Sleep is vital for good health and, during pregnancy, physical changes put pressure on your body, particularly your back and joints, which makes getting proper rest even more important.
But when you’re pregnant, getting a good night’s sleep can be a challenge, especially when you’re plagued by changing hormones, hot flushes and endless midnight trips to the loo.
This is where a good maternity pillow comes in.
What is a maternity pillow?
Maternity pillows, sometimes known as pregnancy pillows, can help you to find the right position for a decent kip, giving support and comfort to you and your expanding bump. Lots of pillows can also be used after birth either as a breastfeeding pillow or extended support for you or your baby.
When you’re pregnant, it’s important that you sleep in the correct position. Kate Pinney, midwife for Tommy’s, explains that there's a link between women sleeping on their backs in the third trimester and an increased risk of stillbirth.
As such, it's recommended that pregnant women in their third trimester sleep on their side as this promotes good blood flow and makes sure that all those vital nutrients reach your baby. You shouldn’t worry if you wake up in the night and are lying on your back, though – just turn over and go back to sleep on your side.
Why use a pregnancy pillow?
A pregnancy pillow can be really helpful to provide support and reduce discomfort when trying to sleep in the correct position – side sleeping is quite tricky to do for the entire night, so a pregnancy pillow tends to make this easier.
Often women find having a pillow between their knees helpful, as well as having a pillow behind their back and under their bump, but it can take a little experimentation at first to get comfy.
Heartburn during pregnancy can also keep you awake at night. Val Wilcox, practice manager for the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), advises that sleeping on your side with your knees bent can help with this. A well-placed pillow will prevent you from rolling onto your back.
In the third trimester in particular, as your body prepares for childbirth, you’ll be susceptible to backache, not only because of weight gain, but also because your centre of gravity will change as your bump grows, putting more pressure on your spine. Your muscles will be loosening too in preparation for the birth, which puts strain on your lower back.
Leg cramps can also interfere with a good night’s sleep and are common in the second and third trimester. The second trimester is also when you might begin to suffer from round ligament pain in your lower belly or groin – this can either be a dull ache or a brief, sharp stabbing pain and can be relieved by changing your sleeping position.
Add to this haemorrhoids, headaches and temperature fluctuations, and it may very well seem impossible to achieve the rest you need. A maternity pillow could help to alleviate these aches and pains.
But, while a maternity pillow can work for some mums, they aren’t for everyone. They can also be fairly pricey, so make sure you do your research before you buy.
Check out our maternity and nursing pillow reviews for a nudge in the right direction.
I love my maternity pillow more than I love DH at the moment. If the house was on fire, I'd waddle back in to save the pillow.
Types of maternity pillows
Maternity pillows come in different shapes and sizes, so the type of pillow you choose will depend on your needs and, of course, your budget.
1. Pregnancy wedge pillow or multi-purpose pillow
These pillows are often the cheapest option and (good news!) they’re very versatile and really handy for travelling. Pop the wedge under your tummy when sleeping on your side to reduce strain on your hips and back, use it behind your back or neck, or put it under your regular pillow to elevate your head, which helps to prevent reflux and heartburn. You may find that you need to use additional pillows to provide more support.
One of the benefits of this type of pillow is that it doesn't take up too much space, leaving plenty of room in the bed for your partner even when your bump gets bigger.
Its size also means that you won’t feel too restricted, particularly if you’re suffering from night sweats – common in the first and third trimesters when you have more extreme hormonal swings.
2. Bolster pillow
Either straight or flexible, these pillows run along the entire length of your body and stop you from waking in the morning to a scattering of pillows throughout the bed.
They are designed to be hugged – place your arms and legs around the pillow with the centre of the pillow supporting your middle.
Flexible bolster pillows should bend to whatever shape you need them, moulding to your body. Straight ones won’t do this.
While these pillows can be fairly large, there are narrow versions available that will take up less space in your bed.
These pillows come into their own around the 20th week of pregnancy when your bump really begins to show, and aches and pains start to be a real bother.
3. Full body pregnancy pillow
These came in a variety of shapes, the most common being C-shaped and U-shaped.
With a C-shaped pillow, the base of the 'C' goes between your legs offering any pregnant mum a great big cuddle. You rest your head at the top of the 'C' and your back or bump is supported by the curve.
Its size allows women of all shapes and stages of their pregnancy to be able to use it. It can then be used for baby's tummy time or as a feeding pillow, offering value beyond pregnancy, and or as support after a c-section as the pillow takes the weight off your stomach and thighs.
A U-shaped pregnancy pillow wraps around your entire body, providing support on both sides. This is great for supporting your expanding bump and also helps to prevent you from rolling onto your back during the night.
There are a variety of other shapes available too, including ‘J’, ‘O’, 'L' and ‘E’ – all designed to offer support in a way that is most comfortable for you and your bump.
Full body pillows are great for when you have a multitude of aches and pains, especially in the final months of pregnancy, as they can support neck, back, lower back, bump and legs all at once.
But, as their name suggests, they can be huge and do take up a lot of room in bed, so make sure you give your partner a heads up before you invest in one.
4. V-shaped pregnancy pillow
V-shaped pillows can be really practical. They can support your legs, tummy, head and back depending on where and how they are positioned, and can also be used during the day, when sitting in a chair or on a sofa.
These pillows are a great option throughout your pregnancy as they’re not too big and bulky. They’re also ideal for nursing once your baby arrives.
5. Anything else?
There are many products out there that don’t fit into these groups, instead offering their own unusual shape and design. Some are wider at one end to support your head, others are L-shaped, while some, like the Dreamgenii, have their own unique design.
If you have something specific that is affecting your quality of sleep, it might be worth looking at more unusual shapes which could help to fix those problems.
Other things to consider
1. How much do pregnancy pillows cost?
There’s a huge difference in price across various types of pillows, with some costing over £100.
Think about how much use you’ll get from the pillow and if it’s worth the investment – but also consider how much a decent night's sleep is worth.
2. Size and style
Is it practical to buy a full body pillow? Is there room in your bed – particularly if you have other children who like to climb in with you? How heavy is it and can it easily be stored when not in use?
Think, too, about whether a full-size pillow might make you hot or uncomfortable. Some women like to be cosy wrapped around a big pillow while others find them claustrophobic.
Do you need your pillow to have a variety of uses? Can you use it when resting on the sofa or for overnight stays? Can you use the pillow after the birth for support when nursing?
Many of the pillows we tested will not only provide support during pregnancy, but also for nursing. If you breastfeed while sitting down on a sofa, for example, you can use a pillow to support your baby’s head and neck. Some pillows can be wrapped around your waist, supporting you both, and other pillows can be used if you want to feed lying on your side, keeping your baby safe and allowing you to bond.
So do think about what you want from the pillow – just a good night’s sleep, or more than that?
It’s important to consider how easily and quickly the pillow can be washed and dried, particularly if you’re relying on it for a good night’s sleep. It’s much more practical to have a pillow that can be machine-washed and that dries quickly, either naturally or in a tumble drier.
Lots of the pillows we tested either came with a spare cover, or spare covers were available to purchase – a good idea if you haven’t got time to dry a cover that you’ve washed. You can have a cover on the pillow and then one in the wash.
It’s vital that the pillow washes well overall. Some are pricey, so you don’t want it to lose texture or firmness and it’s also important that stains and spills come out easily.
5. Material and filling
There are a huge range of fillings available from traditional hollowfibre to micropearls. The filling can make a real difference to the amount of support a pillow provides, and also how well it keeps its shape.
If you overheat at night, or have night sweats, check whether the cover is wickable or breathable – this will really help you to feel more comfortable. And also think about what sort of texture or feel you want next to your skin. Anything that’s itchy or irritating will soon interfere with your sleep rather than enhancing it.
If you have sensitive skin, you might want to go for something hypoallergenic or made from a natural material.
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