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Is Side Sleeping Safe For Babies?

Generally speaking, babies sleep on their backs, but is it safe for them to sleep on their side?

Worrying about your newborn is perfectly natural. Every parent worries for their child, as they should, so it’s only natural for you to do the same. One of the biggest worries parents experience is how their baby sleeps.

Today, we’re going to go over one of the most commonly asked questions by the parents – is side sleeping safe for babies?

We’re going to explore the best sleeping positions for your newborn, what can you do to make it comfortable for them to sleep, safe infant sleep basics, and should you actually worry about your infant sleeping on their side.

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    Is it okay to put a baby to sleep on his/her side?

    It is not okay to put your baby to sleep on their side. But, don’t take us at our word. Let’s further explore this question.

    The safest sleeping position for your baby to sleep in on their back, and quite frankly, most babies enjoy sleeping on their back. So, whenever you put your baby to sleep, gently lower them in their bassinet or a crib and rest them on their backs.

    An image of a baby wearing a hat while sleeping.

    Now, the reason why you shouldn’t put your baby to sleep on their side is because side sleeping carries quite a few risks.

    Why shouldn't you put a baby to sleep on a side?

    As we’ve said, side sleeping carries many risks, many of which we’ll discuss later, but for now, let’s just focus on the basis.

    First of all, most babies are restless sleepers. If you place your baby on their side, they could easily turn on his or her stomach. And, as you know, stomach sleeping is not the best option for your baby. Side or tummy sleeping – your baby might end up with their face stuck against the mattress, resulting in difficulties breathing.

    Also, the baby’s head position won’t be in the optimal position, which could also lead to an array of issues. However, the biggest scare is definitely SIDS.

    What is SIDS?

    SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the leading cause of sudden unexpected infant death. It usually occurs with babies under four months, but it can affect all babies between one month to one year old.

    Most of the time, SIDS deaths occur when the baby turns to the side or stomach during the night and suffocate. However, that’s not the only factor.

    An image of a newborn sleeping.

    Apart from tummy sleeping, the risk of SIDS increases when:

    • Mothers smoke, drink or abuse drugs during pregnancy
    • A baby is born prematurely
    • A baby sleeps in the same bed with parents.

    But, none of this shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Some of these are perfectly within your control, and for the ones that aren’t – you mustn’t feel guilty about them.

    What should I do if a baby rolls on her/his side?

    If you’ve made sure to create a safe infant sleeping environment, and your child is over six months old, fairly strong and lively, and has turned to their side on their own during the night, the American Academy of Pediatrics claims that it is perfectly safe to let babies remain in that sleep position.

    On the other hand, if you can manage to turn your baby on their back without waking them up – feel free to do so. Especially if they’re four months or younger. In fact, if they’re four months or younger, you should definitely turn them on their back.

    How to reduce the possibility of SIDS?

    Babies die suddenly very rarely, and sleep-related infant deaths are mostly preventable. There are two very efficient ways to reduce the risk of SIDS deaths.

    Put baby to sleep on the back

    The best way to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is to place your child on their back. Sleeping on the back makes turning to the stomach very hard for a newborn. If you want, you could even swaddle your baby during the early months until they can roll over independently. That should keep them safely on their backs during the whole night.

    An image of a baby laying on back and smiling.

    Remove any pillows, toys or blankets from the cot bed

    Toys, blankets, or even pillows don’t belong in a cot bed unless your baby is awake and under supervision. All of them pose a threat to your child’s life, as a sleeping baby could easily suffocate on any of the aforementioned items. So, for the first period of your child’s life – keep the cot or a bassinet empty.

    An image of a mattress in a cot bed.

    Does side sleeping prevent babies from choking?

    One of the common myths is that sleeping on their sides prevents babies from choking on their vomit or spit-up. However, that’s not true. There is no evidence to support this myth.

    In fact, it was proven that back sleeping lowers the risk of choking.

    Babies have a very developed reflex and instinct to cough out or swallow any spit-up that might occur during any time of day or night, whether they’re asleep or not.

    Flat head syndrome and sleep positions

    A flat head syndrome is not something you should be too worried about. Sure, it can happen, as babies are born with soft heads and weak muscle necks, therefore sleeping in one position alone can cause some flattening.

    However, this is easily preventable by frequently changing the position of the things your baby finds interesting.

    An image of a baby in a cotbed

    Babies tend to fall asleep looking at something, so if you move that particular thing around, they won’t ever put too much pressure on the same spot.

    However, even if you do notice flattening – don’t worry. Flattening usually goes away by itself.

    When should a baby sleep on the side?

    There are three rules when it comes to babies and side-sleeping.

    The first rule is that you should keep your baby sleeping on their back until they’re at least four to six months old. Side sleeping is not safe until they’re at least that age.

    An image of a newborn boy laying on side.

    The second rule is that side sleeping is safe for your baby if the baby’s over six months old and is turning to the side on their own. Some would say four months is enough, but let’s just keep it at six to be safe.

    The third rule is that if your baby is over a year old – it can comfortably sleep on its side.

    How to prevent babies from sleeping on the side?

    Now, let’s talk a little bit about how you can prevent your baby from sleeping on the side.

    An image of a baby sleeping on side.

    Firm surfaces

    Always use a firm sleep surface to keep your baby on its back. A softer mattress will allow the baby to sink in and easily turn to the side or even stomach, which is not something you’d want. So, buy a firm cot bed mattress for your newborn, and you should be good to go.

    Sleep sack

    Sleep sacks are sort of like sleeping bags for your little ones. They’re often used if your baby doesn’t like to be swaddled. A sleep sack should prevent your baby from turning and rolling around, and it will keep them safe and warm all night long.

    Conclusion - is it safe to leave your baby sleeping on the side?

    As you can see, back sleeping is the best. There’s no way around it.

    Even though side sleeping may not be as scary as we’re led to believe once kids turn four months – it is still better not to allow your baby to sleep on their side. The risk of SIDS is there, neck aches could be present, and overall, it’s just better for your child’s development if they sleep on their back.

    An image of a baby girl sleeping on her back.

    However, as we have learned, if your child is already strong and athletic and is over six months old – you shouldn’t worry as much if they turn to the side during the night.

    Anything else is a no-no. No tummy sleeping, no putting the baby down directly on the stomach or side. Side and stomach are reserved for the playtime – at least for the time being.

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