Safest Way for Baby to Sleep

Understand why positioning babies on their backs to sleep is truly best.

If you are pregnant or just had a baby, you have likely heard ad nauseam that your baby should be placed down to sleep on his or her back.

Perhaps your baby is fussy and not sleeping well, or has acid reflux and someone has recommended putting him down on his tummy. Or someone gave you a sleep positioner, claiming it worked like a charm.

Now you don’t know what to do.

The Safest Way for Baby to Sleep

Let me give you a little background as to why putting your little one down on her back is best.

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Background and Research on Why Back is Best

When scientists, doctors, health organizations and lawmakers began to see connections with stomach sleeping and the relatively new condition of “SIDS” in the 1980s and ‘90s, a task force was set up by the American Academy of Pediatrics to determine the safest way for babies to sleep.

Based on research, they found that putting babies to sleep on their backs significantly reduced the risk of SIDS. The “Back to Sleep” campaign (which is now called “Safe to Sleep”) was formed to get the word out.

Since the campaign was launched in 1992, the rate of SIDS dropped more than 50%.

Though doctors still don’t know exactly what causes SIDS, studies suggest  that stomach sleeping may cause the baby to overheat, cause her to rebreathe the same air with less oxygen, or have pauses in breathing and few arousals.

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Related: Ultimate Guide to Safe Sleep Practices for Baby

What About Sleep Positioners?

Side sleeping does not pose the same risks that stomach sleeping does, but the problem arises when Baby rolls to the tummy. Sleep positioners were created to solve this problem, often claiming to reduce the risk of SIDS, help with colic or gastroesophageal reflux disease, or flat head syndrome. But none of those claims have been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Thus the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the FDA warns against using sleep positioners. In fact, over a 13 year period, the CPSC ( and FDA received 12 reports of infant deaths related to sleep positioners.

What About Flat Head Syndrome?

Since babies sleep so much in the early months, there can be a worry of getting a flat spot on the back of their head. But there are a few easy fixes to that problem.

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  • Tummy Time – Supervised tummy time can start as soon as baby comes home from the hospital for 3-5 minutes, 2-3 times a day. As the baby grows, lengthen the duration and increase the frequency. This helps strengthen shoulder and neck muscles as well as improves motor skills.
  • Alternate directions when lying Baby down to sleep. The Safe Sleep Campaign suggests putting your baby down on the back with feet facing one end for a week and then the next week, lay down on the back with feet facing the other direction.
  • Limit time that Baby spends in swings, bouncy seats and car seats.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t use a sleeping tool or position babies on their tummy. The research indicates it isn’t worth the risk. Instead, it is safest if you place Baby on her back, in an empty crib, with a tight fitting mattress and a tight fitting sheet.

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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