Most babies should always sleep on their backs, since this position can help prevent the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Since 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended putting babies “back to sleep” as a way to reduce SIDS. During that time, SIDS deaths have declined 50 percent.
While babies may find lying on their sides or stomachs comforting, the safest way for them to sleep is lying on their backs. Babies who sleep on their stomachs are more likely to rebreathe air, have pauses in breathing or suffocate. Babies who sleep on their sides may accidentally roll onto their stomachs and be unable to reposition themselves. Experts now recommend that babies sleep on their backs at night as well as during naps.
Parents may worry that putting babies to sleep on their backs will increase the chance of them choking if they spit up or vomit. In fact, experts have found that babies who sleep on their backs are actually less like to choke. Parents who feel that babies sleep more soundly on their stomachs or sides may want to try other techniques, such as swaddling, to help them sleep and give them tummy time when they’re awake.
Babies who have acid reflux or special medical needs may need to sleep at an angle, with their heads raised, rather than flat on their backs. Be sure to check with your baby’s pediatrician for instructions. Parents can use firm, wedge-shaped pillows specially designed for babies, or they may have the baby sleep in a swing, such as the Amby Baby Motion Bed. Even babies with acid reflux or premature babies should still sleep on their backs unless a pediatrician specifically recommends otherwise.
Some products, such as sleep positioners, may claim to reduce the risk of SIDS or prevent a baby from rolling over during sleep. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against using such products, since sleep positioners have not been proven safe and effective and often use foam cushions that could actually increase the risk of SIDS. Also, by the time babies can roll over on their own, they already have a lower risk of SIDS.
In addition to putting babies to sleep on their backs, parents need to make sure that the baby’s sleep environment is safe. Soft bedding, pillows, blankets or stuffed animals can all become suffocation hazards. Putting the baby on an unsafe sleep surface, such as a sofa, pillow or soft mattress, can increase the risk of SIDS even if the baby is on his or her back. Parents should make sure that other care providers, such as grandparents or day care centers, also put the baby on his or her back to sleep and follow safe sleeping guidelines.