Researchers at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of South Australia have determined that by using a low-cost device, women in the later stages of pregnancy can have safer sleep.
It's called the PrenaBelt, and in a recent study on positional sleep therapy, pregnant women who wore the device were able to reduce the amount of time spent sleeping on their backs by nearly 20 minutes per night.
Supine sleep - or back sleep - while pregnant can be dangerous for the baby. Studies have shown that this sleep position, in particular, is a risk factor for stillbirth and low birth weight due to sleep-disordered breathing and oxygen deprivation to the fetus. Until now, there have been no positional sleep therapy studies conducted on pregnant women - only adults with sleep-disordered breathing.
"Using positional therapy to keep the pregnant mother off her back may reduce supine sleep in late pregnancy and may also provide both maternal and fetal health benefits," said principal investigator Jane Warland, associate professor at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.
For this study, which was published in the August 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Warland and her team studied 25 healthy pregnant women between 32 and 38 weeks gestation over the course of two consecutive nights. For one night, there were no interventions, and for the other, they were fitted with the PrenaBelt - a positional therapy device that helps minimize back sleep. Inside the belt, a sensor recorded body position, fetal heart rates were recorded using electric signals attached to the mother's abdomen, and maternal heart rate and sleep and breathing parameters were assessed using a device worn on the mother's finger.
Women who wore the PrenaBelt were shown to have significantly reduced supine sleep - a total of 28.5 minutes versus 48.3 minutes. There was also an improvement in both maternal and fetal outcomes during the intervention night, including an increase in maternal oxygen saturation, fewer maternal oxygen desaturations, and fewer fetal heart rate decelerations.
Warland believes that wearing the PrenaBelt, or a similar apparatus that helps position a mom safely during the night, can be effective in reducing the risks associated with back sleep.
"Wearing a device that minimizes back sleep, and which is comfortable and doesn't impact the mother's sleep length or quality, may be a simple way to reduce stillbirth incidence," she said. Warland added that this is especially important if the mother is at increased risk due to other factors.
While this study was effective in reducing supine sleep in women during the later stages of pregnancy, the authors noted that additional research is needed to further explore the risks and benefits of positional therapy.