Getting Stronger for Labor with Sleep

an interview with Mar De Carlo for Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine

(for highlights of this interview purchase Pregnancy and Newborn magazine’s April 2013 issue)


Why is it important for an expecting mama to try to catch her 40 winks?

From the moment a woman becomes pregnant; her body is undergoing many physiologic and biochemical changes. As a result the potential for sleep disturbances increases. Nausea, nighttime waking, bladder pressure, and fatigue issues are very common. Sleep deprivation can lead to complications such as preterm labor, extended labor, as well as other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, snoring, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia. Sleep disorders developed during pregnancy can also lead to sleep disorders in the child.

As we all know, once insomnia hits, it will be hard for a mom to snooze. Do you have any tips for beating insomnia while pregnant?

Certainly, but please keep in mind these are all tips based on my own education, training, experience and not to be considered medical advice as I am not a doctor. A mom should refer her medical practitioner to diagnose and treat insomnia.

Here are some changes mom can make to beat insomnia:

Keep the room very dark. If she needs to get up to use the bathroom at night, rather than turning on bright lights, use a small night light just enough for her to see where she is going but yet maintain a relaxed state that is not over stimulating to the eye and sleep cycle.

Keep a journal and pen handy by her bedside. If she has trouble falling asleep because her mind is racing, or if she wakes up with too many thoughts and is unable to go back to sleep, consider doing some journaling before crawling into bed at night or when woken up at night to clear the mind so there is no residue.

Invite downtime. Make sure she has downtime on a daily basis where she can spend some time relaxing and letting go of stresses. Some examples of this include nature walks, yoga, journaling, massage, etc.

Establish a bedtime routine. Establish a bedtime routine and sleep as close as possible to 10pm. At 10pm, the body begins repairing and being awake slows this process.

Dim lights. Dim all lights, computer screens, smart phones at least an hour or two before bed. Install dimmer switches on lights where possible. Candle light is best for illuminating the house during the hours before bedtime, and many moms find it to be very relaxing.

Establish firm boundaries for bedtime. Make her a bedroom a sanctuary for relaxation and sleep. Try not to work, watch television, or any other activity outside of sleep and sex.

Remove EMF’s. Remove any electromagnetic field (emf) equipment from her room as studies have shown prolonged exposure can suppress the immune system and disrupt sleep.

Get Natural Unfiltered Sunlight. Get natural unfiltered sunlight in your eyes first thing in the morning for at least fifteen minutes if you can. In the warmer months or in warmer climates get sunlight on a good portion of your skin in the morning as well. This will send a strong message to your pineal gland and your internal clock. It works wonders.

Adjust Temperature. Keep the temperature between 68 and 72 degrees.

Use a sleeping aid. Use sleeping aids like sleep pillows or a mattress topper for her comfort and support. Have a mattress, mattress topper, or sleeping pillow that is equipped to support her posture and changing body. Experiment with them to find the best one suitable for you.

Eat light meals before bed. Eat only light meals before bed and familiarize yourself with anti-sleep and pro-sleep foods in order to avoid sleep disruption and encourage deep sleep.

Try to eat foods that are more easily digested. Try to eat foods that are more easily digested, like blended foods and fruits with unprocessed fats, and keep your portion sizes small as you approach bed time.

Eliminate all stimulants from your diet–This includes caffeine, chocolate, and spices of all kinds. It is also critical to eliminate foods that are stimulating and irritating to the digestive system just by their very nature—foods like grains, beans, and dairy. This is even more essential late in the day. Grains also tend to bind with the cholesterol in your gut–cholesterol that is needed to produce sleep inducing hormones and other necessary cofactors. MSG is also something to avoid and it is hidden in all sorts of products nowadays under many different names. One should also be careful of taking vitamin supplements in the evening as they can have a stimulating effect, and in many cases they are like a chemistry experiment. It’s probably best to take them in the morning and early afternoon if possible.

Learn all you can about healthy blood sugar levels. Blood sugar has a huge impact on sleep quality.

Establish healthy gut flora. Something else to consider is your gut. It is important to establish healthy gut flora and then leave it alone. Many researchers are now strongly linking the cyclical die off of bacteria in the gut with sleep cycles.

Are there any sleeping tips that are good for baby while in mom’s belly (left is best, etc.)?

Yes, besides my tips above, my three other favorite tips would be:

  • Find a healthy and comfortable sleep position
  • Reduce stress
  • Green your sleep environment

Sleep positions can affect both the health of mom and her baby. They can aid or hinder strong circulation and blood supply needed for fetal development. Most medical birth professionals say lying on your left side is best because although while lying on your right side may not harm the baby during pregnancy, your uterus put pressure on the liver. Lying on your back during pregnancy puts pressure on the inferior vena cava, cutting off blood supply and while lying on your front during pregnancy may be a rare occurrence after the first trimester, it places pressure on the womb putting baby at risk. Using sleep aids like sleep pillows can be very helpful to support your body’s alignment and provide comfort. Choosing the right mattress or mattress topper can also aid your body’s continued physical changes.

Reduce stress by sleeping more, taking naps, or committing to engaging in a relaxing daily activity like prenatal yoga, meditation, journaling, art, nature walks, etc. Sleep helps to balance stress hormones. When an expectant mom feels anxious and stressed, her nervous system causes physiological changes in her body. Adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol, release into her bloodstream, causing her body to react in a fight-or-flight response. As a result, her digestive system slows down, which prevents essential nutrients from being absorbed into her body and passed on to her baby. Her muscles become very tense, making it difficult to think clearly and relax. These physiological changes can lead to premature labor or even complications during labor. Babies exposed to a variety of stress hormones, toxins and malnutrition inside the womb may develop a host of problems during their fetal growth and after they are born. Their bodies have to undergo certain biological changes in order to cope with a high-stress environment.

Greening a pregnant woman’s sleeping environment is essential to diminish the risks of toxic exposure which can compromise her immune system leading her and her baby at risk for a host of health issues. Some studies have also shown that babies in the womb may be affected by air pollution. A few tips for Greening a Sleep Environment include: removing items such as products with fragrances, televisions, computers, and phones which emit electromagnetic fields known to affect sleep and immune system, leaving shoes at the door, using non-toxic cleaners, using indoor plants that clean the air, improving ventilation, and washing bed-sheets, linens, pillow cases, and pajamas with non-toxic laundry detergent.

How can sleep aid in labor on the big day?

When mom is well rested, she is more physically and mentally prepared for labor greatly diminishing the risk of any complications during and after labor. Some studies have also correlated the amount of sleep in late pregnancy with labor duration and type. Sleep helps to balance stress hormones. Excessive stress hormones can affect the labor process, delaying or extending labor.

Is there anything you would like to add about sleep and pregnancy?

With our modern day culture and expectations, the average expectant mom today is juggling quite a bit and as a result experiencing an overwhelming amount of stimulation and stress. Incorporating some relaxation into her daily life is the perfect complement to healthy sleep, her overall health and health of her baby. Pregnancy is also a perfect time to prepare and strategize for healthy sleep to continue once the baby arrives.

In addition baby’s bodies are particularly sensitive to the stimulants we put into our body, and the sensory stimulants in our environments. The number of babies being put on medications nowadays for sleep issues would surprise a lot people I think and it says a lot about the sleep crisis facing parents here in America, and in the world at large.

Is there anything you would like to add in general?

A healthy mom equals a healthy baby. Sleep supports all the vital components of healthy human function.Pregnancy is a perfect time to prepare and establish new sleep habits for healthy sleep to continue long after the baby arrives, and hopefully for the rest of her and her baby’s life.


About Mar

smile940Mar De Carlo is an international business and health coach who has successfully started and grown many businesses and organizations.

She is the Founder and Educational Director of the International Maternity & Parenting Institute (IMPI), International Academy of Baby Planner Professionals (IABPP), Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants (APSC), and Sacred Biz Partner with Sacred Pregnancy.

Additionally Mar founded The Baby Planner, Physical Awakening, and, offering holistic services in sacred pregnancy, baby planning, maternity and child sleep, health, fitness, nutrition, life coaching, stress management, yoga therapy and green living.

She has a multitude of trainings, certification and experience related to business and health including: business management, sales and marketing, business start-up, business coaching, yoga instruction, yoga therapy, personal training, group exercise instruction, dance, wellness coaching, eco-consulting, baby planning, nutrition, sleep coaching, and stress management.

Mar combines her business and health coaching to support maternity professionals, birth professionals, health professionals and mompreneurs. She offers individual consultations, workshops, and retreats.

Her enthusiasm, inspiration, creativity, and knowledge has helped a variety of businesses around the globe including:

Austria, England, France, Luxemburg, Bahrain, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Peru, Chile, Bermuda and throughout the United States.

She is a passionate visionary in health, maternity, birth and business education and has been consulting and guiding hundreds of clients for the last 17 years.

She is the author of “The Baby Planner Profession: What You Need To Know! The Ultimate Guide and Resource for Baby Planner Professionals,” and her latest book, “Green Body Green Birth”.