Why Can’t I Sleep Well During the Third Trimester?

Before your new baby is born, you’re likely to hear a lot of unsolicited advice. One of the toughest tidbits to receive is, “Sleep now, because once the baby is here, you’ll never get a good night’s sleep again!” First off, what are you going to do at this point? The baby’s coming, and he or she will change your life in many ways (most of them wonderful). Another problem with this suggestion is that for many pregnant people, sleep has already gone through the window by third trimester. Here’s why.

Bathroom Breaks

You’re up three or four times a night, but not exactly to care for a baby. Instead, you’re headed for yet another bathroom trip.

It turns out, the weight of a uterus, amniotic fluid, and 6-9 lbs. of baby weighing on your bladder has a tendency to make your need to “go” much more urgent. Limiting the amount of water you drink in the couple of hours before bedtime helps to an extent, but you can probably expect late-night bathroom trips to be part of your routine for a while.

Aches and Pains

Speaking of all that weight, your belly puts a burden on other parts of your body in third trimester, too. Your back, hips, and legs can be more prone to cramps and achiness, making it difficult to get comfortable for a night’s sleep.

Pillows can make a big difference here. Whether you buy a full-body pregnancy pillow or grab a few extra regular pillows, cushioning your lower back or using a pillow between your legs to align your hips can relieve painful pressure.

If you’re seriously struggling with posture and pain, a few sessions with a chiropractor can help reset your alignment.

Racing Mind

People are getting better at discussing postpartum anxiety and depression more openly, but you might not realize mood changes can happen while you’re pregnant, too. You might feel anxious about something real or specific (such as labor and giving birth, or feeling unprepared to take care of a baby). You might also feel more general anxiety that’s harder to pin to a particular reason.

If you took a class to prep for childbirth, practicing relaxation techniques you learned can help you rest now and feel more prepared for labor. Adding some light exercise or other activity during the day can also help your body regulate to feel sleepier in the evening.

Can’t Settle

Sometimes it’s tricky to pinpoint why you’re so uncomfortable. Or it feels like there’s an endless list: too hot, too dry, can’t breathe easily.

Tweaking your bedroom setup can help. A humidifier can soothe dry mouth or inflamed nasal passages, making it easier to sleep without needing lots of water (and more bathroom trips).

Hormone changes can lead to hot flashes. Try cracking a window open, using a fan, or have a lighter blanket on hand in case you want to swap in the middle of the night.

Is This Labor?

The closer you get to your due date, the more attuned you feel to every twinge and cramp. How can you sleep if tonight might be the beginning of labor?

Unfortunately, Braxton Hicks contractions can happen throughout most of your pregnancy. These “practice” contractions prepare your body for the real thing, but they’re not necessarily an indication that labor is coming.

Relaxation techniques or visualizations can help here, too. Another option to try is taking a warm shower. Many midwives, nurses, and doulas recommend the shower test to tell the difference between a powerful Braxton-Hicks contraction and labor. Braxton-Hicks contractions go away if you switch up positions or relax for 15 minutes or so under the shower. Real labor doesn’t. And the warm water may be a soothing aid to get you back on track to go to sleep.

Third trimester sleep can be elusive, but you’re not doomed never to sleep again. These strategies can help you make the most of your remaining baby-free nights. And your baby will learn to sleep through the night sooner or later–we promise.

Jessica Sillers
Jessica Sillers is a parenting and finance writer whose work has been featured in Pregnancy & Newborn, Headspace, and more. As a new mom herself, she’s passionate about helping other parents find the community and support they need. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading, and hiking.

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