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What You Need To Know About Babies Sleeping On Their Stomach


What You Should Know About When Babies Can Sleep On Their Stomach

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.

The Importance of Sleep

baby can sleep on their stomach as soon as they can roll over 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.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

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!)

Back Sleeping

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.

Minimal Fluff

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.

Cool As a Cucumber

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.

Smoke Free

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.




Does That Mean Babies Can Never Sleep On Their Stomachs?

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.)

What If My Baby Appears to Prefer Stomach Sleeping?

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.

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Thinking that your baby will never get to wake up after putting them to bed is very scary. I remember when my sister had her first baby. She got married at a pretty young age and she didn’t know much about taking care of infants. Good thing, mom was there to assist her on the proper way of feeding, bathing and putting her baby to sleep. One thing that really stuck with me is that mom never failed to remind my sister to put her baby to sleep on her back, not on her stomach. I never understood the reason behind this at that time. Thanks for a well-explained write up.

Yes, sometimes new parents won’t be aware that their baby should be sleeping on a flat surface with no blankets until someone points it out to them. I’m glad you appreciated this article, thank you for your comment.

The safest way for a baby to sleep is on his or her back, not stomach because back sleeping reduces the risk of baby re-breathing carbon dioxide and therefore not getting enough oxygen. We should try to get baby used to lie on his or her back. If your baby just doesn’t want to sleep on his or her back, then you need to talk to your healthcare provider about whether or not it’s safe for your baby to sleep on his stomach. Great article with very helpful tips, thanks for sharing.

I had always wondered which position is best for a baby to sleep in, their stomach or back? It has always worried me that neither is a good option (how else can one sleep though?). SIDS is such a scary thing and it would certainly give me anxiety about which sleeping position is best for a baby, but I’m glad to know that Safe to Sleep has shown that a baby sleeping on their back does reduce the likelihood of SIDS. Also knowing that when a baby is strong enough to roll over, that can mean they are also strong enough to sleep on their stomachs. Thank you for sharing this article and I will make sure my co-worker reads this for her new child!

Hi Sophia, I have done a lot of research in this area as I work with infants and toddlers. Being responsible for others precious little ones is quite daunting at times and this is the kind of article that really supports the importance of doing everything in our power to protect our babies. When my own children were babies this kind of information around sleep and SIDs was not available and could have prevented many tragedies.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Cass

You are right, its very stressful having a new baby with SIDS being a (rare) possibility. Fortunately there are ways, like outlined above, that drastically reduce the chances of this ever happening to you.

Hi Sophia,

thanks for sharing a great article about back sleeping.  

We tried to put both our sons on their backs as well, or on their sides, depending.  And definitely we swaddled them until month 4 or so, or until they did not stay in the blanket snug anymore.  

And it no time, they start to roll over on their stomach, but I think it is not bad anymore by that time they can do that.  For instance, my youngest who is now 15 months old, does that all the time.  I moves around a lot in his crib while he sleeps, but it is usually on his tummy that he goes.  

SIDS has always freaked me out.  I think that is one of the reasons I keep my babies in my bedroom a long time.  I read somewhere that parental breathing helps that the baby does that too.  In fact, we coslept with our babies until they were around 7 months, and then we moved them to the crib, but close to our bed.

Thanks for sharing this valuable information,

Oscar

I think SIDS freaks every parent out because its something unexpected and deadly that can happen to your new baby, and in their sleep! How freaky is that? The good news is that is really unlikely and uncommon and mostly preventable as long as you don’t have cushions or anything fluffy that can smoother baby. You know, common sense things.

And yeah, once your baby is able to move to their stomach its pretty much okay and not worth worrying over because they most likely can roll back over on their back. Just making sure to keep your common sense and be mindful of if baby is stuck or can’t roll back. 

I think this article is great! Especially in this day and age where people are too protected from reality. SIDS is a real threat and trying not to think about it is not a good idea for anyone. I think that the more you know about the threats to your baby the better able you will be to help them survive.

I have actually read about this sock that you put on baby’s foot to monitor their breathing which is fantastic for parents. This article taught me a lot because I know know the importance of a baby sleeping on their back. Thanks for the info!

I love this article. I remember my kids an I always use to put them to sleep on their backs. I didn’t really know why I did this but it seemed to me at the time that this was the best for the baby. The death of a child must be devastating and it can be prevented many times by knowing all this amazing points you make here in your article. Your story with your son was compelling..thank you so much for sharing. 

Hi Sophia,

Thanks so much for this article. I really enjoyed reading it and I learned a lot. I had no idea that I should pay attention to my baby’s sleeping habits. For instance, I had never even heard of the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I am really thankful for you pointing out all the dangers and risks that I (and everyone else) has to look out for.

Keep up the great work!

I SO remember the days when I used to worry about putting my baby boys on their stomachs.  It was such a dilemma because I absolutely HATE sleeping on my back and it always made me wonder if my babies hated it too and that’s why they couldn’t sleep.  I somehow got through the baby days though LOL.  Great info here, because it’s just so important that they get their sleep.  🙂

Hi Sophia,

Thank’s for sharing and clearly laying a lot of thought and research into this article, which an expecting parents and anyone who would like to get acquainted with babies sleeping on their stomach will definitely find a lot of valuable information about it. 

SIDS is a scary word because we would not know when it will strikes to our babies. it’s better be on the safe side than sorry.

Glenda

Thank you, I agree SIDS is very scary but in most cases it is preventable. All new parents should be aware of the risks involved.

Hi Sophia, What a great,  thought-provoking,  post about when it would be safe for a baby to sleep on his/her stomach. It is amazing how the ideas change over time.

When I had my babies, we were taught to swaddle them and place them on their side in the crib. Two of them liked this but the third fought against it. There is no way he wanted to be swaddled.  Two of my babies slept on their stomachs almost from the outset. Well after the first couple of months anyway. The other lay on his back with his arms flung wide. I found that they soon found the position which they were happiest in.

We did not have baby monitors at that time and SIDS was a  huge concern In fact I have a friend who lost a son in this dreadful way.

Being a new parent can be so daunting. We all want to do our very best for our children and are often unsure if what we are doing is correct. In my day, the book we all had was Dr. Spock which is very controversial now. There is a lot more advice available today which is a blessing. 

I remember Dr.Spock! He had some terrible advice. Of course back then it was the best advice ever since google wasn’t around. Back in the 1920s there was an author and doctor named  Dr. Luther Emmett Holt who advised parents to put their babies in cages and air them outside their windows! Lots of parents actually did this. It was really strange but the norm back then. Goes to show you how gullible parents can be when they need to find a “valuable” source of information. 

Hi Sophia,

I’m a mother of 5 girls and a grandmother of 2 granddaughters and 4 grandsons. This is a nice article for mothers asking if it’s fine to let babies sleep on their stomachs.

Actually, my kids and grandchildren grew up sleeping on their stomachs. I never experienced untoward incidents about them sleeping in that manner. They were able to sleep longer periods of time compared to sleeping on their backs. Also, when they had colds, anything obstructing their nose just come out slowly. This helped me a lot.

We don’t have electric air conditioning in our very old house, 55 years old antique house, due to lots of holes on the way my husband’s father built this house. So, my kids easily had had wet backs whenever they sleep on their backs on hot days, which is almost every day. That’s another reason why we had them sleep on their stomach.

There might be problems of SIDS with other babies but I never had mine. I thank God for that. 

I agree with you that the baby sleeping in any way is fine as long as the baby is comfortable.

Hi Sophia,

I do not have a baby, but a close friend of mine recently added little Nina to their family.  Nina is now 2 months old and a very restless sleeper.  She makes funny noises when she sleeps (as if she is always dreaming) and this wakes her often.  I can’t remember ever seeing my friend putting Nina to sleep on her stomach, but I am not sure.  I will definitely direct my friend to this article.

My friend do put a pillow behind her back sometimes so that Nina can sleep at an angle. This seems to work a little for the restlessness.  Would you recommend this?

Thanks for sharing a great post!

Hi – I think it would be perfectly find to put a wedge or support behind Nina’s back as long as its not fluffy and in front of her. Sometimes parents put a wedge on both sides of their baby so that baby won’t roll over on their stomach when they aren’t ready to do so yet.

My mom is a baby sitter. there is no need to worry that the baby is going to choke while sleeping on the stomach. Studies have shown and proven this myth. Just make sure is bed it nicely flat. If it is a newborn, sleeping on the stomach is not advisable. 

Hi Sophia, I have a 2 year old daughter and went through this whole dilemma with her and I still go and check on her many times a night. She had a difficult introduction to the world and because if this we may have over compensated slightly. We still rock her to sleep in our arms to this day and I know we have to start putting her to bed and settle her but I am worried she won’t go to sleep as some evenings it can take a good couple of hours to get her to sleep. Do you have any advice for me.

I’m a senior nurse who works full time and most people think that I should be a natural at this because of that. But nothing prepares you for being a parent. I think we are all winging it!

Thanks Emma

Hi Emma,  while there are many books about parenting, when you have a baby, its really down to taking practical steps to solve issues and problems, such as a baby rolling on their stomach during sleep. If she is doing this in her sleep naturally, there is no need to worry. In regards to rocking her to sleep, you should stop doing that immediately. The sooner you stop the sooner you will be able to sleep train her. . You should put her in her crib whens she is drowsy but awake. She will cry and possibly make a big fuss but its natural and all you have to remember is that you need to stay consistent and don’t switch up one night rocking her and the next night not. Babies learn through consistency. 

Hi Sophia, Thank you for a wonderful article on a subject that sometimes can seem so complicated for parents to navigate.  We have a daughter that slept like a log from birth and a son that really didn’t get into a regular sleep pattern until he was 4 years old.

Of course the most stressful times for parents is in those early days when babies are more vulnerable to SIDS. It can be a worrying time, so I think offering advice on this topic will be a real help for parents.

Both our children slept on their backs in a safe environment. For me this is great advice that works to aid sleep and relieve anxiety for parents.

Great website!!  

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