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baby sleeps on belly

Mom’s Question:

If a baby sleeps on belly – how bad is that..?

My 4-month-old daughter rolls over in her sleep. She seems content sleeping like that, but I have been told that due to SIDS babies should sleep on their backs or sides for the first year.

When I put her down to sleep, I always place her on her back or side, but during the night she rolls on her belly on her own. When I move her to her side or back she wakes up and it takes a long time for her to fall back asleep.

I am worried about that my baby sleeps on belly, but I don’t know what more to do about it. Any advice?

MW


Easy Baby Life:

Baby Sleeps On Belly After Rolling Over – What To Do?

In this article…

The Problems With a Baby Sleeping on Stomach

In the best of worlds, your baby should sleep on her back during the first year, due to the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Although research is not entirely clear on why back sleeping is safer, it is shown that the back sleep position carries the lowest risk of SIDS.

Compared with back sleeping, stomach sleeping increases the risk of SIDS by 1.7 – 12.9 times – yikes! (Source.)

In addition, babies who sleep on their backs tend to get fewer fevers, stuffy noses, and ear infections. So there are many good reasons for putting your baby to sleep on their back.

Why Do Babies Roll Over in Their Sleep?

You would have thought that since most babies are taught to fall asleep and continue sleeping on their backs, they would content with that and just continue doing it.

But no.

Once they start to move around more, many babies also start moving around while asleep, and they then also tend to find new sleep positions that they prefer.

Some babies roll over and then wake up for a while before they have become used to either sleep on their tummies or to roll over to their backs again while asleep. A frustrating few weeks!

But since your daughter seems happy sleeping on her tummy, you can expect it to continue… Not an ideal situation, but read on. It is not as bad as you might think!

7 Safety Tips When Baby Rolls Over Onto Their Stomach While Sleeping

1. It is safe when they can…

However, once your baby starts rolling over and hence chooses for herself how to sleep, there isn’t much you can do!

Of course, you could set the alarm clock and turn her over, but chances are she will roll back to belly sleeping within a split second. Or, as in your baby’s case, wake up and have trouble going back to sleep again. That won’t work for any of you!

The common understanding is that when a baby is strong enough and has enough body control to roll over voluntarily, they are also at much lower risk of SIDS since they are now strong enough to lift their head and shoulders.

2. Still Put Them to Sleep on Their Backs

According to the National Institute of Child Health’s campaign for safe infant sleep, however, it is still very important to put your baby down for sleep on their back every time. If they then choose to roll over, that’s fine.

3. No Positioners or Similar Products

Do not try to prevent the belly sleeping through wedges, positioners, or similar. There have been warnings about these types of products for many years now since they have led to babies being suffocated.

4. No Swaddling

It is very important that a baby that tends to roll over, can move around freely. So for anyone who use to swaddle their baby, this has to stop immediately.

5. Tummy Time to Strengthen Her Back and Neck

Another thing, make sure to give your baby plenty of tummy time when awake and time in an upright position,  to strengthen her back and neck muscles.

You ‘ll find games to play with your 4-month-old baby here.

6. Creating a Safe Sleep Environment for a Baby that Rolls Over to Tummy Sleeping

Instead of setting the alarm clock to turn your baby around, make sure you take all precautionary steps possible to minimize the risk of SIDS.

Take away any pillows and blankets and make sure you use a firm mattress in her crib. For a list of SIDS prevention tips click here.

7. Careful co-sleeping

If you co-sleep with your baby, it is now very important to make sure there is absolutely no risk that your baby falls under a blanket or pillow, rolls towards your body, and can’t breathe, or in any other way gets overheated or has difficulties finding air.

Also, mention your situation for your daughter’s health care provider, to discuss any particular precautions suitable for your baby.

Since you are worried, it might be nice for you to know that 90% of all cases of SIDS occur for babies younger than 6 months old. The risk is highest when the baby is between 3 and 4 months old and then it falls rapidly.

I wish you good luck!

Paula

Who else’s baby sleeps on belly? Add your comments below.

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This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Congested baby...

    My son is two months old, so I know he is in the high risk category, however, the only way I can get him to sleep at all is on his tummy.

    We have tried the sleep positioner but it is not strong enough to hold him on his side and as soon as he goes on his back he becomes heavily congested and cannot breathe.

    The only way he can sleep, aside from one of us staying awake holding him upright is on his tummy.
    I am absolutely terrified of SIDS and have put him on a hard mattress in an empty cot, he sleeps in a gro-bag. Is there anything else I can do to keep him safe?

    The congestion on his back is very severe and the doctors keep saying that he will grow out of it but it seems to be the milk running back up his nose and there is nothing I can do to stop that.

    Thanks for you help

    1. Paula @ EasyBabyLife

      Hi mom,

      I understand that you’re worried since your 2 months old can’t sleep on his back. Have you tried raising the head end of his bed? You could, for example, put some heavy books under the legs of his bed. That way he will sleep in a more upright position despite being in his crib and not in your arms.

      Give it a try and see if it makes any difference.

      You can also ask your baby doctor for advice. Reflex in babies is quite common.

      In the daytime, you can also try keeping him in a like this Moby Wrap sling (Amazon), so that you can carry on with your chores while he is asleep.

      Warm wishes,

      Paula

      1. Avatar
        Congested baby...

        Hi Paula
        We had him at an angle on his back as well but the milk still runs up his nose and makes no difference to the congestion.

        The doctors say he will grow out the milk running upwards, we keep him upright for half an hour after a feed but it still happens.

        Is this a maturity thing?
        Thanks

        1. Paula @ EasyBabyLife

          Yes, I think that is correct; it is a maturity thing. My sister’s son, who was born early had this problem for quite a while. They couldn’t even lift up his legs to change diapers without him choking on milk. Their doctor told them exactly the same thing; that it was a maturity thing.

          I don’t remember when he grew out of it, but obviously that differs between children. If your baby continues to have this problem, head back to the doctor to discuss it. Babies that are diagnosed with Acid Reflux, can have additional help and medication. (It does take more than them throwing up milk to get that diagnosis, but it can still be worth discussing with the doctor if the problems don’t disappear.)

          Too bad that the angle on his bed didn’t help. Come to think of it, my sister’s son actually also could only sleep on his belly too. It is scary and it is far from optimal, but it is a fact for some babies. In addition to what you already do, check out the guidelines here, to see if there is anything else you can do to create a safe sleep environment for your boy.

          And please talk to your baby’s doctor before letting him fall asleep on his tummy.

          Best,

          Paula

  2. Avatar
    Melissa

    I breastfeed my 8-month-old baby daughter and up until a week ago she slept in the bed with us and always slept on her side or back.

    I started sleep training a week ago and since I completely weaned the night feedings she sleeps through the night only when she rolls over to her belly on her own. However, her “pacifier” and soother is a blankey in which she puts near her face and cuddles it.

    I am very worried about this because of SIDS. I know that her age decreases the risk but she refuses to roll over during the day when she ends up on her tummy and throws a fit. I just don’t understand why now she is doing it and would always sleep on her back/side before.

    If I go in to check on her and move her it takes forever to get her back to sleep, and then wakes more frequently during the night or ends up rolling back over.

    My friend’s 10 month old sleeps on her tummy as well but with her butt in the air, and she can crawl and has the upper body strength to move around freely. I would put her in a sleep positioner but I think she would just scoot out of it. Do you think I should just let her be since she is FINALLY sleeping through the night and is happy? This is my first child so I’m sure you understand how worried I am.

    1. Paula @ EasyBabyLife

      I understand that you are worried, but since your baby is so “old” and hence strong enough to lift her head and obviously to roll over, the risk of SIDS isn’t very big anymore. And in any case, there is no way that you can stop her from sleeping on her belly if that is what she prefers.

      Instead, take all possible steps to make her sleep environment as safe as possible. In this article, you can read more about how to create the safest possible sleep environment for your baby.

      Warm wishes,

      Paula

  3. Avatar
    tummy sleeping

    Most health-care providers will tell you that by the time a baby can roll over by themselves, it is alright for them to sleep on their tummies. The reason for this is that if the baby’s airway becomes obstructed due to being on their stomach, they’re able to turn themselves over, or, because of better head/neck control, they can simply turn their heads to breathe better.

    My two month old will only sleep on his own if he’s on his tummy, but he can’t turn over yet, so sometimes I’ve found him head-down, unable to breathe well, which FREAKED me out!

    He has pretty much complete control over his neck, but can’t turn over yet, so I pretty much just have to contend with him sleeping on me at night…for now.

  4. Avatar
    Kristen C

    My son is 7 months old and I have always put him to sleep on his back. In doing so he has always been a very loud sleeper (snoring, frequent wake ups, strange breathing sounds) so at nap time I tried letting him sleep on his belly and he was as quiet as a mouse and seemed to have a much more peaceful sleep. Although this makes me nervous I think he’s ready for stomach sleeping. Any advice??

    1. Paula @ EasyBabyLife

      Hi Kristen,
      This is a tricky situation since your baby is so “old”. However, the advice is still to put your baby to sleep on his back until he is one year old. If he rolls over naturally, you can let him continue to sleep on his stomach. But for his safety, you shouldn’t put him down for sleep that way.

      Hang in there!

  5. Avatar
    Natural belly sleeper

    Hi. My baby is 7 weeks old and she sleeps much longer (3 hrs straight) on her belly and she does not spit up at all. Is this bad practice? Since we put her on her belly, there has not been any spit ups through her nose at all. Occasionally, she spits up through her mouth, but not nose.

    Is this bad for her?

    1. Paula @ EasyBabyLife

      I know very well how scary it seems when your baby spits up through the mouth and nose while sleeping. However, according to all doctors I’ve talked to, as well as watching my own babies, as long as they are free to move their heads (no fluffy pillows), the spitting is not dangerous at all.

      Many babies sleep better on their belly, but research is quite clear on the increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by doing that.

      So, if I were you, I’d try to endure having your baby sleeping on her back until she is at least 4 months old (preferably during her whole first year or until she starts rolling over by herself).

      Of course, if your baby spits so much that she doesn’t gain weight or seems to be ill, contact a doctor.

      For some tips on how to help you, mom, sleep better despite your baby waking up, read this article.

      Paula