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Is it Safe to use a Sleep Positioner for Babies? (Hint: No, it isn’t)

Many parents of newborns find themselves in the not-so-unique position of desperately trying to find the secret to getting their baby to sleep through the night.

We spend hours rocking, walking, singing, and, yes, even begging and bargaining with our little ones in the hopes of getting three or four consecutive hours of sleep. At some point, many parents realize that their baby prefers to sleep on her side or even her stomach.

This poses a bit of a dilemma since it’s widely known that babies are safest when sleeping on their backs.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly suggests all babies sleep on their backs in a bare crib, free of any potential hazards such as quilts, comforters, toys, or bumpers.

In many cases, babies balk at this type of arrangement. They want to feel enclosed, safe, and warm. Enter the dreaded baby sleep positioner.

For many years, sleep positioners were considered a nifty aid in helping parents get their babies to sleep comfortably. But, in 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated that infant sleep positioners were unsafe due to the possibility of suffocation.

The report urges parents to avoid using positioners and, instead, adopt safe sleeping practices by following the ABC’s of safe infant sleeping:

Alone, on their Back in a bare Crib.

The report also cautions parents to beware of manufacturer claims stating that positioners can help to alleviate medical conditions or diseases.

According to the statement, the FDA “has never cleared an infant sleep positioner that claims to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS. And, there is no scientifically sound evidence to support medical claims about sleep positioners.”

Reasons Parents May Unwisely Consider Using Sleep Positioners

  • Baby prefers side sleeping. Parents use positioners in the hopes of securing their baby from rolling over and waking up because they’re not comfortable on their back.
  • GERD (Gastro-esophageal reflux disease)
  • Plagiocephaly or Brachycephaly – what we usually refer to as flattened head syndrome
  • Fear of SIDS

Side and Tummy Sleepers

Some babies plain don’t like sleeping on their backs. It doesn’t matter how securely you swaddle them or how tired they are when you put them down. Many infants start screaming when they’re left alone in a position they don’t feel comfortable.

Let’s face it. This is just one of the countless battles of will that you will engage with over the next few (18 or so) years. Stay strong. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.

Babies are safest when sleeping on their backs. Even though they won’t understand your reasoning, they will, eventually, know that you mean business.

Putting them down to sleep on their backs, EVERY TIME will eventually get your message across. They may not like it, but sooner or later, they’ll accept it. Stay strong and don’t cave into that beautiful, tear-streaked little face!

Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease

GERD is common in many infants. Very often, the valve that blocks acid from bubbling back up out of the stomach and into the esophagus isn’t fully developed in newborns.

This causes them to spit up more than usual. My daughter had GERD for the first few months of her life. It terrified me because she would often spit up in her sleep while she was lying on her back.

I was frightened she would choke. Rather than use a positioner, I held her upright for an additional twenty minutes after burping her, even if she fell asleep, to help aid her digestion.

Those extra minutes spent holding her or rocking her helped tremendously; fortunately, her GERD cleared up within a few months.

That is the case for most babies who present symptoms of GERD in their first few weeks.

Flattened Head Syndrome

Flat Head Syndrome Illustration

Many parents worry that their babies won’t develop correctly or may be experiencing discomfort or even pain when their heads start to flatten or a bald spot appears in the back of the skull due to spending too much time on their backs.

Rest assured, it’s common for a baby’s head to flatten during its first year.

Fortunately, the issue nearly always corrects itself once the baby becomes more active. Barring any medical reason for the appearance of a flat spot, it does not cause permanent damage or developmental issues later in life.

It’s always a good idea to talk about any balding or flattening with your pediatrician, but in the vast majority of cases, there is no cause for alarm.

While it’s natural for you to be concerned about your child if they develop a large bald spot or areas of flattening around their skull, it’s NEVER a good idea to resort to positioners to alleviate the problem. There are other safer alternatives.  

Recommendations To Alleviate Bald Spots and Flattened Heads in Infants

  • Make tummy time a priority.
  • Try to limit your baby’s time in his car seat or stroller.
  • Try putting your baby to bed with her head at the top of the crib one night, alternate and put her head at the foot of the crib the next night. Babies tend to turn their heads toward windows or doors. By changing the orientation of her sleeping direction, she’ll likely turn her head one way one night and the next, thereby helping offset some possible flattening or balding.


Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the sudden and unexplained death of a sleeping baby and usually happens to infants under one year of age. The thought of something so horrifying happening to a baby sparks fear in parents.

It’s important to remember that manufactured sleep aids have not been proven to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Parents are cautioned to avoid misleading claims that advertise otherwise. Instead, parents should follow safe sleeping guidelines to help minimize the risk of SIDS.

  • Always put your baby to sleep on his back.
  • Keep the crib empty except for a fitted sheet.
  • Make sure your crib and mattress meet Consumer Product Safety Standards. Share your bedroom with your baby but NEVER your bed.

As parents, we all feel desperate, at times, to reach for anything that promises rest for our tired minds and bodies. But, we must remember that safety is and always needs to be our priority.

Avoid falling prey to untested claims and promises that can cause injury or death to your baby. Don’t use sleep positioners or any other sleep aids that help the baby sleep better (or safer, or more comfortably.)

Follow the safe sleeping guidelines and know that, in time, your baby (and you) will sleep comfortably through the night.  

Kristina O'Leary

Kristina has been a freelance editor and writer for over ten years. As an editor for international healthcare professionals seeking admission to U.S. degree programs and many publications, she is a real professional in writing well-researched content.

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