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Aug 23, 2021
3 min read

Pregnancy pillows for pain relief and better sleep

A pregnancy pillow is designed to support your body as it changes throughout pregnancy. These pillows provide extra support for your back, legs, baby bump, and may prevent pain and improve sleep quality.

linnea zielinski

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD

Written by Linnea Zielinski

    Disclaimer

    If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

    Getting a good night’s sleep is a real struggle for many Americans.

    Whether it’s due to stress at work or ingrained sleep problems, a third of the country reports not getting the sleep they need, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (CDC, 2014). 

    Add pregnancy to the mix, and you’re in rough waters. Research has shown that pregnant women not only get less sleep but the sleep they do get is of worse quality compared to those who aren’t pregnant. Sleep quality deteriorates as pregnancy goes on, getting notably worse from the second to third trimester (Sedov, 2018). 

    This decline in sleep quality happens for some obvious reasons. As your uterus grows rapidly during pregnancy, it can become difficult (and even impossible) for stomach sleepers.

    Comfort can be an issue even for side sleepers since their sleep setup doesn’t offer the same support for their rapidly changing body. Let’s take a look at what pregnancy pillows are and how they may relieve pain and promote better sleep.

    What is a pregnancy pillow?

    A pregnancy pillow is a body pillow designed to support your body as it changes throughout pregnancy. 

    Many moms-to-be also experience aches and pains throughout pregnancy. Common complaints include lower back pain, upper back pain, pelvic pain, and neck pain––though that’s far from an exhaustive list (Quintero, 2018).

    Maternity pillows come in different shapes and offer extra support for your back, legs, and baby bump to encourage better sleep. Tucking a pillow under your stomach and between your legs supports your belly and keeps your legs parallel. This may help prevent aches in the pelvis and back as well as stiffness during pregnancy. 

    The general types of pregnancy pillows available are:

    • U-shaped pillows: This type of pillow supports your entire body, starting at your neck and ending between your legs, to keep your hips parallel. You may also see this called a full-body pregnancy pillow.
    • C-shaped pillows: Also called contour pillows, these support either the back or the belly. You can adjust this by how you position the pillow. These types are different from nursing pillows, which are typically smaller and meant to serve to bolster a baby while you nurse.
    • Wedge pillows: These are smaller and support just one targeted part of the body. You can tuck them under your belly or between your legs. Since they’re smaller, they’re easier to position than other pillows and are generally less expensive. A pregnant back sleeper may only need a wedge pillow for extra back support.

    Do you need a pregnancy pillow?

    There’s no actual need to buy a pregnancy pillow. You can position regular pillows to offer the same support to alleviate pain in the parts of your body that ache. 

    The difference is that maternity pillows are easier to position since you’re moving one pillow instead of several smaller ones. Pregnancy pillows also allow you to quickly flip to the other side during sleep, whereas standard pillows would need to be set up again if your sleep position changed.

    The biggest downside of pregnancy pillows may be the cost. Like the U-shaped total body pillows, pregnancy pillows that offer full-body support go for up to $200. You won’t have to spend as much if you opt for a memory foam wedge pillow for belly or back support. These smaller options run from $30-80.

    What to look for when buying

    If you choose to buy a pregnancy pillow, look for a high-quality product. These pillows come with features like removable covers for easy cleaning, and memory foam for added support.

    If you can’t test a pillow in person, try ordering from a company that offers a free trial and warranty, such as Coop Home Goods, Sweet Zzz, or Sleep Number. During your trial period, evaluate whether the pillow’s firmness, cover material (some use cotton covers while others opt for jersey knit), and design are best for your needs.

    References

    1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017, May 2). CDC – Data and Statistics – Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html
    2. Quintero, K. C., Condez, V. M., Plaza, S. M., Bedolido, M. J., & Ermita, P. (2018). Design and Development of Maternity Pillow: An Ergonomic Approach. Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering, 513, 453–462. doi:10.1007/978-981-13-1059-1_43. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-13-1059-1_43
    3. Sedov, I. D., Cameron, E. E., Madigan, S., & Tomfohr-Madsen, L. M. (2018). Sleep quality during pregnancy: A meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 38, 168–176. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2017.06.005. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28866020/