‘Position is important even for healthy pregnant women with no risk factors say midwives on new study’

By RCM on 21 November 2016 Maternal Sleeping Position Labour Stillbirth Safe Sleep Midwives Better Births Initiative

RCM comments on new research which indicates lying on your back while giving birth could increase your chance of stillbirth.

‘Lying on your back while pregnant could increase the risk of stillbirth’ that is according to a new study published today (Tuesday 22nd November).

Researchers at the University of Auckland have found that lying face up while pregnant can change the baby’s heart rate and activity state which suggests that the fetus adapts by reducing its oxygen consumption. This finding may explain the increased risk of stillbirth in the supine (lying upwards) position.

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.

Commenting Louise Silverton, Director for Midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said; “This is an interesting study that provides some clear information regarding maternal position and its effects of the fetus in late pregnancy.

We have known for a long time that blood pressure is reduced where a woman is lying on her back. Many women will say that they don’t lie on their backs as they feel “funny” when they do.  Women are advised not to sleep on their backs. Also, it is known that, when in labour, moving a woman to her left hand side may improve the fetal heart rate trace.”

“What this study shows that is different is, that even in the healthiest of women with a fetus with no known risk factors, position is important. There is a lesson here for midwives in that we must ensure that we advise women on the best positions for sleep as well as for lying on a sofa.”

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Better Births Initiative has been working to promote high quality maternity care through digital and online resources. The RCM believes that getting the correct care during pregnancy, labour, childbirth and the postnatal period can be linked to both short and long term health and social benefits for not only mother and baby, but for their families and the wider community.

The Better Births project has produced a series of online resources such as helpful visual aids for labour and birthing positions. The initiative has 3 main themes

  • Facilitating normal births for the majority and normality for all women.
  • Increasing access to midwifery-led continuity of carer.
  • Raising awareness to reduce maternal and new-born health inequalities.

*Visual aids for labour and birthing positions – RCM Better Births 

For more information on the study contact The Physiological Society on  020 7269 5727 or email pressoffice@physoc.org


To contact the RCM Press Office call 020 7312 3456 or email pressofficer@rcm.org.uk