Baby Sleeping On Stomach: When Is It Safe And What Are The Risks?

Baby Sleep On Her Tummy

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Sleeping positions are as important as the sleep itself for a baby. Some positions might prove dangerous as they could lead to suffocation or other breathing problems. One such position is the baby sleeping on tummy. There are several fatal risks and dangers associated with tummy sleeping, even if the baby loves sleeping that way. MomJunction answers some these essential questions on a baby sleeping in this position.

Can Babies Sleep On Their Stomach?

No. Babies should not sleep on their stomach. It is also not the correct way to position a baby in a crib during naps. Pediatric experts firmly recommend making the baby always sleep on his back (1). You should not let the baby lie on his sides unless allowed by a pediatrician. Tummy sleeping is quite normal for adults but is not advisable for babies due to potential risks. As a parent, you can help the baby sleep on his back.

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What To Do If The Baby Likes To Sleep On Stomach?

Train the infant to sleep on his back. Some infants may find it comfortable to sleep on their tummy rather than the back. If that is the case, put the baby on his back every time he sleeps on his stomach. The baby will certainly be fussy and wake up abruptly during your initial efforts. However, continue your efforts until the baby is conditioned to sleep on his back (2). Pediatric experts state that while the infant may find it uncomfortable at the beginning, most get used to it quite quickly (3). The earlier you instill the habit , the lesser are the chances of the baby preferring to sleep on his stomach.

Do note that there are a few risks if the baby does not sleep in the correct position.

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What Are The Risks Associated With A Baby Sleeping On The Belly?

A baby can be in danger of the following if he sleeps on his belly.

  • Poor oxygen intake: When a baby sleeps on his belly, his face is bound to stay close to the bedding, which can cause poor air circulation around his nose. It means he breathes in the exhaled air that is rich in carbon dioxide. It eventually reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the baby’s lungs, and cells of the body, which can cause problems in cellular metabolism.
  • Obstructed breathing due to possiting: Possiting happens when the baby regurgitates some semi-digested food from the stomach usually along with a burp. When a baby sleeps on his stomach, the possited food from the esophagus, can go downwards due to gravity, and obstruct the trachea (4). It can lead to restricted breathing and even suffocation. For this reason, babies with reflux are especially recommended by pediatricians to sleep on their backs and not tummies to mitigate the risk of obstructed breathing (5).
  • Excess heat: A baby’s body is sensitive to thermal regulation. Infants also have more surface area of skin in proportion to their body weight. It means they generate and lose about four times the body heat when compared to adults (6). Stomach sleeping has been shown to interfere with effective body heat dissipation among infants (7). This leads to an increase in the baby’s body temperature, especially during the summers. This excess heat can lead to fever and dehydration.

Interference with some body functions: Some studies have noted that babies who sleep on their backs experience a sudden decrease in blood pressure and heart rate (8). Belly-sleeping infants are also less reactive to sounds, have restricted body movement, and take longer to wake up (9). These factors have shown to increase the chances of sudden death in infants.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): The above risks of belly sleeping together contribute to an increased possibility of SIDS. The death may be due to no immediately apparent reasons, and may occur even in a healthy infant. The US National Institute of Health (NIH), states that sleeping on the belly is the highest contributing factor to SIDS (10). And, a baby sleeping on belly is nearly 13 times more likely to die from SIDS than an infant who sleeps on his back.

Sleeping on the back is thus safe for a baby as it presents no risks. However, he may not always have to sleep on his back.

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When Can Babies Sleep On Their Stomach?

Pediatricians recommend that a baby can be left to sleep on his belly when he can roll to the belly by himself, which usually happens around six months (11). But, while putting the baby in bed to sleep, ensure that you put him on his back. When he is capable of rolling, he can handle stomach sleeping better with a lower risk of SIDS, as he can roll and lie on his back again.

You could check on your baby and see how he is sleeping, especially during the nights.

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Should I Place A Baby On His Back If He Rolls To Stomach?

No. There is no need to place a baby on his back, and you can continue to let him sleep on his stomach. A newborn and a baby younger than six months are not likely to roll themselves from back to belly during sleep. It means, if placed on the back for sleep, he will continue to stay in the same position. As mentioned earlier, a baby only rolls from back to tummy around the age of six months (12). Rolling over is an essential physical developmental milestone and an indicator of healthy growth. A baby who is able to roll will certainly do great with belly sleeping without the risk of SIDS. As the baby is old enough to move by himself, he moves freely in his sleep.

Supervising the baby when he is asleep may be a good idea. But, can you let the baby sleep on his stomach, under your supervision?

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Can Babies Sleep On Their Stomach If Supervised?

No. A baby should not sleep on his belly even if you keep a watch. In fact, you should never place the baby on his belly. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommends parents to only place their baby on the back for sleep during naps or bedtime (13).

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Can Babies Sleep On Their Stomach On My Chest?

No. Sleeping on the back, in a crib is the safest way for a baby to sleep even for short naps. However, if you intend to breastfeed a half-asleep baby, then place him on his back on the bed, lie on your side beside him, and breastfeed in side-feeding position. It will help you slowly withdraw the nipple from the infant’s mouth while leaving him asleep on his back. Never settle down with a sleepy baby in an armchair or sofa as the baby may fall off. If you intend to leave the baby asleep on the bed after breastfeeding, then remove all the bedding, including blankets that could potentially suffocate the infant.

Sleep is essential for a baby to grow both physically and mentally. When a baby sleeps safely, he not only enjoys the benefits of sleep but also has a reduced risk of fatal conditions such as suffocation and SIDS. Once he can roll on his tummy or back by himself, you can leave him to sleep on his belly all night. But, sleeping on the back is the best position for infants younger than six months.

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Did you have to train your baby to sleep on his back? If yes, tell us how you did so, in the comments section below.

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