After becoming a new parent, it seems like there’s a tremendous amount of information and advice to remember to keep your new baby healthy, safe, and happy. But when we talk about newborn sleep, the one thing you should never forget is to place your baby on their back to sleep instead of their front or side to eliminate the risk of SIDS. Sleeping your baby on their back (known as the supine position) every night is one of the most protective actions you can take to ensure your baby is sleeping as safely as possible.
Many new parents are puzzled about why newborns should sleep on their back and why it is the best sleeping position for newborns. The reason is research from numerous worldwide studies has shown there is a connection between the sleeping positions of babies and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and the risk is significantly reduced if your baby sleeps on their back.
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Why is it safe for babies to sleep on their backs?
Nobody knows exactly why it’s safer for your baby to sleep on their back rather than the stomach, although there are many well-respected theories:
A baby sleeping on their stomach may be lying with their face so close to the sheets that it keeps breathing the same air in and out, which can reduce oxygen levels.
No vomit risk:
If your baby vomits or spits up while sleeping on their back, it will go back down their esophagus. The esophagus is a long muscular tube that connects the throat with the stomach. It is underneath the trachea (windpipe). Sleeping on their back means gravity brings vomit back down to their stomach. When babies sleep on their tummy, the vomit will pool at the opening of their trachea. This makes it more likely your baby could choke.
To avoid suffocation:
Another possibility is that a baby can suffocate when sleeping on their stomach on a mattress that’s too soft and yielding.
It can be dangerous for a baby to lie with their face against the mattress, as it contains microbes that can interfere with the baby’s breathing.
While SIDS is yet to be fully understood, one thing we do know is that cases have reduced dramatically ever since doctors started recommending babies sleep on their backs. Your baby should always sleep on their back unless you have been given medical advice to the contrary. In rare cases, your baby may suffer from a condition in which a doctor will advise you which position your baby should sleep in.
What Is SIDS?
One of the main reasons to ensure your child sleeps on their back is to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS. SIDS is sometimes known as crib death because infants often die in their cribs. It is scary because it happens without warning. It’s also the leading cause of death in children between 1 month and 1 year of age. Doctors have been trying for many years to decrease a baby’s chances of dying. About four to five decades ago, stomach sleeping was widely encouraged for new parents. It was thought this would help prevent babies from choking if they vomited in their sleep. Unfortunately, the result was cot death, another term for SIDS. In 1992 the American Academy of Pediatrics officially began recommending children sleep on their backs to help reduce the risk of SIDS. The recommendations seem to have worked because SIDS deaths have decreased rapidly after parents started to follow this sleeping position advice.
What if a baby rolls onto their stomach while sleeping?
Most babies start rolling over between the ages of 4 and 6 months. And once they do, they decide on their own whether they want to sleep on their stomachs or sides. Don’t worry at this stage; the risk of SIDS is significantly lower anyway. It’s still best to place your baby into bed at night on their back, but no need to worry if they turn themselves while sleeping because babies with that ability have also developed the maturity to sense trouble during sleep and move into a safer position.
How to stop baby’s side or stomach Sleeping
Many babies seem to feel more secure sleeping on their stomach or their sides. If you see your newborn can’t sleep comfortably on their back, try these tricks.
Swaddle your baby:
Swaddling provides your baby with comfort and security that mimics what they feel when they were in their mother’s womb. When they feel secure and comfortable, they’ll be less likely to move positions to seek that feeling. Swaddling is a great way to comfort your baby until they’re able to roll from back to front on their own.
Say no to sleep positioners:
Some parents consider using sleep positioners for their baby who turns a lot. However, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and CDC have warned about the risks of suffocation with sleep positioners and wedges and advised avoiding their usage.
Let them reach a deep sleep:
Cuddle or rock your baby for 20 to 30 minutes until they fall into a deep sleep. The sleepier your baby is, the less likely they will change positions.
Babies follow schedules. Consistency is the key when it comes to any sleep routine. If you see your newborn is not sleeping on their back and has changed their position, don’t give up. Keep consistently placing them on their backs; eventually, they’ll get used to the position.
Can a baby sleep on their side?
All recent studies show that the safest position for your baby to sleep in is on its back. Babies sleeping on their side often end up on their tummy, which increases the risk of SIDS significantly. Routine is crucial when it comes to safety in infant sleep. Research has shown that babies usually placed to sleep on their backs but are occasionally placed to sleep on their tummies are at greater risk from SIDS. It’s therefore essential to place your baby on their back for every sleep, even daytime naps.