Should Baby Really Sleep on Her Tummy?

I remember when I brought my son home from the hospital, my mom came to help for a week and she told me a couple of times that I should let him sleep on his tummy and maybe that was going to be the only way he was going to sleep. As if!

I was a new and scared mom and EVERYTHING I read said to put baby on his back. There was no wavering in the things I read. Come on mom, the AAP constantly says “Tummy to Play, Back to Sleep” and that’s what I wanted to follow, too. After all, they know more than me, right?

Occasionally, I get a parent who says that they could only get their baby to sleep on her tummy, so that’s what they did. Is that parent wrong to have her baby sleep on her tummy? Should babies really be sleeping on their tummy and that’s why we all struggle so much with sleep these days?

Pam, of SIDS of Illinois said it very well:

“The great thing about being a parent is that you get to make the decisions. You weighed the information available to you then decided that for your child, belly sleeping worked best. That’s your right as a parent.”

and I couldn’t agree more.

It gets confusing when you have the Dr. Sears site say something like “Remember that this is only a statistical correlation. It does not mean that if your baby sleeps on her tummy she’s going to die of SIDS. Current SIDS rates are around one in a thousand babies; meaning that there’s a 99.9 percent chance your child will remain a healthy little girl regardless of her sleep position.”

Add to this, the study at Arizona State University last Fall stating that “…researchers found that the number of babies who have developed flat-headedness has dramatically increased since 1992. The increase coincides with the American Academy of Pediatrics launch of a ‘Back to Sleep’ educational campaign that recommended parents place their infants on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.”

These two things almost make you feel a little more comfortable with tummy sleeping. I guess that’s typical, something comes out as good for you, then bad for you, and then good for you again.

For ME, it was the chance of regret that made me persevere in helping my son sleep on his back (or rather on his side, actually) even though there was a possibility he might sleep better on his tummy. We struggled SO much with sleep, but even if it was a rare occurrence, IF something happened to my son I would forever wonder whether it was the tummy sleeping. Forever, I might blame myself for ignoring the AAP’s recommendation. It was just too big of a risk and too heavy of a burden that I might have that I personally chose that tummy sleeping was NOT an option to solve my baby’s sleep problems. I saw the “back to sleep” issue as a temporary one, until he learned to roll over on his own.

In our case, it was 100% true. My son HATED to play on his tummy. He HATED tummy time. But, one day, he did flip onto his tummy and he did start to get used to tummy time and lo and behold, he flipped to his tummy to sleep and he slept sooo much better! Once he started rolling onto his tummy to sleep, I didn’t bother rolling him back. Even though he slept so much better, just like my mom said he would, I still don’t regret my decision one bit (and it’s not because I don’t want to admit my mom was right! :D).

There are always so many what if’s and if you have heard of The Butterfly Effect, you know that any small change in my son’s history might give me a different boy than I have today (or maybe I wouldn’t have my boy :(). Today, I have a son who is reading at the age of 4, counts to 100 (by 1’s, 10’s and working on 5’s), and knows that if he has 5 tens, he has 50, and all the other numbers to 100. He is doing so well, and though he is still that persistent child who is difficult to parent some days, he’s doing so awesome that I wouldn’t go back and change many things in our past. I do wish that I knew more back then that I know now, but it warms my heart so much to share it with all of you and, hopefully, save you the tears that both my son and I shed way back when.

I pass no judgment on parents who make different decisions than I did. I’m a worry wart and follow rules to the letter, sometimes. And, then there are times you need to make your own rules. We all need to make the rules that make sense for our family. You know your baby and your situation best and many times, your instincts will take you further than you think. However, it would be irresponsible of me not to stress the importance of putting your baby on his back to sleep. SIDS rates have dramatically decreased with the “Back to Sleep” campaign. So, please do take your time to review the AAP’s guide to safe sleep, so you can make your own informed choice.

How does/did your baby sleep on his back?

Baby Tummy Sleeping

I received a question this week and it came at the perfect time. And, it was a good question. The gist of the question is whether it’s OK to put a 9-month old on his tummy to sleep.

First, Back to Sleep

It is highly recommended to place your baby on his back to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS. If you haven’t already, please review the ten ways to reduce SIDS risk, one of which is to make sure baby sleeps on his back to sleep. Some parents are worried baby will choke on spit-up, but babies will automatically swallow fluids or turn to the side. The #1 way to reduce the risk of SIDS is to put baby “back to sleep”.

When can baby sleep on his tummy?

So, when can we put our babies on their tummy to sleep? Please note you should check with your pediatrician, first and foremost. I am not a doctor, but it is my understanding that once your baby can roll onto her tummy, it is OK to allow her to sleep that way and you do not need to worry about continuously flipping her back over. Dr. Sears’ website states “It does not mean that if your baby sleeps on her tummy she’s going to die of SIDS. Current SIDS rates are around one in a thousand babies; meaning that there’s a 99.9 percent chance your child will remain a healthy little girl regardless of her sleep position.” HOWEVER, the AAP recommends that you place baby on her back each time you lay her down for the first year, even if she changes position later.

Some babies start to roll and don’t like it and wake you up numerous times per night. That is never fun. I was lucky that once my son learned to roll that way, he actually slept better! If your baby is rolling uncontrollably and doesn’t like it, this is usually a “short” (not when you’re going through it) 2-3 week phase and she will likely stop.

But, what about older babies?

Even though SIDS can happen anytime in the first year, the peak risk for SIDS is between 2 and 4 months old and 95% of all cases have occurred before 6 months, so that is probably less of a concern in a baby as old as 9 months old (the question at hand I mentioned at the beginning of this post). Many babies are rolling by 9 months old and likely would roll in their sleep, too.

Should you “force” tummy sleeping to get better sleep?

While encouraging your baby to sleep on his tummy when he hasn’t done it himself can work, it may be difficult to implement and not what the AAP recommends. It is best to develop a plan that you can 100% commit to and the #1 question to ask yourself when you consider a plan such as this, is whether you can stand at the crib and rub/pat his back for 2 hours. Of course, most babies probably will not take that long, but in most cases, if you had to visit this site, you do not have an “easy” sleeper and thus, certain methods may take a little longer than with other babies (especially in this case if he isn’t used to sleeping on his tummy). While some may drift off to sleep in 5-10 minutes, yours might take 30, 60 or 90 minutes. The #1 key is to be consistent with your plan, so make sure whatever you choose to do, you feel 100% committed you can stick with it for as long as it takes and then hope he doesn’t take that long. 😉 Of course, you will never know unless you try, either.

However, as with any method, you should be very careful not to create yet another sleep association that you will need to break. Don’t break one sleep association in exchange for another. That’s very important!

When did your baby start to sleep on his tummy?