If you’re a parent in the 21st century, then you’ve no doubt heard the recommendations about safe sleeping for babies, right? By now, just about every new parent understands that the safest way for a baby to sleep is on her back, and not on her stomach. Why? Because back sleeping reduces the risk of SIDS (presumably because it reduces the risk of baby re-breathing carbon dioxide and therefore not getting enough oxygen).
This recommendation was the cornerstone of the 1994 Back to Sleep campaign, and at that time, it was fairly earth-shattering. Up until 1994, parents were urged to place their babies on their tummies to sleep, since it reduced the risk that baby would spit up and then choke during the night.
But here’s what’s tricky: in our experience, some babies seem to prefer sleeping on their stomachs. And typically, once a baby can roll onto his stomach, he’ll roll mid-nap, or in the middle of the night, and end up sleeping on his stomach.
This is what we’re discussing today. If your baby just won’t sleep on her back, can you put her to bed on her stomach? And what should you do when your baby is able to roll from her back to her stomach during sleep? Should you leave her on her stomach, or should you roll her back the other way?
Baby Sleeping On Stomach: What If My Baby Prefers To Sleep That Way
Oh, this is tricky. First off, it’s important to remember that we are not in the business of dispensing medical advice here at The Baby Sleep Site®, so when it comes to determining the safest sleeping arrangements for your baby, you should absolutely talk to your healthcare provider.
That said – we’d first advise that you try to get your baby used to laying on his back. While many babies seem to prefer to sleep on their stomachs, a baby can get used to lying on his back, and will eventually grow more comfortable sleeping that way. So try this as a first step: have your baby spend time on his back, during his awake time, and try to start off each nap and bedtime with your baby on his back.
If your baby is still fussing like crazy, then you may want to try swaddling your baby for sleep. Many babies object to back sleeping because they can’t curl up tightly into their snug fetal positions, the way they can when they’re on their stomachs. But if you swaddle your baby snugly, you can re-create that cozy, womb-like feel while still placing your child on her back. Just be sure to follow safe swaddling recommendations.
What if Baby Won’t Sleep on His Back?
If your baby just will not settle and sleep on his back, however – even when swaddled – then you may need to talk to your healthcare provider about whether or not it’s safe for your baby to sleep on his stomach. No one other than your healthcare provider is qualified to comment on the safety of putting your baby to sleep on his stomach, so it’s important that you have this conversation.
Now, if your healthcare provider clears it, then you can try placing your baby on his stomach for sleeping. As many SIDS researchers point out, most babies will naturally assume the sleeping position that will allow them to breathe freely and comfortably, so provided your baby is healthy and full-term, and that your healthcare provider is on board, it is probably okay to allow your baby to sleep on his stomach, if he just won’t sleep on his back.
Baby Sleeping On Stomach: If My Baby Rolls, Can I Just Leave Her On Her Stomach?
This is a question that our consultants hear quite often in the Helpdesk, so we thought we’d take some time to answer it for you here. The fact is, while it may be relatively easy to place your baby on her back for sleep when she’s a newborn, that newborn will quickly become mobile: by about 3-4 months of age, many babies are learning to roll, and while rolling is an important milestone that paves the way for even greater mobility in the coming months, it concerns many parents when they check in on their babies and find them sleeping on their stomachs.
So what’s a safety-focused parent to do? Do you leave your baby on her stomach, or do you roll your baby over again onto her back, and risk waking her up?
Again, it’s important that you talk to your healthcare provider about your baby’s sleeping position, particularly if your baby is premature or has health problems. That said, it’s widely accepted that if your baby has the ability to roll from her back onto her stomach, she likely also has the muscle control and neurological maturity to regulate her breathing well, and to shift her position if she is not getting enough oxygen. In other words, a baby who can roll onto her stomach can no doubt sleep safely that way. Start each sleep time by putting your baby down on her back, but then, if she rolls onto her stomach, you can leave her to sleep that way.
Baby Sleeping On Stomach: As Always, Follow Safe Sleep Guidelines
It is always important that you follow safe sleeping guidelines with your baby. And if your baby will be spending any time sleeping on her stomach, then it’s downright crucial.
Here’s a quick overview of safe sleeping recommendations that you’ll want to follow in your home:
- Only allow your baby to sleep on a firm surface that’s covered by a tight-fitting sheet.
- There should be no loose bedding, soft pillows, or stuffed toys in your baby’s sleeping area.
- It’s safest if your baby is sleeping near your bed (so that you can keep an eye on her), but not sleeping in your bed, which carries risks of suffocation. (That said, we pass no judgment on parents who make informed decisions to bed-share, and who do so safely.)
- Try running a fan in your baby’s room. There’s evidence that it can reduce SIDS risks by up to 72%.
- Speaking of fans… Overheating is linked to SIDS. Dress your baby in light layers for sleep, and keep the bedroom temperature on the cool side.
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