Any parent who has attended an infant training class has heard that babies should sleep on their backs, but what if you baby sleeps face down? Unfortunately, while parents are told the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs, many parents do not follow this rule. Some parents seem to believe their babies will not sleep on their backs and only sleep on their tummies.
When you are a new parent, it is easy to question the advice of doctors when you are sleep deprived. But, as you will learn by the time you finish reading this article, sleep safety is not one of those things you should question. And, don’t worry. I’ll also give you some pointers on how to get your baby to sleep on his or her back.
Why Your Newborn’s Sleeping Position Matters
As you might already know, babies need a lot of sleep. Babies sleep around 16 hours a day, and they do not sleep more than two to four hours at a time – even at night. In addition to needing sleep to be healthy and grow, the way they sleep is also important.
When a baby is born in a hospital, the nurses will typically swaddle the baby to help the baby sleep. Swaddling a baby using a soft swaddling blanket makes the baby feel comfortable and prevent your baby from sudden jerks that may wake him or her awake. Additionally, when swaddled, it is much easier to put your baby to sleep on his or her back.
Most importantly, newborns sleeping positions have been directly connected to SIDS. According to experts, the safest sleep position for babies is on their backs. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports, “Approximately 3,500 infants die annually in the United States from sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); ill-defined deaths; and accidental suffocation and strangulation. The number of infant deaths initially decreased in the 1990s after a national safe sleep campaign […].”
What is SIDS?
While the previous statistic is clearly startling, it may make you feel a little less anxious to know some of the basics about SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The experts at the Mayo Clinic explain, “Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. SIDS is sometimes known as crib death because the infants often die in their cribs.”
Why Back Is Best
Simply put, back is best because it reduces the risks of SIDS. When the American Academy of Pediatrics launched the Back is Best campaign, teaching parents and caregivers to put babies to sleep on their backs, the number of babies who died from SIDS decreased significantly.
According to Healthy Children, a branch of the APP, “The exact reason for this finding is not certain, but it may be related to findings that suggest that an infant who sleeps on her stomach gets less oxygen or gets rid of carbon dioxide less because she is “rebreathing” the air from a small pocket of bedding pulled up around the nose.”
Why Would a Baby Sleep with His Face Down?
Unfortunately, some babies just seem more stubborn and seem to refuse to sleep on their backs. Some parents believe their babies are more comfortable on their stomachs where they can curl their knees up. Others believe it helps with gas. But, most likely, the main thing you have heard about tummy sleeping comes from generations before.
This is because in the past, pediatricians actually believed tummy sleeping was the safest sleep position. So, it is likely your grandparents or your parents put you to sleep on your tummy. However, even if your baby seems to fight sleeping on his or her back, studies have proven this is the safest way to avoid SIDS. Try to remember that while babies do wake up more often on their backs, this is actually a good thing.
Do Not Believe These Other Baby Sleep Myths
Some parents believe that if their babies will not sleep soundly on their backs, they should try a different sleep position. It is easier to become tired and frustrated, but do not listen when others suggest allowing your baby to sleep in a different position. Or that your baby will only sleep when held. These ideas will cause more harm than good.
And, while we are at, do not fall for the myths that all babies should be sleeping through the night at 12 weeks. This is simply not true. Babies sleep patterns vary. There will be some lucky parents whose babies do sleep at 12 weeks, but not all babies do. Plus, “sleeping through the night,” actually just means sleeping for a 6 hour stretch.
You may also have someone tell you to add cereal to the bottle to help your baby sleep more soundly. This is also frowned upon in the medical community. In fact, studies show a correlation between babies who have been given cereal before 4 months of age and obesity.
Another common myth you hear is “do not wake a sleeping baby.” This myth is not only wrong, it is also dangerous for newborns. To grow and stay healthy, newborns need to eat frequently, so even if your baby is sleeping, you should not go longer than the recommended times between feedings.
Why You Should Also Avoid Side Sleeping
As we mentioned before, some people may suggest having your baby sleep on his or her side if back sleeping seems to not be working. Side sleeping is also a risk for SIDS. This is because babies can roll from their sides onto their tummies.
You should also avoid using any sleep positioners. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, “These products—sometimes also called ‘nests’ or ‘anti-roll’ products—can cause suffocation (a struggle to breathe) that can lead to death.”
How to Get Baby to Sleep on Back
There are a few things you can do to help your baby learn to sleep on her back in the bassinet. First, develop a bedtime routine. Something as simple as bath, swaddle, a lullaby, and turning on the crib soother repeated at each bedtime will help your baby anticipate sleep time. I cannot emphasize the importance of swaddling enough. Next, give your baby some time during the day on a safe, firm surface on his or her back, so it is not unfamiliar.
Some parents find that getting their babies to sleep prior to placing them on their backs is the best method. As long as you can gently place your baby in the crib or bassinet on his or her back without waking him or her, this is a great solution. If your baby flips to tummy position, gently roll your baby over onto the back.
More Sleep Suggestions to Lower the Risk of SIDS
While SIDS is scary, you do not want to let your fears cause you to become overly anxious. For instance, Parents explains, “Currently SIDS affects about 1 in 2000 babies, meaning that there's a 99.9 percent chance that your baby will be just fine, regardless of his sleep position.” However, there are still several things you can do to help lower the risk of SIDS.
Place your baby to sleep on his or her back.
Keep the crib bare. Avoid soft crib mattresses and other crib décor.
Keep your baby in your room with you for at least the first 6 months of his or her life. However, you should not share a bed with your baby. Instead, consider buying a bassinet.
Avoid exposing your baby to smoke.
Give your baby a pacifier at sleep times.
When Can Baby Sleep on His Belly?
While SIDS is a threat until your baby reaches 12 months of age, there are other milestones in the first year that make a difference. Once your baby learns to roll over from front to back and back to front, you do not need to worry about your little one sleeping on his or her back as much. However, you should still try to encourage your baby to go to sleep on his or her back.
Additionally, many parents move their babies to their own rooms too early. While you may be ready to get your space back, pediatricians suggest your baby sleep in your room for the first year of his or her life, with your baby being in your room for the first 6 months at minimum.
To Wrap Up…
How your baby sleeps is important. It has been proven that how a baby sleeps is directly related to the risk of SIDS. While your baby may seem to sleep less soundly on his or her back, the experts all agree that this is the safest sleep positions for babies until they can roll over from front to back and back to front independently.