Can Newborns Sleep On Their Side? Exploring Potential Risks and Alternatives to Side Sleeping
8. 11. 2023
1. 11. 2023
It’s your newborn’s first night at home, and you’re more than ready for this new phase of life. Seeing how long they sleep, you make sure their sleeping environment is safe and comfortable.
The questions ring in your mind, “What sleeping position is safe for my newborn?” “Can newborns sleep on their side?“
Newborns are quite delicate, so it’s only expected that you worry for their safety and comfort.
With that said:
Tag along and discover if newborns can sleep on their side. We’ll also prefer safe sleep options for your baby.
Can Newborns Sleep On Their Side?
Newborns shouldn’t sleep on their side as it could increase their risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDs). You should also avoid laying them down on their stomach to prevent their airways from getting blocked. Rather, you should lay them to sleep on their backs at least until they’re 12 months old.
You might be wondering, “Why exactly is it unsafe for newborns to sleep on their side?”
The truth is:
Although it might be convenient or even a common practice, it poses serious health risks to the baby.
Keep reading to discover how newborn sleep posture affects their health and practical tips for safe newborn sleep.
Why Some Parents Choose Side Sleeping?
Some parents believe that the best position for newborns to sleep in is on their side. And generally, these parents share common reasons for believing this.
For one thing:
They believe that side sleeping is the best posture to prevent the newborn from choking while asleep.
But the thing is:
This isn’t the case at all. The National Institute of Health (NIH) says that this is a myth. In fact, according to the NIH, babies sleeping on their backs pose a lower risk of choking than sleeping sideways.
Newborns have strong reflexes that enable them to cough up or swallow any spit-up that could cause choking.
Some parents believe that babies are more comfortable sleeping on their sides.
When newborns sleep this way, their posture comprises of them folding themselves in or their arms laying over each other.
As a result:
The baby has a higher chance of waking with aching muscles and joints. And since they’re so delicate, this isn’t very good for their well-being.
Risks Associated with Newborns Sleeping on Their Side
We’ve established that newborns sleeping on their side doesn’t prevent them from choking. Plus, it isn’t the best choice for their comfort.
Aside from discomfort and choking, there are some potentially life-threatening risks of laying newborns on their side. Below, we’ll talk about these risks in detail:
1. Potential Risk of SIDS
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) says that side sleeping is one major risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
If your baby gets their hands stuck underneath them while rolling, it could press down on their chest. In turn, this could restrict their airways, thus causing sudden infant death.
It’s quite difficult to monitor your baby’s breathing if they’re sleeping on their side.
With this posture, you can’t really see the rise and fall of their chest with each breath. So, it’s difficult to know if your baby needs your help. And thus, there’s an alarming risk of SIDs, which threatens your baby’s safe sleep in this position.
2. Asymmetrical Physical Development
Think about it:
If your baby sleeps on their side all the time, the bed directly impacts their skin, muscles, and bone tissue.
And considering newborns are still developing and have generally soft tissue, this could cause asymmetry during body development.
There’s the potential for uneven head development, especially if they always sleep on one side.
The bones in a newborn’s skull are soft and flexible. This factor makes pushing the baby out possible during childbirth. However, the downside of having soft tissue in the skull is that forces can make it uneven.
As with bodily development, it’s also possible for the force of constantly lying on one side to cause head unevenness.
3. Rolling Over Risks
As we’ve mentioned earlier:
In the sideways sleeping position, it’s easy for a baby to roll over onto their stomach. In this position, the baby lays directly on their chest, which could make their breathing difficult.
It’s also possible for the newborn to rebreathe already exhaled air, which contains carbon dioxide. With time, this could pose health risks due to the lack of oxygen.
Not to mention:
Since the baby is on their stomach, it’s possible to trigger their stomachs to push food back up their esophagus. This could lead to choking and, in worse cases, SIDS.
Current Guidelines and Expert Opinions
Healthcare institutions like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stand strongly against side sleeping.
They established guidelines for ensuring safe sleep with newborns and infants. Below are some of these guidelines:
- Ensure to place newborns on their backs while sleeping.
- Newborns should have their own sleep space away from other people.
- When selecting a bed for your baby, ensure the mattress is flat with structures for protection, like bars.
- Keep loose-fitting items and blankets, pillows, stuffed toys, and bumpers away from the newborn’s sleep environment.
But that’s not all:
According to HealthyChildren.Org, infant deaths reduced in the 1990s due to back sleeping awareness.
We can infer that sleeping on their backs is the safest option for newborns and young infants.
What To Do If Your Baby Prefers Side Sleeping?
Knowing how best to put your baby to sleep might not be the issue.
It might be the baby who prefers side sleeping.
Just imagine it:
You, knowing how unsafe side sleeping is, lay your baby down to sleep. But barely five seconds later, the baby throws a fuss, fighting sleep off like a soldier at war.
This is quite a debacle.
There are effective ways to combat it. Let’s go over some of the strategies for transitioning your baby to back sleeping below:
- Ensure your baby’s sleep environment is comfortable by using a firm flat mattress.
- Swaddle your baby safely, leaving room for hand movement
- Don’t force your baby to lay on their back. Instead, gradually lay them on their back for short periods, which get longer as they adapt.
- Indulge in tummy time so your baby can improve their mobility skills.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s sleep or their behaviors when it’s time to sleep, you should see a specialist.
If your baby cries more than usual, takes long pauses from breathing, or presents with sickness, consult a pediatrician immediately.
Tips for Safe Back Sleeping
While sleeping on their back is the best posture option for newborns, you have to ensure they enjoy safe sleep, too.
From setting up their sleep environment to monitoring their sleep, there are various steps for securing safe baby sleep.
To this effect:
We’ll go over some tips for safe back sleeping below:
1. Creating a Safe Sleep Environment
To a large extent:
The safety of your baby’s sleep depends on their environment.
It’s a no-brainer:
Your baby’s sleep environment consists of the items around them while they slumber. So, to ensure they’re safe in their sleep, you must ensure this environment is free of any risk factors.
The foundation of a safe sleep environment for your newborn is a firm, flat mattress. Essentially, a firm, soft, flat mattress exerts a minimal force on your baby’s body. Thus reducing the risk of asymmetry in physical development.
You must make sure the bed is free of play toys, blankets, or extra bedding. This prevents suffocation and reduces the chances of your baby getting too hot.
2. Monitoring Baby’s Sleep
Your newborn might roll to the side or their stomach while sleeping.
And as we’ve established, that’s not good.
To know when your newborn moves in their sleep or when they wake up, you must monitor their sleep.
A great way to do this is by using a baby monitor app with visual and audio capabilities like Annie Baby Monitor. This enables you to track your baby’s sleep in real-time to know if they need your attention.
You can safely co-sleep with your baby to keep an eye on their sleep positions.
3. Sleep Aids
To put it simply:
A baby sleep aid is an item that helps infants sleep. These could range from crib equipment to pacifiers that help calm them down.
Though sleep aids aren’t really a problem, some of these sleep equipment are dangerous to newborns.
Sleep positioners, incliners, and crib bumpers can be risky to your little one. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents against using items like crib bumpers and padding in the baby’s bed.
These items can cause the baby to have breathing difficulties. This is because they either keep the baby in a particular position or lift a part of their body, thus causing restricted airflow.
When Can Babies Start Sleeping on Their Side?
The reason why newborns shouldn’t sleep on their side is because they’re delicate. Also, they don’t have the mobility to get out of an uncomfortable or even risky sleep position.
As they grow, their bodies grow stronger, and they develop their mobile skills. Eventually, they can roll over, lift their heads, and explore their world.
With this strength, they can get out of any sleep posture if it gets uncomfortable.
Babies can start sleeping on their side when they can comfortably roll over on their own.
This doesn’t happen until at least four months. At this age, they can move comfortably, even in their sleep. So it’s safe for them to stay on their side while sleeping.
At four months, it’s still not advisable to lay your baby to sleep on their side or stomach. But, if they end up rolling to their side during sleep, you have nothing to worry about.
With that in mind:
As the time for this transition approaches, remember to use a flat, firm mattress for your baby. Also, you should practice tummy time often to build their motor skills even more.
Babies are quite fragile, so even in their sleep, you have to ensure they’re safe.
It’s unsafe for a baby to sleep on their side. Instead, they should sleep on their back to reduce the risk of SIDS and asymmetrical physical development.
If your baby finds it difficult to adapt to sleeping on their back, you can help them ease into the transition by:
- Ensuring your baby’s sleep environment is comfortable
- Swaddling your baby safely
- Gradually helping them throughout the transition
- Indulging in tummy time to improve their mobility skills
While transitioning from side to back sleeping, you should avoid using posioners or dangerous sleep aids. Also, monitor your baby’s sleep to ensure they maintain a safe sleeping posture.
If you found this piece helpful, be sure to leave a comment below. Feel free to ask your questions on the topic and leave your suggestions below as well.