Discussing Babies Sleeping On Their Side: Should They, When Can They & Is It Safe?
New parents can frequently discuss in detail every single thing their newborn baby is doing. From eating to pooping to sleeping, the conversation is endless! It’s exciting having an infant and one of the things that parents love to discuss is how their baby sleeps. Some are frequent nappers, some sleep better in the morning, some seemingly don’t sleep at all… but a frequently asked question about baby sleep is can you let babies sleep on their side? We get into baby side sleep below:
Can babies sleep on their side?Some babies seem restless while they sleep and may end up in different sides of their sleep space with every sleep. As long as they remain on their back, that’s fine. But if your baby is a side-sleeper, in order to keep them safe, they should be placed on their back for all sleep until they’ve developed some upper body strength at around 4-6 months old. The main risk of letting your baby sleep on their side is that they may roll over onto their stomach. This becomes hazardous as their nose and mouth can be covered by the mattress making it difficult to breathe. Stomach sleep can also cause them to breathe in their own exhaled air which causes their oxygen levels to drop. So if you notice that your baby has rolled onto their stomach, gently put them on their back until they are able to roll over on their own – again, that will likely happen between 4-6 months.
Is it safe for babies to sleep on their side?Way back in 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) introduced the "Back to Sleep" campaign which strongly encouraged that ALL babies be put to sleep on their backs for all sleep –naps and nighttime. In doing so, the risk of SIDS was reduced by 50%.
Since then, AAP guidelines also call for “Bare is Best.” Bare simply means that baby should be put to sleep in an empty crib, on their back, in a onesie or sleep sack, on a firm mattress. That means no bedding, no blankets, no pillows and no soft toys. This too, helps to reduce the risks of accidental suffocation.
The chances of SIDS appear to be greatest for infants between 1-4 months since they’re not yet strong enough to roll over on their own should they end up on their tummy while they sleep. So until your baby has head and neck control, and the strength to roll over independently, it’s important to place them on their back. The risk of SIDS greatly reduces by the time your baby is one year old, so until then, remember back to sleep and bare is best.
Why can't babies sleep on their side?Babies who don’t sleep on their backs have a higher risk of SIDS because any other sleep position can increase the risk of suffocation. When you put your baby to sleep on their back, chances are they will stay on their back. But if your baby is under 1 year old and happens to roll onto their side or stomach during sleep, gently return them to their back. Eventually your baby will learn to roll over on their own and by the time they are 1, the chances of SIDS decreases and you may be able to sleep a little easier.
What happens when a baby sleeps on one side?Babies should always be placed on their back for naps and nighttime sleep to reduce the risks of SIDS and/or accidental suffocation. If you notice that your baby has rolled over onto their stomach while sleeping, gently roll them over onto to their back to ensure the safest sleep.
How can I prevent my baby from sleeping on their side?
It’s impossible to fully prevent your baby from sleeping on their side, but what you can do is place them in a swaddle, sleep sack, onsie or pajamas, and put them down in their crib, bassinet, or co-sleeper, and on their back for each and every nap and nighttime sleep.
Most babies start to roll over on their own by the time they reach 6 months. Until then, remember back to sleep for all sleep. If you see them on their side or tummy, gently roll them onto to their back.
Is it OK for a baby to sleep on their back with their head to the side?Some parents laugh at not just how adorable their baby looks while sleeping, but also their shape while sleeping. Some babies sleep with their arms up, legs spread, while other babies sleep with legs up, arms crossed, others wake up in the exact same position you put them to sleep in. But if you’re concerned that your baby is sleeping on their back with their head to the side, you don’t need to be. Unless it looks extreme and your baby appears uncomfortable, a lot of infants sleep with their head to one side when sleeping on their backs. Back sleep is the safest position always, until around 1 year old.
Should you reposition a sleeping baby?If you notice that your baby is sleeping on their side or on their tummy, then yes, reposition them so they are sleeping on their back. Until your baby can roll over independently, the safest sleep is back to sleep, on a firm mattress, with nothing else in the crib to avoid accidental suffocation. This will help to decrease the risk of SIDS.
When can babies sleep on their side?Every baby is different and develops at their own pace, but once your baby is around 4-6 months, and able to roll over on their own, then side sleeping is likely okay. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that the AAP recommends back sleeping for all sleep until around 1 year old when the risks of SIDS greatly decreases. Of course, if you have concerns about your baby’s sleep and notice that they tend to only want to sleep on their side, you may want to discuss with your pediatrician to make sure there are no underlying issues.