How to Use a Pregnancy Pillow?

Last Updated: January 30, 2024
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

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Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, but it can also bring discomfort, especially when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Thankfully, there’s a simple solution that can make a significant difference in your pregnancy experience – the pregnancy pillow! 

In this complete guide, we’ll explore what pregnancy pillows are, why they are beneficial, when to start using them, the different types available, and how to maximize their comfort for a restful night’s sleep.

Are you ready to get some (slightly?) better sleep for the remainder of your pregnancy? Then let’s dive in!

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What is a pregnancy pillow?

A pregnancy pillow, also known as a maternity pillow, is a specially designed cushion to support and cradle the changing contours of a pregnant woman’s body. 

These pillows are crafted to provide much-needed comfort and alleviate common pregnancy-related discomforts such as back pain, hip pain, and restless sleep.

Why use a pregnancy pillow?

Using a pregnancy pillow can be a game-changer for expectant mothers. These pillows offer numerous benefits including:

  • Enhanced support: Pregnancy pillows are designed to support the abdomen, back, hips, and knees, promoting proper alignment and reducing strain on muscles and joints
  • Improved blood circulation: Elevating legs and supporting the body’s weight can help enhance blood circulation, minimizing swelling in the lower extremities
  • Alleviation of aches and pains: By reducing pressure on sensitive areas, such as the lower back and hips, pregnancy pillows can ease common pregnancy discomforts
  • Better sleep quality: With increased support and comfort, expectant moms can find it easier to achieve a more restful and rejuvenating sleep

When to start using a pregnancy pillow

Expectant mothers may wonder when the ideal time to start using a pregnancy pillow is – and really there is no wrong time! Generally, it’s recommended to introduce a pregnancy pillow into your sleep routine around the second trimester, but some women get one right when they find out they’re pregnant.

You may want a pregnancy pillow in your first trimester if you’re experiencing an achy pelvis and hips. As your baby bump grows, the need for extra support and cushioning becomes even more apparent, and you may even find that you need a different style than you initially thought.

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Types of pregnancy pillows

There are various types of pregnancy pillows available, each catering to different sleeping preferences and support needs. 

Let’s explore the most common types!

The U-shaped pregnancy pillow wraps around both sides of your body, providing support for your back, belly, and knees simultaneously. 

Pros of U-Shaped Pregnancy Pillows:

  • Full body support: U-shaped pregnancy pillows provide support to the entire body, cradling the head, neck, back, belly, and knees simultaneously. This comprehensive support can alleviate discomfort in multiple areas
  • Ideal for side sleepers: If you prefer sleeping on your side during pregnancy, a U-shaped pillow is a great option as it helps maintain proper spinal alignment and reduces pressure on the hips
  • Reduces tossing and turning: With its wraparound design, the U-shaped pillow keeps you snugly in place, preventing excessive tossing and turning during the night for a more restful sleep
  • Minimizes lower back pain: By supporting the back and keeping the spine properly aligned, U-shaped pillows can help reduce or prevent lower back pain, a common issue during pregnancy
  • Enhances blood circulation: Elevating the legs and supporting the body’s weight with a U-shaped pillow can improve blood circulation, reducing swelling in the legs and ankles
  • Versatile for different sleeping positions: U-shaped pillows can be used in various ways, allowing you to position yourself for maximum comfort, whether you prefer sleeping on your back, left side, or right side
  • Provides postpartum support: U-shaped pregnancy pillows can continue to be useful postpartum, providing support while nursing or as a prop for baby during tummy time

Cons of U-Shaped Pregnancy Pillows:

  • Size and bulk: U-shaped pillows tend to be larger and bulkier compared to other pregnancy pillow types, which can take up a significant portion of the bed and may not be suitable for smaller sleeping spaces
  • Not travel-friendly: Due to their size and shape, U-shaped pregnancy pillows are less portable, making them challenging to carry during travel or overnight trips
  • Adjustment takes time: Finding the right position with a U-shaped pillow may require some trial and error, and it may take time to get accustomed to its full-body support
  • Price: U-shaped pregnancy pillows often come with a higher price tag compared to simpler pillow designs, so they might not be as budget-friendly
  • Limited versatility for co-sleeping: If you plan to co-sleep with a partner, a U-shaped pillow might create a barrier between you and limit the space available for your partner to sleep comfortably
  • Cleaning challenges: Cleaning a U-shaped pregnancy pillow can be more complicated than washing regular pillows, especially if it doesn’t come with a removable, machine-washable cover
  • Personal preference: Some women may find the U-shape too constricting or warm, and they might prefer a different pregnancy pillow design for greater comfort

C-shaped pregnancy pillows resemble the letter “C” and offer support for your head, neck, back, and one side of your body. 

Pros of C-Shaped Pregnancy Pillows:

  • Targeted support: C-shaped pregnancy pillows offer targeted support for the head, neck, back, and one side of the body, providing relief to specific areas that often experience discomfort during pregnancy
  • Ideal for side sleepers: If you prefer sleeping on your side, the C-shape allows you to position the pillow between your legs for proper spinal alignment, reducing strain on the hips and lower back
  • Suitable for smaller beds: Compared to U-shaped pillows, C-shaped pregnancy pillows are often more compact, making them a better option for smaller beds or shared sleeping spaces
  • Ease of movement: The open design of the C-shaped pillow allows for more freedom of movement, making it easier to switch positions during the night
  • Versatile support positions: You can use the C-shaped pregnancy pillow to support your back, tuck it between your knees, or even use it for nursing support after childbirth
  • Travel-friendly: C-shaped pregnancy pillows are generally more portable and easier to carry during travel, making them a convenient companion for overnight trips
  • Cost-effective option: C-shaped pillows often come at a more affordable price point compared to full-body U-shaped pillows, making them a budget-friendly choice

Cons of C-Shaped Pregnancy Pillows:

  • Partial body support: Unlike U-shaped pillows, C-shaped pillows offer support only on one side of the body, which may not provide equal comfort for both the back and belly
  • May not fully support larger body types: Women with larger body types or those carrying multiples might find that a C-shaped pillow doesn’t provide enough support for their entire body
  • Less support for back sleepers: If you prefer sleeping on your back during pregnancy, a C-shaped pillow might not offer adequate back support, leading to discomfort
  • Can shift during the night: Some users might experience the C-shaped pillow shifting during the night, requiring occasional adjustments to maintain proper support
  • Limited co-sleeping comfort: If you share the bed with a partner, a C-shaped pregnancy pillow may not allow as much space for your partner to sleep comfortably as it occupies one side of the bed
  • Potential for clumsy positioning: Finding the right position with a C-shaped pillow can be challenging for some users, as it requires proper placement and alignment
  • May not provide postpartum support: After childbirth, a C-shaped pregnancy pillow might not be as versatile for nursing support or propping up baby as other pillow designs

J-shaped pregnancy pillows have a hook-like extension, making them suitable for women who want support primarily for their head, neck, and upper body. 

It’s a versatile option, allowing you to shift positions without sacrificing support – all the same pros and cons of a C-shaped pregnancy pillow apply to a J-shaped pregnancy pillow!

I-shaped pregnancy pillows, also known as straight, flexible or body pillows, provide excellent support for specific areas like the back or belly. 

They are less bulky than other designs, making them ideal for smaller sleeping spaces.

Pros of I-Shaped Pregnancy Pillows:

  • Targeted support: I-shaped pregnancy pillows offer focused support for specific areas, such as the back or belly, allowing you to address particular discomforts effectively
  • Customizable positioning: The straight design of I-shaped pregnancy pillows provides flexibility in how you position and use the pillow, making it adaptable to your unique needs
  • Suitable for all sleeping positions: Unlike some other pregnancy pillow designs, I-shaped pillows are versatile and can be used comfortably by back, side, and stomach sleepers
  • Space-saving: I-shaped pregnancy pillows are typically less bulky than U or C-shaped pillows, making them a space-saving option for smaller beds or shared sleeping spaces
  • Adjustable support: Many I-shaped pregnancy pillows come with removable filling, allowing you to customize the level of support and thickness to your preference
  • Cost-effective: I-shaped pillows are often more budget-friendly compared to larger, full-body pregnancy pillows, offering targeted support without breaking the bank
  • Travel-friendly: Due to their compact size and shape, I-shaped pregnancy pillows are relatively easy to carry during travels or overnight trips, providing support on the go

Cons of I-Shaped Pregnancy Pillows:

  • Limited full-body support: I-shaped pregnancy pillows may not offer the same comprehensive support as U or C-shaped pillows, as they primarily focus on specific areas rather than supporting the entire body
  • May not fully support larger body types: Women with larger body types or those carrying multiples might find that an I-shaped pillow doesn’t provide sufficient support for their entire body
  • Less versatile for side sleepers: While I-shaped pillows are suitable for all sleeping positions, some side sleepers might prefer more extensive support for their entire body.
  • Potential for shifting: Depending on the filling and construction, I-shaped pillows might shift during sleep, requiring occasional adjustments for consistent support
  • Limited co-sleeping comfort: Sharing the bed with a partner may be less comfortable with an I-shaped pregnancy pillow, as it occupies space and may not allow as much room for your partner to sleep comfortably
  • May not provide postpartum support: After childbirth, an I-shaped pregnancy pillow might not be as versatile for nursing support or propping up baby as other pillow designs
  • Finding the right filling level: With adjustable filling, finding the perfect level of support in an I-shaped pillow might require some trial and error to get it just right

Wedge pregnancy pillows are compact and wedge-shaped, primarily intended for targeted support. 

They are perfect for placing under the belly or back to alleviate pressure in a specific area.

Pros of Wedge Pregnancy Pillows:

  • Targeted support: Wedge pregnancy pillows offer precise support for specific areas, such as under the belly, back, or between the knees, effectively alleviating localized discomforts
  • Compact size: Wedge pillows are smaller and more portable than larger pregnancy pillow designs, making them easy to carry during travel or for use in smaller sleeping spaces
  • Versatile use: Wedge pillows can be placed in various positions to provide support where it’s needed most, making them adaptable for different sleeping positions
  • Multi-functional: Apart from pregnancy support, wedge pillows can also be used for other purposes, such as providing lumbar support while sitting or elevating the legs for improved circulation
  • Cost-effective option: Wedge pregnancy pillows are generally more affordable than larger, full-body pregnancy pillows, making them a budget-friendly choice
  • Easy to clean: Cleaning wedge pillows is typically easier since they are smaller and often have removable, machine-washable covers
  • Postpartum use: After childbirth, wedge pillows can still be useful for providing support during nursing sessions or as a prop for baby during tummy time

Cons of Wedge Pregnancy Pillows:

  • Partial body support: Wedge pillows offer targeted support, but they might not provide the comprehensive full-body support that some women seek during pregnancy
  • Limited coverage: Depending on the size and shape, wedge pillows might not fully cover the entire length of the body, leaving some areas without support
  • May require multiple pillows: Achieving full-body support with wedge pillows might necessitate using multiple pillows, which can be less convenient than a single, all-in-one pregnancy pillow
  • Shifting during sleep: Some wedge pillows may shift during the night, requiring readjustment to maintain proper support
  • Not ideal for co-sleeping: If you share the bed with a partner, using multiple wedge pillows might create a barrier between you and your partner, affecting co-sleeping comfort
  • Finding the right positioning: Depending on your specific needs, finding the right placement and positioning of wedge pillows might take some trial and error
  • Not suitable for all sleeping positions: While wedge pillows are versatile, they may not offer the same level of support for all sleeping positions, especially for back sleepers

How to sleep with a pregnancy pillow?

To maximize the benefits of your pregnancy pillow, follow these tips for a comfortable night’s sleep:

  • Find the right pillow type: Choose a pregnancy pillow that suits your needs and preferences, whether it’s a U-shaped, C-shaped, J-shaped, I-shaped, or wedge pillow. Each design offers unique benefits, so select one that provides optimal support and comfort for your body (see above!)
  • Position the pillow correctly: Position the pregnancy pillow properly to support the areas where you need the most relief. For example, place a full-body pillow alongside your body and between your knees if you’re a side sleeper, or under your belly if you’re sleeping on your side or back
  • Experiment with pillow placement: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different pillow placements to find the most comfortable position for your body. Minor adjustments can make a significant difference in your overall comfort level
  • Use additional pillows if needed: Depending on your preferences, you may find it helpful to use regular pillows in combination with your pregnancy pillow. For instance, an extra pillow under your head or between your legs can enhance support and comfort
  • Adapt pillow usage as pregnancy progresses: As your pregnancy advances, your body’s support needs may change. Be flexible and adjust your pillow usage accordingly to accommodate your growing belly and changing sleep positions

More pregnancy sleep tips

Sweet dreams, mama!

In conclusion, a pregnancy pillow can be a fantastic companion throughout your pregnancy journey.

With the right pillow and proper sleep techniques, you can enjoy a more restful and rejuvenating sleep, supporting both your well-being and that of your growing baby.

Baby Registry Guide
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

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