oxygen concentrator provided me with much needed airflow and ventilated my soul. This was the starting point of the miniscule modicum of what was afforded during the very long 8-month pregnancy, the stress on my body, ultimately caused me to go into labour sooner than expected.
Nevertheless, getting quality sleep during pregnancy was my priority as chronic sleep deprivation started to take its toll on my immune system. Through research I learned that diet and sleep were two foundational aspects of health during your magical nine-month phase. However, for the purpose of this article, I will only give sleep health tips that worked for me. Everyone is different, what worked for me, may not work for you.
My Pregnancy Sleep Hygiene Routine
Sleep hygiene is more important than ever during pregnancy. In addition to pregnancy sleep aids such as specialized pillows or eye masks, the following habits may help reduce insomnia and improve overall sleep quality:
- Keep a cool, dark, quiet bedroom.
Prioritize sleep and stick to a consistent bedtime, scheduling naps earlier in the day so they don’t interfere with nighttime sleep.
- Read a book, take a bath, or indulge in another calming activity in preparation for bedtime.
- Use a nightlight to make it easier to get back to sleep after bathroom breaks
- Avoid caffeine, spicy foods, and heavy meals too close to bedtime to reduce the risk of GERD.
- Avoid taking technology into the bedroom and turn off screens at least an hour before bed.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day but reduce liquid intake before bed to reduce nighttime bathroom breaks.
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something else until you feel sleepy.
- Write down thoughts in your journal, or seek help from your partner, friends, doctor, or childbirth classes if you’re feeling stressed.
My Sleep Position Tips
Laying on your side with a pregnancy pillow
Left is best, it helps with increase in circulation and decrease in swelling and less pressure on the liver and kidneys.
- Lay down in a C shaped configuration, make sure that the pillow goes around your back so that your bump is free at the front.
- Pull it under your head, under your back along your spine, bring it through your legs and around to the underside of your bump.
The goal is to protect your lower back and pelvic region, because those are the parts of the body that are taking all of the extra weight.
Laying on your side without a pregnancy pillow
Lift your head: lift your head off the bed with a nice pillow and keep your neck nice and aligned. This helped me with a number of co-occurring issues, namely, better breathing and reduced acid reflux.
- Lift your bump: get a folder towel, blanks, soft pillow and tuck it under your bump to give it a bit of a lift
- Spread your legs: Place a soft pillow between your legs to support your hips, keens and ankles in a zigzag manner to ease the pressure in your pelvic region.
- Support your base: create a base of support to the back of you, by placing a pillow under your fitted sheet to prevent you from rolling backward. That way, you don’t need to to grip
- On the rare occasion that you feel comfortable sleeping on your back, it may be better to slightly elevate or recline your posture to help with breathing and to ensure proper blood flow to the baby. Research has shown that if you are 28 weeks or more and you get into the habit of sleeping on your back, it increases the risk of having a stillbirth. This is also called the 45-degree position, it is going to take the pressure off the side of your hips and it’s going to help decrease the compression on your joints.
- Eat better
- Drink better
If you are interested in the items, I used to aid my comfort and respiratory health during my pregnancy note the following:
Pulse Oximeter and Oxygen Concentrator: You can purchase it from ISD Health Solutions. You’ll need to do an initial sleep consultation and home sleep test before purchasing prescription products such as an oxygen concentrator.
Pregnancy pillow: AA Laquis sells them at their location in west Trinidad.