As an adult, you know how to get comfortable. Whether you sleep on your front, back, or sides – some positions help put you to sleep faster, and more comfortably, than others do.
Therefore, it would appear to make sense that the same is true for children and babies. However, when it comes to babies – this is not necessarily true. In fact, it can even be fatal.
There is a time and place for everything. Eventually, baby will be able to sleep in any position they find comfortable. (My son, Oliver, is the cutest tummy sleeper you will ever see!) Below, I talk about what is best for baby and well as when you can relax your fears about stomach sleeping.
As it is for every living creature, sleep is very important for baby. In fact, while we adults do require sleep – babies and children require a great deal more to ensure healthy development and growth. Why? When we sleep, several important things happen. First, during the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) cycle, our bodies go into a deep sleep.
During this time, our brain waves and heart rate slows down while our muscles relax. This allows the body to release growth hormones, boost cell repair, heal the body, and rest. During the Rapid Eye Movement, or REM, cycle, the opposite occurs.
Your breathing and heart rate can become erratic or increase, your brain activity picks up, and dreams occur. (I always wonder what Oliver is dreaming about. Do you ever wonder about what baby is dreaming about too?)
The National Institutes of Health also state that the pathways associated with learning and memory increase within the brain during sleep! For children and infants, this is especially important. Because of this, they require more sleep than adults do. (In fact, the necessary amount of sleep is often directly associated with age.)
For infants who are under 4 months, experts recommend a total of 16 to 18 hours of sleep a day. This includes 8 to 9 hours of sleep at night, as well as 7 to 9 hours’ worth of naps. (Naps are typically split into 3 to 5 sessions at this age.)
For babies that are 4 to 12 months of age, the total recommended sleep is 12 to 16 hours.
Since these babies should be able to sleep for longer spans of time without waking, it is recommended that they spend 9 to 10 of these hours sleeping at night, with an additional 4 to 5 hours being split amongst 2 to 3 naps. After this, overall sleep hours and the number of naps will continue to decrease.
The death of any infant is an unspeakable tragedy that most prefer not to acknowledge.
My son Oliver spent the first two months after birth in the NICU at the hospital. He was always hooked up to a hospital grade breathing monitor. It was attached to his foot and measured his heart rate, breathing and brain waves. The nurses would always keep their eyes on this data.
If there was any discrepancy in my baby’s breathing, the machine would sound off a very loud alarm to alert medical staff. This way there was no chance of a baby dying of SIDS while in the hospital.
When I brought him home he was two months old and SIDS was still a very real possibility. Just the thought of losing my Oliver is devastating in and of itself! However, in order to prevent such a tragedy, one of the things I did was purchase a baby breathing monitor and kept it on my sons body every time he took a nap.
Baby Breathing Monitors are gadgets meant to be worn on baby’s body that alert a caretaker whenever baby stops breathing, rolls over on their stomach, or falls off the bed. Find out more about baby breathing monitors here.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, refers to the heartbreaking, sudden, and unexplainable death of a baby that is 12 months or younger. While SIDS can occur at any time up until the age of 12 months, the most common victims tend to be between 1 and 4 months of age.
It can be difficult to determine what caused the death of such a young child. In fact, SIDS is often determined to be the cause only after a thorough investigation. This investigation will include things like a full autopsy, examination of the death scene and evidence, and an in-depth review of the infant’s medical history.
There is no single-known cause for SIDS. However, there are certain measures you can take to decrease the chances of SIDS. Thanks to the 1994 “Back to Sleep” campaign by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), safer sleeping recommendations have helped to reduce the amount of SIDS-related deaths.
In fact, the “Back to Sleep” campaign, now known as “Safe to Sleep”, helped to promote standards that reduced SIDS deaths by over 60%. (In 1990, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 154.4 deaths per 100,000 live births in the US. In 2015, however, this rate dropped to 39.4 deaths per the same amount of live births!)
Putting baby to sleep on his or her back has been found to significantly reduce the likelihood of SIDS. Prior to the 1994 campaign, parents were often urged to sleep on their stomachs to prevent accidentally choking to death on spit up during the night.
However, the Safe to Sleep campaign overturned this advice and recommended infants sleep on their backs. While the reason for this has never been made clear, the results are undisputable. (To set your mind at ease, studies have proven that there is no increased chance of your infant choking to death on spit up when placed on their back.)
Sleeping on their back also helps to prevent accidental suffocation.
In addition to back sleeping, reducing the amount of smothering or choking hazards in your infant’s crib is important. The crib should be outfitted with a firm mattress made for babies. A single, tightly fitted sheet should be used.
The crib should be free of soft objects, such as pillows, stuffed animals, and bumpers. In place of a blanket, a sleep sack can be used because it fits snuggly around your infant without creating a choking or strangulation hazard.
Of course, as baby gets older, a stuffed animal or blanket can be comforting and added back in. My Oliver loves his teddy bear blankey. Now that he is old enough, he falls right to sleep snuggling with it.
It is also important that your baby not become overheated. While experts are not sure why overheating contributes to the risk of SIDS, it does mean you should ignore the suggestion. Signs of overheating includes sweating, damp hair, and overly hot skin.
Most experts recommend your baby be dressed only in one layer more than an adult would find comfortable in the same conditions.
The negative effects of tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs is widely understood. During pregnancy, these things can have very serious consequences that your unborn baby will have to suffer for.
However, these activities can also have serious repercussions even after birth. Smoking in particular has been linked to SIDS. If you breastfeed, anything you put into your body can be transferred to your baby through your milk. For those who smoke around your infant, these carcinogens can be inhaled by your baby.
Both situations are dangerous and should be avoided.
Keeping baby safe, happy, healthy, and alive is obviously the biggest reason to make sure you put your baby to sleep on his or her back.
However, once baby becomes strong enough to roll themselves from back to front and vice versa, this is no longer as much of a concern. (For some babies, this may begin as early as 6 months.)
Should you continue to put baby to sleep on his or her back? Absolutely. However, this new motor skill can ensure baby is able to flip or rotate should they become uncomfortable or begin struggling to breathe. (It is also important to note that most babies naturally assume a position that does not prevent them from breathing freely.)
As pointed out earlier, everyone has a different sleeping preference.
Baby is no different. However, you can help encourage baby to at least get used to sleeping on his or her back.
For babies, like Oliver, who appear to prefer stomach-sleeping, start with helping them to spend more time on their backs even when awake. Start all naps and bedtimes with laying them on their back as well.
Should baby continue to fuss about being placed on their back to sleep, you may want to try swaddling. Babies who tend to prefer stomach sleeping often curl up into the fetal position. Oliver certainly does!
This is very reminiscent of being in the womb, which may be the reason why this occurs. Back sleeping prevents this. However, when you swaddle your baby snugly, it helps to provide the same cozy sensation they are seeking. (Always follow safe swaddling practices!
The goal is to help baby feel safe and cozy without endangering his or her life.) If baby cannot yet turn his- or herself over, and back familiarization and swaddling both fail to encourage back sleeping, it might be time to talk to your pediatrician.
This person is the single most qualified individual when it comes to determining your baby’s risk of SIDS and whether or not they are ready to start sleeping on their stomachs.
Following his or her recommendations can help to prevent a horrific tragedy no parent wants to go through.