I always love looking at my daughter falling asleep in my arms while we cuddle in our big cushy rocker. I have been delaying putting her down for quite sometimes now (and I know my husband has been patiently waiting!). Part of me doesn’t want it to end, part of me is just scared that she would wake up as soon as her back touch that crib mattress (I swear, the baby has a natural sensor somewhere that they know they are being put down). There was a time that I was so tempted to put her down on her side or tummy in hope that it would not wake her up, but I know better! Parents, that is a BIG NO NO! Let’s examine what we know about safe sleeping position for babies and debunk some myths and facts together!

Once upon a time and by that I meant a long time ago, it was okay or even recommended for babies to sleep on their tummies. However, since the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) launched the Back to Sleep campaign nationally in 1994, it is widely known that you should put your child to sleep on his/her back. As a result, the SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) rate has declined by more than fifty percent. However, there are still parents to think there would be no harm to come from tummy or side sleeping.

baby sleeping in a basket and a round feather surrounding the basket
Photo by Pixabay on

Myth: Side/tummy sleeping could prevent choking. 

Fact: Babies actually clear spit up better when placed on their back according to NICHD. Since the esophagus “food line” is behind trachea “air line” when the baby is lying on his/her back, it must work against the gravity to cause choking. On the other hand, when babies are on their stomach, it is easier for them to choke, since the vomit/spit up would pool at the opening between trachea and esophagus or in the worst-case scenario, pool between the mattress and baby’s nose. In addition, it is very easy for a child to roll from his/her side to his/her stomach, so side sleeping is NOT RECOMMENDED either.

Myth: Sleeping on the back could cause a flat spot on my baby’s head.

Fact: Even though it might happen to some babies, it is normal and usually goes away by itself as baby is getting older. Parents could prevent this by alternating the cribs position to different views (if possible!) to encourage babies to turn their heads in different directions; giving plenty of supervised tummy time during the day, and avoiding lying too long in the bassinet, bouncer or car seat. 

It is always RECOMMENDED that babies should sleep on their BACKS for every sleep count (night and naps). Some studies show that many babies who died from SIDS might have certain regions are underdeveloped in their brains, which might prevent them from waking up to remove themselves from a danger situation (i.e, suffocation). Therefore, it is probably smart to remove all the suffocation hazard from the child sleeping area including:

  • Remove all toys, loose sheet, coversheet, blankets, and any soft objects from the crib.
  • Pillows and bumper pads are NOT  recommended for crib use.
  • Use firm, age appropriate and safety-approved crib mattress.
  • Keep baby’s sleep area near but separate from adult bed.

You must be wondering if there is any exception for this back-sleeping matter. Some babies with certain upper-airway malformations and other conditions can get some relief by lying on their stomach. However, this only applies when consulted and directed by pediatrician or medical personnel, after evaluating both the risk and benefit. And even so, the child still needs to be monitored closely.

I am sure you already know most of this by now. If not (yet!), you will hear about it over and over again from birthing/preparing for baby classes, books, pediatricians and any parents that you may know. It sounds scary but knowing you did everything that need to be done, plus an investment in a good baby monitor would give you some ease and a good night’s sleep.

Anne Lonero

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