When Can Babies Sleep On Their Stomach?

Know When It's The Right Time For Infants To Sleep On Their Stomach

It can be really scary to see a baby sleeping on their stomach. You might worry whether or not she is safe and may be unsure what you should do. This article will help you decide how to handle any stomach sleeping concerns that come your way.

What is considered safe sleep for an infant?

One of the easiest ways to remember safe sleep practices for infants is the ABC’s of sleep. A stands for Alone. You want to place your baby in his crib completely alone, without any loose objects or blankets. B is for Back. Always place your baby on his back when laying him in the crib. C stands for Crib. The only place for a baby to sleep is in a crib or bassinet, where he can lay flat. While keeping sleep safe you can also create an environment conducive to sleep. When creating a space for your baby to sleep I will often use the analogy of a cave: dark and cool is best. Ideally a temperature between 68-70 degrees is the sweet spot for optimal sleep. White noise is a great sleep aid that helps block exterior noises and relaxes the brain to help babies get into a deep restorative sleep. You could even get a little crazy and try brown or pink noise.

Is it OK for a baby to sleep on their stomach?

Your most important job for safe sleep is to make sure you put your child on her back to sleep. As your baby develops you will notice she may begin to roll, even while swaddled. This is a good indication that it is time to transition out of the swaddle. Once that transition is complete, your baby may begin to roll all the way over onto her tummy and even want to sleep on her tummy. But is it safe? After 16 weeks of age, it's generally considered safe for babies to sleep on the stomach. Always consult your pediatrician for specific guidelines about your specific baby. As long as you put your baby in her bed on her back, it is safe for her to continue to sleep on her tummy.

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What if my baby gets stuck on their stomach?

It can be really frustrating to see your baby rolling onto his stomach and then getting upset when he can’t roll back. First, know that this is very normal! Once he is able to flip both ways this stage will pass! But what should you do until then? If you’re struggling with your baby getting stuck on his tummy and he is upset about it, I usually apply the “one and done” method. You can go in once and flip him over. If he continues to keep rolling over and getting frustrated, then it’s best to leave him and let him figure out how to roll onto his back from his tummy or to stop rolling into his tummy in the first place. Babies are really smart and usually figure this out pretty quickly when we give them a little space and time. Once your baby learns this important skill, he can begin to control his body even more while sleeping and be able to find the most comfortable position for him. You can help your baby learn how to roll from tummy to back a little faster by focusing on tummy time during the day.

Is sleep on the tummy better than back?

Some babies find that sleeping on their tummy is more comfortable and when we are more comfortable we may sleep better. Sleeping on the stomach may help prevent Plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome). If your baby is most comfortable on her stomach (as long as its age appropriate) it's ok to leave her and let her sleep. Remember, If your baby is younger than 16 weeks it's recommended to flip her to her back for the safest sleeping.

What can help a baby sleep better?

In addition to some of the things we’ve already discussed, one of the most important parts to help your baby sleep better is to pay attention to wake windows. When we watch wake windows we are able to get our little ones down for a nap or bedtime before they become overtired. When a baby is overtired he will have a much harder time settling down and going to sleep. If those tools aren't helpful it may be time to consider some sleep training or consultation with a professional who can help figure out what else may be contributing to poor sleep.

What are the pros and cons of stomach sleeping?

As with adults, every child has a way in which they are most comfortable. That said, I have worked with many babies who find it most comfortable to sleep on their tummies. Once they are able to safely sleep that way, I often notice that they start to sleep much better!

What should you do if your baby only sleeps on their stomach?

Remember this will come down to how old your baby is. If she is 16 weeks or older, you don’t need to do anything if she is sleeping on her stomach. You are always welcome to try the “one and done” method (discussed above) if stomach sleep is interfering with good sleep. If she is younger than 16 weeks you’ll want to continue to safely get her back to her back for sleeping. Remember when you see the first signs of rolling you’ll want to make sure to transition out of the  swaddle.

If your baby seems to prefer tummy sleeping, then you may want to invest in a breathable mattress. There are so many great mattresses that can help keep your tummy sleeper safer while sleeping. 

Kelly is a certified sleep consultant with Little Dreamers. She lives in the Bay Area with her 3 kids and husband. She loves helping families get the sleep they deserve. You can find out more details and how to work with little dreamers here.

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