Should Babies Sleep on Their Stomachs?

Should Babies Sleep on Their Stomachs

Should Babies Sleep on Their Stomachs

Should Babies Sleep on Their Stomachs? As a new parent, we are all apprehensive. We worry about the littlest things.

Why your little guy cries too much, is he getting enough milk, is he sleeping well or why he hasn’t sprouted his first teeth.

It is part and parcel of parenting!

Yet another concern common with most parents is the issue of babies sleeping on their stomach. You’ve probably heard of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDs), and of sad stories of parents who lost their precious little ones to it. But then, yet another group of people, your grandma perhaps, sees no harm in flipping your baby on your belly.

Now the main question… Should you or should you not sleep your baby on his stomach?

This article discusses sleep-related infant death at length, the truth about it and steps to reduce the risk of SIDs.

For long, parents were advised to place a baby on the tummy. The reasoning – It would prevent spit ups and choking due to reflux. The growing association between tummy sleeping and SIDs led to several sleep campaigns decrying the practise. The 1994 Back to Sleep Campaign was the most influential. In it, the AAP declared its sleep recommendations.

Do Not Let your Baby Sleep on the Stomach, Why?

Your baby’s first year is a delicate phase and requires extra care. This applies especially to the first 6 months of their life. The majority of the recorded fatalities of Sudden Infant Death occurred in babies between 2 and 6 months of age.

A baby’s internal organs and systems continue to develop even after birth. Hence, special care must be taken to ensure that it is not hindered in any way.

According to professionals, sleeping on the stomach increases the chances of “rebreathing” in infants. The baby ends up breathing in air that he himself has exhaled. This exhaled air contains a higher amount of carbon dioxide and lower amounts of oxygen. Inhaling stale air results in low oxygen levels and increases the risk of SIDs. The brain does not receive enough oxygen, thereby impairing function.

Placing your baby on his stomach for long could also block the airway. Both the conditions can be fatal in newborns. The buildup of carbon dioxide also causes the body to overheat, yet another variable closely associated with SIDs.

Putting a baby to sleep on the belly may also cause a drop in blood pressure and irregularities in the heart rate.

On the Back – That’s the Right Way

Infants younger than 1 year should be placed on the back. There are no two ways to it.

Some parents put their baby on the stomach to keep them from crying. After a whole day of cooking, cleaning, feeding and changing, there’s simply no energy to tackle a wailing baby. True it is!

When compared, babies who sleep on their stomach:

  • Are less responsive to surrounding noise.
  • Don’t wake up as easily as those placed on their back
  • Sleep for longer periods of time.

While as a parent you may see that as an advantage, it is actually a grave danger. If a baby is not easily roused, he may not cry to alert you of his dipping oxygen levels. This has been viewed as the primary cause of SIDs.

Sleeping on the back opens up the air passage and allows the air to flow in and out unobstructed. Also, the idea that a baby might choke on vomit if placed on the back is a myth. Back sleeping reduces the risks of nasal congestions, ear infections and fevers in infants.

And, if you are worried about your little getting a flat head from sleeping on his back, that won’t happen.

Safe Sleep Conditions

Pediatricians recommend safe sleep measures for babies below one year of age.

As already mentioned, the ideal position to sleep your baby is on the back. There are other pointers in addition to this.

Try to Avoid Co-Sleeping


Cosleeping is the practice of sharing a bed with an infant. New moms want to keep their babies close. Call it the maternal protective instinct. Convenience is yet another reason for bed-sharing. Night-feeds become easier when you have your baby by your side. And finally, it’s about bonding. The warmth of the mother’s body provides the little one with a sense of security, keeps them happy and comfortable.

Bed-sharing is not often recommended as it increases the risks of accidental strangulation and suffocation. Larger, fluffy pillows, blankets and comforters may smother your little one, while you are asleep. Not just this, you may accidentally roll over your baby. It has had tragic consequences.

As such, the cases of Sudden Infant Death were noted to be higher in children who slept in adult beds than independently in cribs.

Let your Baby Sleep in a Crib

Now that you’re little one won’t be sharing your adult bed, it’s time you got him a crib. A portable crib is your best bet. This way you can keep it in your room if you are worried about your baby’s safety. It will also make nursing easier. When your child grows older, you can always shift the crib to your child’s room.

A few studies also pointed out that when babies cosleep, they wake more often; thus sleeping alone ensures they enjoy a deeper sleep.

Keep the Crib Bare

Parents often put multiple items in the crib – a favorite soft toy, bumpers to provide padding, pillows and blankets. These items can cause suffocation if not spaced well and hence are best avoided.

Some cribs come fitted with bumper pads. Remove it or if you have an option to install it, it is advised you don’t. They are a serious suffocation hazard.

Get a Firm Mattress

Soft mattresses with loose bedding are an absolute no for a baby’s crib. Choose a firm, flat mattress crib. Cover it with a tight-fitting sheet. Make sure the sheets are soft, of the recommended thread count and safety standards. A firm mattress will give you baby’s body all the support it needs.

Use a Fan

Overheating has also been linked to Sudden Infant Death syndrome. Hence, you must regulate the temperature in the room. Use a fan in your baby’s room to help with heat dissipation. Dress your infant in light clothes. Signs to watch out for are a warm body, flushed skin, heavy breathing and sweating.

Keep the Face Uncovered

If using a blanket, use a light fabric. Pull the blanket only up to the chest. Check to see that it does not cover the face, especially the nose and the mouth.

It could suffocate your little one and also cause his body to overheat. Keep your babies hands out; it will hold the blanket in place.

Calm your Baby with a Pacifier

Cranky babies do not sleep well. Try to soothe your baby before you put him to bed. It will help him sleep better. You can use a pacifier. You can also sing him a lullaby. Experts state that trying to mimic the sounds of the womb has an immediate calming effect on a baby. It is a myth that babies sleep better in a silent room. Wombs are a noisy place. In fact, a loud noise in a silent room may startle and scare a baby, making it more difficult to calm them down.

There are a few other dos and don’ts when it comes to sleeping a baby. Do not sleep your baby on your chest. He might roll over if you doze off. Do not sleep your baby with you on a couch. The softer texture of the couch puts them at a risk of asphyxiation. Side sleeping is also not safe during the first few months after birth.

What if your Baby Rolls on his/her Stomach?

As babies grow older, they learn to support their head and body, often rolling over without your help or supervision.

The concern here: What happens if your baby rolls onto this stomach mid-nap or in the middle of the night while you are fast asleep. If you roll her on her back, you are likely to wake her up.

Many babies start rolling over as early as 4 months while most of them have mastered the art by 6 months. By then, the baby’s body systems have also matured. Experts highlight that babies are often able to control their breathing and shift sleep positions based on their ability to breathe as they grow older. Thus, many sleep safely on their stomachs.

Nevertheless, you should speak to your pediatrician. Full-term, healthy babies over 6 months can be left on their stomachs for a little time. But, in the case of weaker, premature babies, you may need to be more mindful. Also, for babies as young as 4 months old, gently turn them on the back if you spot them sleeping on their stomach. Try not to stir them. You should also not leave your baby unsupervised.

When can your Little One Start Sleeping on his/her Tummy?

It is important to lay your baby to sleep on his/her back for the entire first year.

Half way through your baby’s first year, you notice that your baby has achieved major developmental milestones. He has gained weight, built sufficient body strength, can roll over and sit without support. He might also start babbling typing hard to have his baby-talk conversation with you. You may also observe increased responsiveness to sounds and familiar faces.

Such development and growth greatly reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death. Hence, it is safe to start sleeping your baby on his tummy only after his first birthday. Till then it is recommended you wait. The reason is by the age of one your little one will be able to change his sleep position independently, thanks to the developed head and neck control.

Also, after they turn one, there’s no harm adding a small pillow or a light blanket in the crib or bassinet.

For the On-Tummy Sleeper

Babies can be picky when it comes to sleep positions. Can’t blame them, we have our preferences too!

If your baby loves sleeping on his tummy, he’s not going to like the idea of sleeping on his back. It may make him uncomfortable and cranky. Prevent your nights from turning into teary struggles with these tips.

  1. Increase the time he spends on his back, especially when awake or during playtime. He will gradually get used to it and won’t mind it during nap time. Be consistent and your baby won’t have trouble with it.
  2. When putting him to sleep, start by laying him down on his back. Play with him for a while in this position before lulling him to sleep.
  3. Babies who sleep on their stomach often end up curling their body like in the fetal position.They try to create the tight and cozy feel of being inside the womb. You can swaddle your baby instead and place them on their back. It will keep them from rolling over, and also keep their flailing limbs in check. A sleep sack is a good alternative for swaddling.
  4. Be careful when swaddling as done incorrectly it may have negative impacts. Try as far as possible not to swaddle your baby in warm weather to prevent overheating. There should be three-finger space between the swaddle and your baby’s chest.
  5. Once your baby starts rolling over, you should stop swaddling him.

If you have tried all the possible strategies, but your munchkin still persists on sleeping on his stomach, you should speak to your healthcare provider. Together you’ll be able to come up with suitable sleep arrangements for your baby; one that allows him to sleep on this stomach while also keeping him safe.

So don’t ignore the sleep rules. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing it wrong all this while. Follow these sleep safety protocols and ensure your little one has a safe and good night’s sleep. Give up the habits that are impacting your baby’s quality of sleep.