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20 Weeks Pregnant: Exercise and Sleeping on Your Back

author image Lisa M. Wolfe
A mother of two and passionate fitness presenter, Lisa M. Wolfe had her first fitness article published in 2001. She is the author of six fitness books and holds an Associate of Arts in exercise science from Oakland Community College. When not writing, Wolfe is hula-hooping, kayaking, walking or cycling.
20 Weeks Pregnant: Exercise and Sleeping on Your Back
Side-sleeping is recommended after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Photo Credit Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

Pregnancy is a time of change and, unfortunately, this includes your sleeping and exercise habits as well. Your expanding belly places a few restrictions on your body position, such as not performing exercises while lying flat on your back. This restriction also applies to sleeping, but you can find new positions to benefit the health of both you and growing baby.

The Problem with Lying Supine

You breathe a sigh of relief when you make it through the first trimester of pregnancy. However, your deep breaths begin to be hindered by your baby belly, especially when sleeping on your back or performing exercises such as crunches. After 20 weeks, when you lie on your back, your uterus can press on one of the main veins of your circulatory system: the inferior vena cava. This vein is responsible for returning blood from your lower body to your heart.

Dizzying Symptoms

If you remain on your back with the uterus pressing on your veins, you might experience symptoms -- particularly dizziness -- as your body's way of telling you to change positions. You may also experience a drop in blood pressure. One way your body compensates for the drop in blood pressure is with a reduction in blood flow to the uterus, which can be dangerous to the growing fetus. To avoid this, change positions when exercising or sleeping and sit up or sleep on your side.

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A Side View

The best way to alleviate the pressure from your uterus is to sleep or exercise on your side instead of on your back. If you are not a side-sleeper, you may flip from one side to the other until you find a comfortable position. Placing a pillow underneath your bottom hip can bring additional comfort to your new sleeping position. Adjusting your other pillow to support your head and slightly stabilize your spine also helps. For example, use one corner of the pillow and let the rest of the pillow curl around your shoulder and down your upper back for support.

Sit Back and Relax

The main exercise you perform on your back is an abdominal crunch or situp. If you want to maintain your core strength, but have passed the 20-week mark, try an abdominal sit back instead. You remain upright without the pressure on your veins. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Position your feet a comfortable distance from your bum. Extend your arms straight out from your shoulders with your palms facing down. Keep your chest elevated and look straight ahead. Inhale and sit back slightly as you keep your spine straight and chest lifted. Sit back approximately 45 degrees. Exhale and return to the starting position. Aim to complete one set of eight to 10 sit-backs and gradually increase to two or three sets. Other ab exercises that don't require lying on your back include planks and side crunches.

Flexible Alternatives

Other ways to strengthen your core without lying on your back include a standing wood chop and a torso rotation with a medicine ball. Swing a medicine ball from over one shoulder down toward the opposite hip to perform a wood chop. Hold the ball in front of you and rotate it to the right and to the left to perform the torso rotation. If you stretch while flat on your back, adjust your flexibility exercises to seated or standing positions. For example, instead of lying on your back with your leg extended up to stretch your hastrings lie on your left side with your left knee bent and stretch your right leg toward the ceiling. To stretch your lower back, instead of pulling both legs toward your chest, sit in a chair and lean forward with your chest on your legs.

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