Pillows: More Than Fluff
By Laura Maxson LM
Pillows and relaxation go hand in hand; in fact, a pregnant couple arriving at their first childbirth class with pillows in hand is a classic image of pregnancy.
Pillows can make the difference between a few hours of sleep, or tossing and turning all night. So, let’s see… turn on the left side, one pillow under the head, a small flat one under the belly, a nice fat one between the knees, and a firm one for the back – with any luck there’s even one left over for your bed partner. Many swear by a long snake-like body pillow instead of several small pillows.
In late pregnancy it’s all about finding a combination of pillows to allow for sleeping in a semi-reclined, upright position to help with that “baby sitting in your lungs feeling,” as well as, the symptoms associated with increased nasal congestion and heartburn.
A thin pillow or rolled hand towel slipped behind the small of the back can shift pressure and ease the discomfort of an achy back while driving. Others appreciate the extra cushion of a pillow under the tailbone as well. Bodies change over the months of pregnancy and a little fine tuning of the car’s seat position may help as much as a pillow.
Hospital pillows are notoriously flat and may be in short supply on a busy day. Bringing a pillow or two from home can be a big help. Keep your own pillows up near your head and use hospital pillows between your knees, on the floor, or any place they might end up getting wet. Place a colorful pillowcase on pillows from home that will stand out so they don’t get mixed in and lost with the hospital pillows. A zippered waterproof pillow cover is under $10 and a good investment if you love your pillow, but a cheaper option is to put your pillow into a small plastic trash bag, squeeze the extra air out, and tie it closed before putting it in a pillowcase.
Kneeling on the floor and leaning on to a chair or edge of the bed is a tried and true labor position. Add pillows to cushion the knees on the floor and try leaning into a pillow placed on the lap of someone sitting in the chair. With their head on the pillow and arms wrapped around the support person’s back, their back and shoulders are within easy reach of a soothing rub.
When sitting on the birth stool, a partner or doula often sits behind for support. Many find a pillow or two placed behind the laboring person allows them to more easily relax between contractions without needing to lean so far back into the support person.
Put a pillow on the back of the toilet tank to lean into while sitting backwards on the toilet. A pillow placed across the open toilet seat with a waterproof pad on top may be more comfortable than sagging into the open toilet seat when sitting for an extended time. This same open legged sitting position can also be achieved by sitting backwards on a chair and leaning into pillows resting on the chair back.
Pillows are handy after birth as well. Learning to breastfeed seems to use every pillow in the house, leading to fears about how to ever be able to breastfeed outside the home. However, most seasoned breastfeeders know that once you (and the baby) get the hang of it, you can breastfeed just about anywhere – pillows or not. A breastfeeding pillow that buckles or Velcros behind the back might offer more support than the c-shaped pillows that tend to slide away from the body, creating an awkward space the baby can slip into. In fact, much current advice for breastfeeding encourages using a minimum of pillows, with the baby lying skin-to-skin often at a more upright angle. Often a single pillow tucked under the supporting elbow is all that’s needed. Pro tip – flannel pillowcases help pillows stay put, instead of slipping away.