Baby Sleeping On Stomach: Risks And When It's OK
The topic of babies sleeping on their stomachs has been around for ages. And if you’re a new parent, the contrasting information out there can be overwhelming.
You’ve probably received lots of advice from your mom or grandma, who swears by allowing babies to sleep on their tummies. However, recent research shows that this is not a safe sleep practice for your little one.
To help ease your mind, we’ll discuss some of the risks involved with allowing babies to sleep on their tummies and what you can do to ensure the safest sleep environment for your little one.
Baby Sleeping On Stomach: Is It Really Unsafe?
The short answer to this question is yes! It is absolutely unsafe for babies to sleep on their tummies before turning one. This includes allowing little ones to sleep on their sides because it's easy for them to roll onto their stomachs from this position.
Why is it so unsafe? In a nutshell, tummy sleeping increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
SIDS is one of the leading causes of death for babies in their first year of life and affects about 3,400 babies in the United States each year. While there may be different contributing factors to SIDS, allowing babies to sleep on their stomachs is a leading culprit.
As parents to tiny humans, one of our most important jobs is to create a safe sleep environment for them. So, where do you begin?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement in 2016. This statement outlines recommendations for a safe sleep environment and to reduce the risk of SIDS.
These recommendations tell parents to place infants to sleep:
- On their backs
- In a shared room
- On a flat and firm sleeping surface
- In a bassinet or crib that has no soft objects around
"Soft objects" can be anything from pillows and blankets to stuffed animals and loose bedding; they are all suffocation hazards for babies. This means that other than a fitted sheet, your baby’s crib or bassinet should be empty.
Whether you've put your little one on a sleep schedule, or you're allowing them to guide their sleeping hours, remember to always apply these recommendations to both nap times and overnight sleeping.
In addition, some researchers claim that allowing babies to sleep on their tummies can increase the chances of "rebreathing." This is when babies breathe in the air they've exhaled.
The chances of rebreathing also increase when babies sleep on a soft surface or have stuffed animals, bedding, or pillows near their faces. When a baby rebreathes their exhaled air, it lowers the oxygen levels in their body and increases the carbon dioxide levels.
While well-meaning family members may try to give you their own advice, when it comes to sleeping positions for infants, putting your baby to sleep on their back is the only safe option.
If you’re still concerned about their comfort, one of the best ways to keep your little one comfy on their back is by swaddling them. This can relax your baby and keep them feeling snug and secure while they snooze. (More on this a bit later.)
When Can Babies Start Sleeping On Their Stomachs?
As parents, we want our little ones to sleep comfortably. While it can be tempting to give them a stuffed animal or blanket, remember safe sleep guidelines are there to protect your baby. And keep in mind the infant and high-risk SIDS phase doesn’t last forever.
At around the one-year mark, the risk of SIDS drops dramatically in babies who don’t have health problems. This makes it an ideal time to start placing your little one on their stomach (or side) to sleep.
Why does age matter? As babies get older and become mobile, they gain enough strength to roll themselves back to a safe position.
However, little ones do start developing some mobility skills earlier on. For example, at around four months, some babies start rocking from side to side and rolling themselves from tummy to back. By the six-month mark, most babies can roll over in both directions.
What If Your Baby Prefers Sleeping On Their Stomach?
Some babies prefer sleeping on their tummies. You’ll know this because they’ll generally fuss less while on their stomach compared to when they’re in other positions.
If you notice this is your little one’s preference, it’s important to still put them to sleep on their backs so they get used to it.
Swaddling or opting for a sleep sack may provide your child the comfort they need while asleep. Just keep mobility requirements and safety considerations in mind as you decide what’s best for your baby.
If you’re having trouble encouraging your little one to sleep comfortably on their back, you might want to start a soothing and calming routine to help them settle and enjoy a good night’s rest.
Before starting the routine, you can:
- Dim the lights
- Check the room temperature — it’s recommended that babies sleep in a room between 68° and 72°F
- Ensure that your child’s clothing isn’t causing them to overheat
- Use a white noise machine to help cancel out outside noises (especially when you have older children or pets)
When considering a bedtime routine, choose one that you can consistently follow every night. This will help set the mood for a peaceful night’s sleep.
We also recommend following this with a massage using our Baby Oil. It’s composed of 99% plant-based ingredients, so it’s gentle enough for newborns with no yucky ingredients. It also has a soothing scent that can comfort and calm babies.
You can also try our Melting Massage Balm. Composed of 100% ingredients of natural origin, this balm has a luxurious texture perfect for baby massages.
After all that cleansing and massaging, don’t forget to care for their little bottom, too!
As you diaper them up for the night, use Mustela Diaper Cream With Olive Oil And Aloe, which moisturizes and soothes your little one’s delicate diaper area.
If your baby has a rash, it can also be extremely uncomfortable and make it challenging for them to get a good night’s rest. Diaper Rash Cream 1 2 3 helps soothe the diaper area and relieve irritation and redness.
Lastly, our daily moisturizer, Hydra Bebe Body Lotion, is packed with jojoba oil, sunflower oil, and Vitamins E and F to leave the skin soft and moisturized.
After they’re all squeaky clean and snoozy, you can opt to read to your baby, breastfeed them, or rock them gently to lull them into slumber.
What If Your Baby Rolls Onto Their Stomach During Sleep?
The good news is you don’t have to worry too much if your little one manages to roll onto their stomach while sleeping. SIDS is significantly lower in children who’ve mastered the ability to flip themselves from back to tummy.
When a child has enough strength to switch positions easily, they can sense trouble and better protect themselves by getting back to a safer position.
It’s important to note here that when you notice that your little one is becoming more mobile, it’s time to stop swaddling.
While the swaddling technique helps keep infants comfortable and protects them from their natural startle reflex, when you have a mobile child, continuing to swaddle them may be dangerous.
At this stage, they could flip from their back to their stomach and not be able to flip themselves back over because they’re snug in the swaddle material.
Note: It’s important to continue placing your little one on their back to sleep until their first birthday. However, if your little one can roll over on their own (which typically happens at around six months), it’s OK to leave them in this position.
Back Is Best
As we’ve seen from research, allowing babies to sleep on their stomachs contributes to SIDS and other hazards during the first year of their life. The best way to ensure safe sleep for your little one is to place them on their back to sleep.
Even if your baby seems to like being on their tummy, reserve this position for snuggles with mom or dad, and always place them on their back when you put them down to sleep.
We know that following all these rules may be challenging, especially when it’s late at night and you are sleep-deprived. But just hang on to the fact that the newborn phase will soon pass, and you won’t have to worry about all of these concerns forever.
For more on newborn care and the exciting stages your little one will go through, check out our blog!