There once was a time when nearly every parent put his infant to sleep on her stomach. In fact, your parents probably did this with you. But today, putting a baby to sleep on her tummy is considered a serious health risk. Reduce your little one's risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by following these guidelines.
My mother summed up why parents in the past put their infants to bed on their stomachs when I brought my first born home from the hospital: "Babies need to lie on their stomachs so they don't gag and choke on their spit-up," she said. "Besides, babies are more comfortable on their tummies."
Almost without exception, infants should be put to sleep on their backs. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the First Candle/National SIDS Alliance say studies show back-sleeping reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). As proof, the AAP notes they began recommending back sleeping in 1992. Since then, they say 80 percent of parents follow their recommendation and there's been a 40 percent drop in SIDS.
SIDS (also called "crib death") is the unexplained death of a newborn--usually while sleeping. It's the leading cause of death among babies 1 month to 1 year old, killing about 2,500 American infants each year. Babies are most at risk between 2 and 4 months.
Doctors aren't exactly sure what causes SIDS. Still, the incidence drops dramatically when parents put their babies to sleep on their backs--and follow a few other guidelines, including: not smoking around the baby, not allowing the baby to become overheated through too much clothing or bedding, carefully choosing a firm crib mattress with a well-fitting sheet and never allowing any soft items, which might cause suffocation, in the crib (such as bumpers, pillows, blankets or stuffed animals).
Although the AAP recommends infants under 6 months always sleep on their backs, if your baby is able to roll over, you don't need to reposition her. Experts believe SIDS may be caused by some infants' inability to move when the air becomes stale. In other words, they can't get fresh air, so they suffocate. However, if an infant has the ability to roll over, experts say she will move when and if her air becomes oxygen-deprived.
Many infants startle more easily when they sleep on their backs. This means they may wake up and cry more often. You can help prevent this by swaddling your infant.
In addition, babies who sleep on their backs may develop a head that's flat in the back. This is temporary as long as you allow your infant to play on his stomach (with supervision), change your baby's head position each time you lay him down to sleep, and make sure your baby has plenty of time outside of car seats, bouncy seats and similar devices that press against his head.