Baby Sleeping on Stomach: Is it Safe or Is It Not?

baby sleeping on stomach

It’s 3 am, and your baby is crying. You have to make a decision: do you let him sleep on his belly, or do you place him on his back? Find out the answer in the post below.

Since day one that you’ve become a parent, many people have been telling you that you shouldn’t let your child sleep on his stomach. 

But the trouble is, your child is a belly sleeper! When you put him down to sleep on his back, he’s cranky and wakes himself up immediately. But when he’s on his stomach, he sleeps blissfully. 

So, why do babies love sleeping on their tummies, and is it safe? What can you do to minimize the risk factors? 

Let’s explore the topic in more detail. 

baby sleeping on stomach

Can newborns sleep on their stomach?

Every parent has heard heart-breaking stories about babies suffocating in their sleep due to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

SIDS is defined as an infant death that cannot be explained after a detailed case investigation. As a result of the unexplained nature of SIDS, it’s a common worry among parents. 

According to the CDC, there were 1,700 deaths related to SIDS in 2017. 

Further studies show that: 

  • SIDS is the main cause of death in children between 1 month to 1 year of age in the United States. 
  • Around 90% of SIDS deaths occur before six months of age. 
  • The most common age for SIDS is between two and four months of age. 

Studies show that the risk of SIDS is greater when the baby sleeps on his tummy, but researchers aren’t entirely certain why.

One possibility is that the cause for SIDS is upper airway obstruction that can happen when an infant breathes his own exhaled breath. 

Parents are advised against placing their babies to sleep on their tummies at night until they reach the age of 1. Back-sleeping is a safer option as it increases a baby’s access to fresh air and makes him less likely to get overheated. 

As babies sleep better on their stomachs, parents can occasionally place them on their stomachs while they are awake. This practice is known as “tummy time” and is believed to prevent children from developing plagiocephaly. Plagiocephaly is a deformation of the skill that can leave babies with flattened heads.

baby sleeping on tummy

When can babies sleep on their tummy?

The risk for SIDS drops dramatically after a baby turns one. By the time they’re 1, their lung capacity would have increased, and they would have better neck control.

You shouldn’t worry about SIDS if your baby starts flipping over on his own. Once babies start flipping over on their own, that means that their brains are mature enough to alert them to breathing dangers. 

To be completely safe, ensure that your baby can roll over in both directions, stomach to back and back to stomach. 

When you’re certain that they can move in both directions, you can start leaving him to sleep in his preferred position. 

What are some tips for minimizing risk factors? 

There’s no test that can tell you if your child is at risk of SIDS. But there are some things you can do to lower the chances that it will happen.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following safe sleep recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS:

  • Share a room with your child, but don’t sleep in the same bed. 
  • Avoid exposure to smoke, alcohol, and illicit drugs.
  • The baby should sleep on a flat and firm surface.
  • Place your baby in a crib or bassinet without any additional pillows, bedding, blankets, or toys.

These recommendations apply to when the baby naps and when he sleeps at night. 

baby sleeping on belly

What if your newborn won’t fall asleep unless on his tummy?

Some babies are belly sleepers. They find it more comfortable to fall asleep while lying on their bellies. If this is the case with your child, here are a few things you can try: 

  • Give your baby a pacifier: researchers believe that when babies suck on a pacifier, they bring their tongue forward which opens the airway a little bit more. 
  • If possible, breastfeed your baby: babies who are breastfed are more easily roused from sleep than formula-fed babies. 
  • Maintain a comfortable temperature in the baby’s room: experts believe that babies who are overheated fall into a deeper sleep and have difficulties awakening if they’re in trouble. 
  • Use a white noise machine: to help your baby fall asleep on his back, try using a white noise machine. White noise can create a womb-like environment that relaxes and encourages babies to fall asleep faster. 
  • Talk to your pediatrician. if you have any concerns about your baby’s sleep, it’s best to talk with your doctor.

Final Word

Sleeping on the belly is fine when your baby starts to turn over in bed on his own.

When your baby starts rolling on his own, that means that his neck muscles have strengthened and that he has gained better head control. 

But before your child hits this milestone, he should sleep on his back until he’s at least one year old. 

If he’s a belly sleeper and has trouble falling asleep, try giving him a pacifier or playing white noise to create a calming environment. 

Sleep training is another great way for your baby to establish excellent sleep habits and for you to get the rest you desperately need.

As exhausting and frustrating it can be for you as a parent, making sure your child is safe is the most important thing. Before you know it, they will be all grown up and sleep peacefully throughout the night without your assistance.

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