Call it one of parenting’s great debates. The question of the safety of babies sleeping on their tummies has been debated millions of times and the answer appears to be, it depends on the age of the baby. In 1994 a campaign called ‘Back to Sleep’ was launched by Healthy Child Care America. In this campaign parents were told that a condition known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) could be reduced by placing infants on their backs when they put them down to sleep. In the 20 years since then the number of deaths due to SIDS has decreased substantially, but not completely. So what exactly is SIDS? SIDS is not a disease, per se. It is described as the sudden and unexpected death of an infant under the age of 12 months in which no real cause of death can be determined. In fact, SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants ages 1-12 months in the United States. About 2,300 cases of SIDS are diagnosed in the United States every year. However, babies’ sleeping on their tummies was only one of many risk factors that doctors consider to be linked to SIDS and it is believed that putting babies to sleep on their backs is not enough to eliminate the risk of SIDS. It is always a good idea to discuss any concerns about your child’s sleep habits and SIDS with their pediatrician. They alone can give you specific advice on what will work best with your child.
It is important to consider all of the factors that go along with sleep safety for a baby, not just sleeping on their back. There are several other things that parents should do to reduce the chance of SIDS for their baby.
- Place your baby on their back when you put them down to sleep.
- Avoid loose blankets, pillows and stuffed animals in the crib at all cost. It is cute to take a picture of your baby asleep next to a stuffed bear, but not a good idea in practice. Take the picture and then take the bear out of the crib. Blankets, pillows and stuffed toys can get crowded around your babies face and can block their air flow with can cause suffocation. A good rule of thumb is when in doubt, leave it out.
- Take down the crib bumpers. What are those for anyway? They are cute and colorful and look so nice in the nursery, but what purpose do they really have? The main problem with them is they are tied to the crib and are low to the mattress so babies can get tangled in them and again, their airway can get blocked which can lead to suffocation. It is safer to have your child ‘bump’ into the crib then get tied up in the crib bumpers.
- Say no to soft mattresses. So how can a surface that is too soft can be hazardous? Well, if the mattress, cushion, pillow, etc. that they are laying on is too soft the baby can ‘sink’ into it and their face can get covered or their air way blocked and once again this can lead to suffocation.
- Let them sleep in their own bed. There is research that suggests that allowing a baby to sleep in the same bed with its parents can not only result in suffocation or other injuries, but it also increases their risk of SIDS by 5 times. There are several options, such as bed side cribs, which attach to the side of the bed for parents who wish to sleep closely to their babies, can choose. This option gives parents the peace of mind of having their baby near them without the fear of the baby being harmed.
All Babies Roll Over Eventually
So what are parents to do when their baby is old enough or strong enough to roll over on their own? The answer is nothing. Parents should still continue to place their baby on their back when they go to sleep as usual. If they turn over on their own there is really nothing you can do about it and standing by the crib all night waiting for them to roll over so you can flip them back over is not an option. Your baby is just trying to get comfortable and after the age of around 4 months this will probably start to happen. The best thing to do when this does happen is to keep their bedroom at a cool and comfortable temperature and keep all loose objects (i.e. blankets) out of the crib. That way rolling over is as safe as it can be. It is also important to note that the risk of SIDS starts to decrease slightly around this age.
Some Babies Prefer to Sleep on their Tummy
A lot of babies prefer to sleep on their tummies and some even sleep better and longer on their tummy. Again, the best thing to do is don’t try to fight it. If they roll over on their own just eliminate all soft objects from their crib. It is also possible that if you continue to put your baby down to sleep on their back they will eventually get used to sleeping on their backs and will be fine doing so. Another option that some parents choose it only let their babies sleep on their tummies during the day when they take naps so that mom or dad can watch them and monitor them.
If your child is constantly rolling over onto their tummy one thing that you can do is to encourage them to do it while they are awake as much as possible. Place them on a clean floor, or a blanket on the floor while you are there lying next to them and let them play with toys. This ‘tummy time’ will help to encourage muscle strengthening in the neck and upper body of your baby. Once your baby develops the ability to turn their head from side to side the risk of SIDS is reduced even more.