A BBC news article says research indicates that a pregnant woman's sleeping position can impact the incidence of stillbirth. According to research on approximately 1,000 women, those who sleep on their backs during the third trimester double the risk of stillbirth. Interestingly, how expectant women fall asleep apparently has more impact than how they wake up. Therefore, women are being advised to go to sleep on their sides to reduce the risk of stillbirth, yet not worry if they wake up on their backs. It is not yet fully clear why sleeping position has an impact on stillbirth. However, there is some indication that the blood vessels and oxygen supply in the back is suppressed when a woman lays on her back, thus restricting the supply of both to the baby.
When I read about this, I had mixed feelings. On a positive note, of course, this information is potentially extremely useful. Stillbirth is so often something that steals the future of impending motherhood away without explanation. It is brilliant to have some answers and a deeper understanding of the contributary factors of stillbirth. As mentioned in the article, knowing this information may make a woman feel more empowered in ensuring a better outcome for her baby. And in truth, this information may well save the lives of many unborn and prevent heartache for many mothers who will now decide to go to sleep on their sides. Without question, these can only be good things.
Why did I lose my baby? Despite the positives that will come from this research, the sad truth is the question above will still not be answered for many. I feel concerned for the women who will make a point to go to sleep on their sides, only for their babies to still die in the womb - and without explanation. The devastation they will feel may well be worsened by the fact that they did everything they could to prevent the worst and it happened anyway. While the research announced today will be brilliant for many women, for many others it will have no positive impact.
Pregnancy is scary! The truth is that pregnancy is for many women one of the most fraught periods of their lives. This little being, though at the beginning a mere microscopic bundle of seeds, immediately means the world to those who have waited with bated breath for him/her to arrive. The anticipation is so often mixed with worry, which can be overwhelming, making nine months frankly feel like an ETERNITY. Simply put, it can be 270 days of worry - Is my baby alive in there? Is it developing properly? I feel so sick - does that mean something's wrong the baby? I don't feel sick at all - does that mean something's wrong with the baby? Will I hear the heartbeat on the next scan? Will my baby be deformed at the anomaly scan? I've thrown up so much - is my baby getting enough nutrients? He hasn't kicked so much today - should I be worried? She hiccups so much - is something wrong with her? Will the cord get wrapped around my baby's neck? Will I cope with labour pain? Should I have a Caesarean? This list of questions goes on and on. And yet, the hard, cold truth is this. While we can, and should, do absolutely everything we can to make our pregnancies healthy and safe, the rest is up to nature. We can't make ourselves pregnant when our bodies don't want to be. We can't stop ourselves from going into labour when our bodies want to. Some complications are inevitable no matter what we do. And sadly, we cannot stop a stillbirth if nature is determined to make it happen. There is a lot we can do to support our pregnancies but ultimately very little control we have over them. For me personally, being pregnant and giving birth taught me more than any period in my life how little control I have. I realised that the best I could do was trust nature, trust my body and trust God that everything would be fine. And when things weren't OK, I had to believe that I would get through it.
Supporting Women Whose Babies are Born Asleep Knowing that there is so much out of our control should inspire the healthcare system to support us in other ways, before and after pregnancy. Preparing women during the antenatal period for what could go wrong sounds daunting. However, it may go some way to mitigate the trauma when complications occur. This, of course, should be done with balance and sensitivity and women should have some control over how and when these discussions are had. But without judging or frightening mothers, perhaps more should be done to prepare women for possible challenging outcomes. Additionally, for mothers whose babies are stillborn, there should be a more comprehensive and long-term support structure for these women. I have not personally experienced stillbirth myself. But I have experienced serious complications at birth with each of my children. The initial focus, and rightly so, was entirely on my babies' wellbeing. However, the distress, fear, anger, worry and sheer exhaustion (mental, emotional and physical) meant that after a while I could really have done with being supported myself. Sadly, this didn't happen in either case. If this was my experience, I can only imagine that many women who experience stillbirth also receive minimal to no effective support. So, while the research today will put some power back in mothers' hands, we can also empower women by helping them not to be blindsided by eventualities beyond their control. Perhaps it would be equally useful to conduct research on the needs of women who have experienced stillbirth. After all, they and their families are still here after their beautiful babies have passed on.