There are many concerns that new parents have. Perhaps the biggest of these worries is their baby’s health during sleep. Sleep is especially important to an infant’s development process, but there are countless, anxiety-inducing stories that involve sleeping babies.
For example, certain sleeping practices can raise the chances of SUDI – or sudden unexpected death in infancy. How can you avoid this, and put your mind at ease? How should babies sleep, and is there an exact position they need?
Don’t worry – you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll discuss the many different sleeping positions for your baby, ones you should to avoid, and ways you can help them sleep calmly – and healthily – throughout the night.
- 1 Babies and Sleep
- 2 Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- 3 What Position Should a Newborn Baby Sleep In?
- 4 Why is it Dangerous for Babies to Sleep on Their Fronts?
- 5 How to Encourage Back Sleeping
- 6 Tips for Baby Sleeping Positions
- 7 When Should Babies Sleep on Their Fronts?
- 8 Conclusion
Babies and Sleep
First things first – what are the risks?
Babies spend most of their time sleeping; those under 12 months old sleep 15 hours on average per day.
With this amount of time spent snoozing, it’s crucial that they rest in a healthy position – one that improves their spine’s alignment, their breathing, and their general comfort.
More importantly, the right position will lessen their chances of a parent’s greatest fear: SIDS.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Sudden infant death syndrome (or SIDS) refers to the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy infant and usually occurs during sleep. In this regard, it is also referred to as crib death.
There is still no known cause for SIDS. However, experts believe that it may be associated with breathing and the brain. The portions of the brain that control breathing during sleep may be underdeveloped; when babies should be awoken due to danger or lack of breathing, the brain malfunctions, leading to death.
According to the CDC, the most common type of SUID (or sudden unexpected infant death) is SIDS. In 2017, there were 1,400 reported infant deaths due to SIDS.
However, the CDC also reports that SIDS has lowered considerably in the past few years, declining since the year 1990. Instances of SIDS in the year 1990 was 130.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, while reports in 2017 put SIDS death at 35.4 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The CDC reports that the recent campaigns to educate parents for healthy sleeping habits helped lower statistics. While SIDS and other types of SUIDs can be scary, especially to new parents, there are precautions you can take to keep your baby safe.
What Position Should a Newborn Baby Sleep In?
Of all the baby sleeping positions, professionals agree that babies should be put to sleep on their backs. This helps safeguard them against night-time dangers in two major ways:
- On their back, babies are less prone to rolling onto their chests. In that position, they could end up suffocating against their mattress.
- Like adults, babies can breathe most efficiently on their backs, since their airway and lungs do not have any pressure on them.
As such, the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has labeled this as the best newborn sleep position.
Since 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended parents to put their baby on their backs to sleep. Since this recommendation, fatality due to SIDS has dropped more than 50%.
While efforts have been made to inform the public of the best sleeping habits, there is still misinformation – even in professional circles. Your own parents may answer that babies should be put on their front, as this was the recommended sleeping position of their time.
However, new data contradicts this, and the lowered number of fatalities due to SIDS supports it.
Risks to Sleeping on Their Back
While placing babies on their backs is the best sleeping position, there are still some risks involved.
- Positional Plagiocephaly: This condition refers to a flattened or misshapen head. This has known to be caused by putting your baby on their back too often, causing a flat spot to develop on the back of their heads.
- Brachycephaly: Brachycephaly refers to the flattening of the back of the skull. It often occurs alongside positional plagiocephaly.
- Weakened Muscles: Putting your baby on their front can increase their muscle strength, and helps them learn how to support their heads.
However, there are ways to mitigate these risks. For example:
- Babies can be placed on their front when they are awake, so long as they are supervised.
- Babies can also rest on the other side of their head, so long as they are supervised.
- Other than lying down, risks of a flattened head can be caused by sitting down, since seats made for babies often have a high back to support the head. To mitigate this risk, lessen the time your baby spends in carriers and car-seats.
- Babies tend to fixate on objects, encouraging them to stare at a single point without moving their heads. If you notice your baby doing this, try moving your baby’s crib to get them to reposition their head.
- Increasing the time spent carrying and cuddling your baby is also a good way to avoid a flattened head.
With these details in mind, babies should still be placed on their backs for naps and sleeping at night.
Why is it Dangerous for Babies to Sleep on Their Fronts?
Beyond the advantages of sleeping on their backs, why is the face-down position so dangerous?
- Sleeping on the stomach puts pressure on a baby’s jaw.
- It reduces airway and restricts breathing.
- Sleeping on the front increases the chances of rebreathing; your baby may have their nostrils very close to sheets, which means that they are breathing in the same air.
- Rather than rebreathing, your baby’s nostrils being close to the mattress increases their chances of suffocation.
- Other than rebreathing and suffocation, your baby can also breathe in microbes present on a mattress.
How to Encourage Back Sleeping
If your baby has been put to sleep on their front, they may have grown used to that sleeping position. As such, they may complain, cry, or refuse to sleep until they’re placed on their front.
While newborns lack the muscle control or strength to properly roll, as they age, they may purposefully roll onto their stomachs. Luckily, at around four or five months, their chances of SIDS are considerably less.
Even still, precautions should still be taken to ensure that your baby is kept safe. The risk of SIDS will not completely leave until one year of age.
In this case, you should encourage back sleeping by:
- Continually placing them on their back, even if they’re fussy.
- Resting them on their back in your arms, rather than against your chest.
- In the crib, placing a rolled-up baby blanket on either side of their hips, so they’re prevented from rolling.
- Swaddling them tightly (but comfortably) with a lightweight blanket, so they cannot use their arms to roll.
Your baby may require time to grow accustomed to this new sleeping position, but overall, it’s crucial to their health.
Here’s a video with more information on baby sleeping positions.
Tips for Baby Sleeping Positions
So you’ve placed your baby on their back. They’re safe now, right?
While this is your best, first defence, there are additional steps you can take when ensuring their safety. These include:
Avoiding Loose Bedding
Beddings that are loose can increase the chances of suffocation. Other than avoiding loose beddings, also avoid soft mattresses, water-beds, and sofas.
You should also avoid putting pillows, bumper pads, stuffed animals, and fluffy beddings, as all of these increase the chances of suffocation.
If you brace their body with a rolled-up blanket (to keep them from flipping onto their chest during the night), be sure to brace it near their hips. This way, they cannot accidentally press it to their face.
Avoiding Covering the Head
Anything that may cover your baby’s head shouldn’t be placed in a crib. When using a blanket, you should only cover up your baby’s chest, and tuck it under their arms.
Additionally, it’s recommended to use blankets specifically made for babies, like a ‘sleep sack’ or a ‘baby sleep bag.’ These are sleeping bags fitted with neck and armholes, but with no hood.
Alternatively, you can wrap your baby in lightweight cotton to keep their arms flush at their side, so they can’t roll over in their sleep.
Baby-Proofing Your Crib
Avoid using wedges, quilts, and comforters underneath an infant. A baby should be touching the bottom of a crib, so that they don’t wriggle underneath the bedding, where they may suffocate.
Despite this, parents often find themselves in the possession of a quilt, either because of an uninformed purchase or a gift from a loved one. If you do want to use a quilt or comforter, you can wrap your baby in it while carrying them; however, avoid using it inside a crib.
Your mattress should fit your cot, and it should be tucked into the cot so that your baby can’t wriggle underneath it. The sides of the crib should also be high enough that your baby can’t climb over it.
Babies should not share their beds with anyone, including parents, guardians, and other babies. The risk of suffocation due to the presence of another person is too high.
They may roll against them and be unable to breathe or, in the worst cases, an adult may roll onto them.
Overheating is another concern that parents should consider during a baby’s sleep time. To avoid overheating, make sure that your baby is wearing breathable clothing.
Beddings and sleeping bags should also be made from light cotton that expels heat.
Creating a Good Sleep Environment
Make sure that your baby’s room is ready for sleep. A good sleep environment includes the right temperature, a dark room, and a quiet atmosphere.
Babies should be kept in a room at around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Much like adults, babies can be woken up by uncomfortable conditions, which can damage their sleeping routine.
When Should Babies Sleep on Their Fronts?
Despite the recommended position of “on their backs,” should you ever place your baby on your front?
Technically, yes – there are certain medical reasons for sleeping on their stomachs. However, the risks generally outweigh the advantages. Here are a few examples:
Severe Gastroesophageal Reflux
Severe reflux and other upper-airway malformations (like Pierre Robin Syndrome) can obstruct the airway. As such, the new position will lessen the pressure they feel and allow them to breathe more easily.
However, studies show that the additional risks to their health do no always outweigh this approach.
Vomiting is another popular argument against putting babies to sleep on their backs. Doctors and parents alike used to believe that babies do not have the strength to turn their heads when vomiting, putting them at risk of choking on their backs.
However, this concern is unfounded. Babies can turn their heads without a problem, should they need to vomit. In fact, there is reason to believe that babies can clear secretions better when on their backs.
This is because of the trachea’s position on top of the esophagus. The position lessens the chances of secretions pooling into the trachea (causing suffocation) since they would have to work against gravity.
Parents of colicky babies may also feel like it is better to put their babies on their front. This position helps relieve them of gas, which is not only good for their health, but removes a great deal of discomfort.
However, this should only be done under your supervision, and they should always be put on their backs if you leave them to sleep.
After feeding, colicky babies should also be given some time to process their gas. Putting them directly to bed can aggravate their already uncomfortable state.
This video has more information on newborn sleep positions.
If you have a baby, it’s important to know the right sleeping position to keep them safe and healthy. This reduces their chances of SIDS and other causes of death in sleep.
While it may seem scary, especially for new parents, you’re now better equipped to keep your baby safe and sound. Rest easy – and so will they!
What are your thoughts on newborn sleep positions?