A new study suggests that pregnant women – particularly for those in the third trimester – lying down on their back may place stress on the fetus, which could increase the risk of stillbirth.Stillbirth is defined as the death of a baby before or during delivery. A number of different disorders can cause stillbirth, including pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, diabetes in mother, severe birth defects, postmaturity, unknown causes, etc. Researchers at the University of Auckland have found that when pregnant women lay on their backs or their right side, the fetuses were more likely to be in a sleep-like state that’s associated with using less oxygen, compared to when the women lay on their left side. This finding may explain the increased risk of stillbirth in the supine (lying upwards) position. However, experts say that it’s too early to make recommendations based on the findings, and that pregnant women do not need to change the way they lie down as a result of the study. Stillbirths are a common occurrence,


with around 1 in 227 births in the UK ending in stillbirth. Recent studies have shown that maternal position is important for the baby’s health, but it was unclear as to how this can affect the wellbeing of the fetus. The researchers monitored the fetal and maternal heart rate for 29 healthy pregnant women in the third trimester while changing and maintaining maternal positions for 30 minutes at a time. The ‘fetal behavioural state’, a measure of fetal health, was recorded for each maternal position. Each woman was followed until delivery and all babies were born in a healthy condition. Peter Stone, Professor of Maternal Fetal medicine at the University of Auckland and lead investigator of the study explained, “Our controlled study found that lying on your back can add extra stress to the baby, contributing to the risk of stillbirth. The risk is likely to be increased further in women with underlying conditions.”‘

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