If you've been pregnant before, you'll understand just how difficult it is to get a bit of shut eye, not only during the third trimester, but throughout your entire pregnancy. With constant worries about the impending birth, an ever-growing baby bump limiting sleep positions and increasing levels of the sex hormone progesterone which researchers have found contributes to chronic fatigue syndrome, it is no wonder we grind our teeth when well-intentioned friends tell us we don't know the meaning of tired until the baby arrives. Yes, we do!
Midnight Toilet Trips
In the United Kingdom, an old law still exists stating that pregnant women may urinate anywhere, including, if they so wish, into a policeman's helmet. Clearly, women today much prefer the privacy of a public toilet if they get caught short while out and about, but the law is supportive of the fact that when we're pregnant, we need to wee. A lot!
Unfortunately, our need to use the toilet isn't restricted to daylight hours, and if it seems like you're having to get out of bed every five minutes, then you probably are! One reason why we're constantly having to run to the bathroom is, like many things in pregnancy, all down to hormones. Increasing levels of sex hormones cause blood vessels to widen, allowing blood to flow quicker throughout the body in order to provide an adequate supply to the placenta and growing baby. Unfortunately, this also allows other fluids to pass through your body much easier, increasing the number of trips you need to make to to the loo.
Once you hit the later stages of pregnancy, there's a further reason for all those midnight bathroom visits. As the baby's head starts to drop down and engage in the pelvis, the pressure the baby puts on your bladder is immense. So not only are you having to deal with increased fluids, you're also having to cope with having less room in which to store them.
So why are we disturbed so much during the night? Well, when you lie down in bed after a hard day's work carrying baby around with you, all the fluid that has gathered in your legs and feet (ever noticed that your lower extremities swell during pregnancy?) is transferred back into the torso, and is passed as urine. Many women, especially during the third trimester, experience a little bit of incontinence, but it's nothing to worry about. An American study carried out in 1999 confirmed that "pregnancy is associated with an increase in urinary incontinence".
So what can you do about it? Unfortunately, not much. There's no "cure" for frequent bathroom trips. However, you may find that refraining from drinking any fluids for about two hours before you go to bed can help to cut down those nighttime disturbances.
Pregnant women experiencing strange dreams is often thought of as a bit of an old wives tale, but there may actually be some truth behind the idea. Research has found that increased hormone levels and physical changes during pregnancy can contribute significantly to sleep disorders and bizarre dreams.
Studies have found that around 67% of all pregnant women experience strange dreams throughout pregnancy, with approximately 25% having recurring nightmares. Many of the dreams were related to the pregnancy, either to the baby itself or to the situation, with the most common dream thought to be relating to conflict with the baby's father. Many women, especially first time mothers, worry about what life will be like following the birth of their baby, and the thought of coping alone or the breakup of the family unit it is prevalent, even if it only presents itself in the subconscious.
Interestingly, one study, conducted in 2003, found that antenatal dreams could determine the likelihood of postpartum depression. Researchers Kron and Brosh put forward the theory that women who do experience nightmares during pregnancy were at less risk of developing postnatal depression than women who either experienced pleasant dreams, or who did not recall their subconscious nighttime thoughts. There doesn't seem to be much of a scientific background to support the theory, so perhaps take that with a pinch of salt.
So how can you prevent these strange dreams and get a better night's rest? As these dreams are likely to be based on your worries about impending motherhood, you may find it beneficial to talk about these concerns with your partner, your mum, or a good friend, someone who can put your mind at rest.
Acid reflux is a condition in which the stomach allows acid to leak up into the esophagus; the tube that carries foods and liquids from your mouth into your stomach. The condition can be very uncomfortable, causing nausea, a feeling of having a lump in the throat, heartburn, chest pain and the taste of acid in your mouth.
As you may already know, pregnancy is not a very dignified time, and many of the less appealing conditions the human body can encounter are much more likely to occur during pregnancy. Unfortunately, acid reflux is one of them. Research has shown that around 68% of pregnant women experience severe reflux during the later stages of pregnancy, which drops to just 20% experiencing mild symptoms following birth.
With your uterus growing every day (on average, the uterus grows to around 40cm and can weigh about 2lbs by the end of pregnancy!), have you ever thought about where it finds all the space to expand? Well, it doesn't! The uterus literally squashes all the organs around it to make room for the developing baby who can be putting on as much as 0.5lbs per week during the final months. This includes the stomach. Imagine a bag filled to the brim with water. Now imagine squeezing the bottom of the bag. What's going to happen? Yep, that bag is going to overflow. That's essentially what happens to your stomach.
So how does acid reflux affect sleep? Well, if you're lying down in bed, it makes it all the easier for the stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Fortunately, bad nighttime reflux can usually be prevented by gathering up all the pillows and cushions in the house and using them to prop yourself up, so you're sleeping with your head and shoulders a little higher than your stomach. It may not be the most comfortable position, but it should ease the unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy-related reflux.
Finally, one of the most commonly asked questions during pregnancy: How do I get comfortable at night?! It's a tough one, but it can be done. Women who usually sleep on their stomachs will may find that by the end of the first trimester it's starting to get uncomfortable sleeping on a rock hard uterus, and it's not the best position for the baby after the first three months, either. Women who usually sleep on their backs may be put off by research showing a link between back-sleeping and miscarriage (though rest assured that the current standpoint on this is that "further research is needed before the link between maternal sleep position and risk of stillbirth can be regarded as strongly supported").
Side sleeping might seem like a good choice at first, but resting your body weight solely on your hips for an entire night while not pregnant is quite the task, never mind when you've had a 7 lb baby resting itself on your pelvis for the day. So what's the best sleeping position for a pregnant woman?
Side sleeping is recommended and is probably the most comfortable, with a pillow between the knees to take some of the pressure off the hips and pelvis. Many women also like to stuff a pillow in under their baby bump as a bit of added support. Special pillows can be purchased specifically for this purpose which incorporate leg and stomach support pads and are hugely popular. A brand in the United Kingdom is even recognised officially by National Health Service midwives and is certified as a class 1 medical device.
So, it may not be easy, but following a few simple rules and making a couple of changes to your routine could have huge benefits when it comes to getting a good nights rest during pregnancy. It's often said that antenatal sleeplessness is your body's way of preparing you for the sleepless nights of motherhood, but that needn't be the case. Why not try and enjoy your rest while you can - you'll need all the energy you can get once your baby is born!