Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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When is Stomach Sleeping Safe?

In my sleep consulting practice, I find that most babies eventually prefer to sleep on their stomachs but when is stomach sleeping safe?  There is no universal age when stomach sleeping is safe.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends putting babies down on their backs to decrease the incidence of SIDS up until the age of 1.

“Since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending this sleep on back position the annual SIDS rate has declined more than 50 percent”.

So what do you do if your child rolls onto her stomach?  Should you rush in and roll her over?    

The AAP states that “if your baby has rolled from back to side or stomach on his own, he can be left in that position if he is already able to roll from tummy to back and back to tummy.”

The idea here is that if your child has the core strength to roll over, then he has the core strength to move his head and protect his airway.  

There is no universal age when stomach sleeping is safe.  It’s all about your child’s motor development and strength.

Rolling tends to happen in the 4-5 month range.  It is an awkward period.  If your child can roll onto her tummy but not onto her back, she will not feel comfortable in this position.

Most kids will eventually sleep on their stomachs!  There is something innate about stomach sleeping for babies.  Think of when she sleeps on your chest, her face is against you.  In the crib, babies love to have their cheeks pressed against the mattress.

When your child rolls over, she may feel panicked that she can’t roll back and will cry.  Feeling “trapped” like that will prevent her from settling into sleep.  You will have to reposition her on her back.

When discussing rolling I often mention my personal mantra “We help kids who can’t help themselves.”  If she legitimately can’t roll back, you have to help her.

How can you help?

  1. You can help by repositioning her on her back OR
  2. You could help by sshhing or pat her while on her stomach to provide reassurance that she’s okay and help her get used to this new position.

What do you do if your child continually rolls over?

If your child starts making a game of rolling, meaning that he knows you’ll come in if he rolls, then you want to make it more and more uncomfortable for him so that he is not rewarded with your attention by rolling.  

You can take longer and longer to respond each time he rolls.  This will provide less of a “win” from rolling.

I use this strategy with kids who throw lovies or pacifiers out of the crib to get your attention.  Slowly take longer and longer to retrieve the item which discourages the behaviour.

baby sleeping on stomach

Note that there are products out there called “positioners” that claim to help you with your child’s rolling, but none of these are approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Lastly, remember that this awkward rolling period won’t last more than 2 weeks and you can help by giving your baby lots of tummy time during the day to help develop those core muscles needed for rolling.    This too shall pass.  Each month it gets easier!

You can hear me talk more about this topic in my YouTube video.

I have so much more to teach you about your baby’s sleep!  Come join my online class and community which teaches you everything you need to know about your baby’s sleep from age 4 months to 24 months.

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Online Sleep Class for ages 4-24 months

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