Parents of newborns are concerned about making sure that their infants are sleeping in safe positions as it has been shown that higher incidents of SIDS have been linked to babies sleeping on their stomachs. That means new parents are told to put their newborns to sleep on their backs because ‘back is best’.
However, at the same time, even though the incidents of SIDS are considerably lower when the baby is placed on his or her back – parents of infants are not keen on having their babies sleep on their backs for several reasons. One reason is that babies end up having their heads going flat which is also known as plagiocephaly. Another reason that parents are often hesitant is that they fear that if their baby spits up, they can choke. These are the reasons that parents prefer to put their babies on the side to sleep.
Is Side Sleeping A Better Alternative To Back Sleeping?
The answer to that is that it depends. Yes, when babies are sleeping on their sides, they will not end up with flat heads. When infants are side sleeping, they are less likely to choke if they spit up. However, side sleeping does pose some risks that parents are not aware of, and it should only be implemented at a certain age of the infant which will be discussed in a little bit. However, let’s focus on right now the risks that your newborn can face if they are put on their sides to sleep.
The Risks Of Side Sleeping
Parents get upset about the idea of their infants’ heads going flat if they are sleeping on their backs. However, what they don’t realize is that side sleeping can increase the chances of their infants developing a neck condition called torticollis.
If you have never heard that term, in a nutshell, it is when you sleep in a poor position and your neck is sprained and you have a hard time moving it, that is torticollis. Newborns can also, unfortunately, develop the same condition from sleeping on their sides.
Torticollis can happen often from birth due to the position they were in while in the womb. And because newborns don’t move their necks very often, the condition is not easy to spot. However, the condition also happens from side sleeping because of keeping their necks to one side.
The way you may be able to tell if the infant has torticollis is if they are:
- Having the need to tilt their heads in one direction only.
- Looking over their shoulders at you or at anything instead of turning their heads.
- Having the preference to breastfeed only on one side.
- Not having the ability to completely turn their heads.
And side sleeping can most definitely cause torticollis. If you are suspecting that your infant has developed this condition, take your baby to the pediatrician that can make an assessment, and provide an appropriate exercise treatment if this is the case. Another issue that can happen as a result of the newborn side sleeping too soon is them developing harlequin color change.
Harlequin color change occurs because the blood ends up pooling in the small blood vessels on the side where the baby is lying. This causes their side of the face where they are lying on to become red or pink. And it can be concerning to look at because you would not know how this discoloration has happened. But the discoloration would be a result of this issue which results in side-sleeping too soon. Even though it is temporary and will settle within 2 minutes, you would be concerned about circulation.
However, as the baby grows and matures, this issue will go away.
And finally, the other risk of side sleeping too soon is that infants can easily roll over onto their stomachs if they are sleeping on their sides. That is because their gross and fine motor skills are too weak, and you know what the risk of that issue is about.
Now that you know that side sleeping comes with risks, even if two out of three of them are minor, it is not recommended for newborns.
When Can Infants Begin To Sleep On Their Sides?
The best time to put infants to sleep on their sides is when they are stronger overall, they are large and strong enough to lift their heads and change their positions. That means for a healthy and typically infant, it is safe for them to sleep on their side when they are 4 months old. And if your infant is 4 months old but you are concerned that their muscle tone is weak or they are not developing typically, then you will need to wait before you put your infant to sleep on their side.
However, before you start implementing side sleeping or any new bedtime routine, you will want to consult the pediatrician to get the green light.
And there is one thing to remember about back sleeping. Yes, the head will become flat, but the newborn’s head is moldable. It will not stay flat forever. And there are some things that you can do to help prevent it or to lessen the effect. One of the recommendations for that is to introduce supervised tummy time for your baby.
That means that tummy time that is supervised will not only help reduce the incidents of plagiocephaly, but it will help strengthen the infant’s body. And that will help with their gross and fine motor skill development. That means by the time your baby is 4 months old, he or she can start to sleep on their sides because they will be strong enough to change positions and to lift their heads if they must.
However, once again, before you start allowing your infant to sleep on their sides, you will need to consult the pediatrician as you are now aware that side sleeping comes with risks. The biggest risk is that they could easily flip onto their stomachs because they are too small and are not strong enough to change positions.