Research shows sleep position can help prevent stillbirth

Research shows sleep position can help prevent stillbirth

In Australia, more than 2000 babies are stillborn every year; 6 babies every day. Australia lags behind other developed countries in reducing these numbers. If stillbirth rates in Australia were reduced to equal that of the best performing countries, 200 babies each year in Australia would be saved.

New research has identified something relatively simple, and something every pregnant woman needs to know: going to sleep on your side in the third trimester reduces your risk of stillbirth.

The Midlands and North of England Stillbirth Study (MiNESS), published today in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists, showed that women who go to sleep on their backs are more than twice as likely to have a stillborn baby in late pregnancy compared with women who go to sleep on their side. Identifying ‘modifiable risk factors’ (things we can change) for stillbirth is one way of bringing down these unacceptable high rates in Australia. These risk factors are things in day-to-day life that increase expectant mothers’ chances of having a stillborn baby, and that, importantly, women have the power to alter, either alone or with medical help.

The MiNESS looked into 291 pregnancies that ended in stillbirth and 735 women who had a live birth, making it the fourth and largest study to examine maternal sleep and late stillbirth. This study found that women who go to sleep in the supine position (lying on the back) during the third trimester have a 2.3-fold increased risk of late stillbirth compared with women who go to sleep on their side. That’s a greater increased risk of late stillbirth than the risk caused by smoking, which is a 1.9-fold increased risk.

The findings within the MiNESS confirm three earlier studies that were conducted in New Zealand and Australia.

To tell women about the risk of going to sleep on their back in late pregnancy, Australian organisations and charities are launching a #SleepOnSide international public health campaign, which will run in conjunction with the UK as the research results are published. But we can’t do this alone, we need your help to get this message out there.

The campaign has widespread support

The #SleeponSide campaign is an international collaboration with Tommy’s UK, led in Australia by Still Aware and The Stillbirth Centre for Research Excellence. The campaign has widespread support and is endorsed by Australian College of Midwives and Stillbirth Foundation, in addition to being supported by Sands and Red Nose.

The aim of the campaign

The campaign aims to raise awareness amongst all pregnant women of the reasons for going to sleep on their side in the third trimester. The key campaign message is 'going to sleep on your side in the third trimester more than halves your risk of stillbirth'.

The advice to pregnant women is to go to sleep on their side for any episode of sleep in the third trimester, including:

  • going to sleep at night
  • returning to sleep after any night wakenings
  • day time naps

As the going-to-sleep position is the one held longest during the night, women should not to be concerned if they wake up on their back, but should simply roll back onto their side.

How to reach women

Since Still Aware were made aware of the findings of this fourth study into the topic of sleep position and stillbirth, they have been working with:

  • research teams internationally who have been behind all four studies,
  • pregnant women, and
  • women who have suffered a previous stillbirth.

Together they have developed a central campaign film, Sleep On Side, to tell women about the research and the key message. A preview of the campaign video is available for download here:

On Monday, 20th of  November 2017 all the films and information behind the campaign will be available on a dedicated campaign hub on the Still Aware website:

The hub will include information about why sleep position is important, links to research and a Q&A about sleep and pregnancy, along with tips for going to sleep on your side.


For media enquiries please contact:

Claire Foord, Founder Still Aware   |   |   0438 252 848

Researchers available for campaign specific interviews:

Dr Adrienne Gordon  |  |  0405 816 782

Associate Professor Jane Warland  |  |  08 8302 1161