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“When can babies sleep on their stomach?” This is one of the most asked questions of new-age parents. The answer is universal yet not complicated because there is no shortage of answers from well-meaning elders, friends, and even strangers at the grocery store.
“Oh just flip the baby onto their belly” and “You slept on your belly and you survived” are some of the comments that will come your way. Yes, you did survive but many babies don’t. The struggle to find out the reason behind Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has stumped medical professionals and parents alike. One thing that they know is that the risk of SIDS can be lowered by creating a safe sleep environment.
In this article, we have brought to you all the answers to when can a baby sleep on their stomach and more! Read on for official recommendations and suggestions from approved government agencies and know what is best for your little munchkin.
Official Sleep Recommendations for Babies
A clear policy statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2016 on safe sleep had recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS that included placing the baby:
- Ina shared room (not a shared bed)
- In a bassinet or a crib with no toys, blankets, bedding, or pillows
- On their back
- On a firm and flat surface
These recommendations are applicable at all sleep times including both overnight and naps. The AAP advises using a separate surface free from bumper bands such as a crib.
How Long Should You Follow These Recommendations?
A million-dollar question is an answer to the question of how long you should follow the official sleeping position recommendations: What counts as a baby? The answer is one year. After a year, the risk of your baby having sudden infant death syndrome drops dramatically with no other health concerns. At this point, your baby can have a very light blanket in their crib while they sleep.
The longer answer to the same question is you should continue putting your child on their back when they sleep as long as they sleep in their crib. This, however, doesn’t mean they have to stay that way all night long. They may sleep on their tummies (even if they are not a year old yet).
Why Should You Follow These Recommendations?
Strictly following the guidelines kind of goes against logic because that involves:
- Sleeping with no comfort objects
- Sleeping away from snuggly cuddles from the mom
- Putting the bed in a not-so-cozy environment
However, research on when a baby can sleep on their stomach is clear about the connection between the reduced risk of SIDS and the recommendations. SIDS is said to peak between 2 months to 4 months of age. AAP first released its sleep guidelines in 1992 while the “Back to Sleep” campaign began in 1994. The movement is now known as “Safe to Sleep”.
Since the 1990s, SIDS deaths have decreased significantly. Here’s the data:
Deaths due to SIDS
When can babies sleep on stomachs is such an argumentative question when babies love doing so themselves. Researchers say it increases the risk of SIDS but they aren’t entirely sure why. Certain studies suggest sleeping on the tummy can obstruct the upper airways of young babies. Obstruction occurs when the baby breathes in their own exhaled breath leading to a build of carbon dioxide.
Breathing one’s exhaled breath can also prevent the body heat from escaping and leads to overheating which is a known risk factor for SIDS (sweating is not). However, the irony is a baby sleeping on their tummy can have a longer period of deep sleep and are less reactive to noise; an ideal situation every parent dreams of.
This exact goal that all parents aim to achieve is also what makes it equally dangerous. Belly sleepers might have a sudden decrease in their heart rate control and blood pressure. Basically, it’s safe to put your baby to sleep on their back even if that means a lighter and interrupted sleep.
Busted Myths About Babies Sleeping on Their Back
One myth that has always been lingering around when a baby can sleep on their stomachs is that if you put them on their back, they may aspirate their vomit and choke on it. This has been proven wrong and has been negated because sleeping on the back has proven health benefits such as the lowered risk of
- Stuffy noses
- Ear infections
Daily tummy time for babies aged above one year also adds to strong muscular development. Babies sleeping on their tummies also do not have flat spots on their heads.
When Can A Baby Sleep on Their Stomach: Before 1-Year-old
What should you do when your baby sleeps on their stomach on their own before they are one year old? The guidelines recommend you to turn them over on their back even if they are rolling over on their stomach naturally (which they do by the age of 6 months or even earlier).
Typically, a 6-month-old sleeping in their stomach is not at the risk of SIDS but to be on the safer side, the guidelines recommend the one-year mark. Your baby should be able to roll over consistently in both directions, back to tummy and tummy to back, before you leave them in their preferred position of sleeping.
If your 6-month-old or 5-month-old is sleeping on their stomachs that are not yet consistent or intentionally rolling but are ending up on their tummies somehow, then you need to put them back on their back. Hopefully, they will not move much throughout the night.
When Can a Baby Sleep on Their Stomach: Newborns
Swaddling can help in making your baby the happiest on the block by keeping them in position while they sleep. It is encouraged by many acclaimed pediatricians and baby book authors for a restful night for the baby. Swaddling mimics the tight conditions of the womb that prevents babies from startling themselves and turning over or waking up from their sleep.
Pediatricians also recommend using rumbling loud sounds with a sound machine to imitate the environment of the womb when babies sleep or take a nap. Sleeping on the stomach or the side is the ideal position for a baby to fall asleep. You can also hold them in these positions while you shush, swing, or sway them (not for actual sleep).
In theory, if you are alert and awake then you can allow your baby to nap on your chest as it is not inherently harmful. Make sure you don’t fall asleep or be too distracted to be at a risk to your sleeping baby. But let’s be honest here, newborn parents can’t help themselves from dozing off.
Here are some other ways to ensure a safe sleep:
- Keep the baby in your room (not in your bed) until they are one year old
- Ensure that the baby is not overheated
- Breastfeed your baby as much as possible
- Use a pacifier
When Can Babies Sleep on Their Stomach: Doctor’s Intervention
Exactly how many parents put their babies to sleep on their stomachs is a mystery because it seems to be a secret among parents. They seem to be quite hesitant to discuss it with others. However, online forums suggest the numbers could be a lot.
The big deal is that as a newborn parent you are tired and your condition shouldn’t be ignored. Unfortunately, if your baby sleeps on their tummy before they can roll over both ways, you need to put them back in their back sleeping position. This might make them fussy but that’s all you can do.
If the fussiness exists for too long your doctor is there to help. You can talk to them about your frustrations with a newborn and they will provide you with tools and tips to help you and your baby sleep peacefully.
The Bottom Line: When Can Babies Sleep on Their Stomach
Sleeping on the stomach is fine when your baby gets themselves into that position after you put them to sleep on their back. Make sure their sleeping environment has no toys, blankets, pillows, or sheets as it could put them at risk of SIDS until they are one year old. After your baby constantly rolls over both ways, from back to front and vice versa, you can safely let them sleep on their stomach but do not put them into that position yourself.
Before your baby has hit the milestone of consistently rolling over both ways they need to sleep on their back (as all researches strictly recommend). This may be hard when in the middle of the night you have to wake up now and then because your little one is awake. At the end of the day, however, this newborn phase will pass and you will be relieved because they will have chosen their preferred sleeping position. The restful nights ahead for both yourself and your baby will make you forget all the sleepless nights in a jiffy!
Safety note: Wedges and sleep positioners are not to be used while sleeping or feeding. These are padded risers that keep your baby’s body and head in one position. The Food and Drug Administration strictly advises against using these props due to the risk of SIDS.