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What Is the Safest Sleeping Position for Your Baby?

One of the most popular questions parents of newborns ask is, “How do I get my baby to sleep through the night?” Every pediatrician, grandparent, and even strangers have their secret recipe for getting your baby to sleep (and staying asleep), so you can get the much-needed rest you need.

Some of this advice is valuable. Some of it is downright dangerous.

While anyone who’s ever spent a few nights around a newborn can attest, sleep is a luxury that is hard to come by. Parents and caregivers desperate for sleep will often resort to any means imaginable to get even four or five uninterrupted hours of shut-eye.

But, take heart. You are not alone. Parents around the world can sympathize with you. It does get better. Did you know that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 90% of newborns sleep 6-8 hours straight through at night by the time they’re three months old?

Perhaps the right question isn’t “How do I get my baby to sleep through the night,” but rather, “How do I get my baby to sleep safely?”

Putting Your Baby Back To Sleep

Different babies prefer different sleep rituals and positions. And beleaguered parents are often more than willing to accommodate their baby’s preferences in exchange for some quality snooze time.

While bedtime rituals can vary and easily appeal to the baby’s whim, sleep positions should not be afforded such leniency.

According to the vast majority of pediatricians, if your baby is healthy and if you haven’t received alternative instruction from your pediatrician, the safest sleeping position for your baby is on their back.

In 1994, The NICHD launched the Back to Sleep Program, which was aimed at reducing the number of infant deaths attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS.) That campaign boasted a 50% reduction in SIDS-related deaths.

However, according to the AAP, “Since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended all babies should be placed on their backs to sleep in 1992, deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome have declined dramatically.

But sleep-related deaths from other causes, including suffocation, entrapment, and asphyxia, have increased.”

In response, the NICHD’s Back to Sleep program was re-launched with a new name. The Safe to Sleep campaign was introduced in 2012 to help emphasize a “continued focus on safe sleep environments and back sleeping as a way to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.”

Why Your Baby is Safest Sleeping on Her Back

Although the medical community can’t explain, with exact certainty, why babies who sleep on their backs are at a significantly lower risk of SIDS than those who adopt other sleeping positions, it’s generally agreed upon that babies are in less danger of suffocation while sleeping on their backs because their breathing passages remain clearer.

Some researchers argue that back-sleeping strengthens breathing mechanisms in developing infants vital to their safety. It has also been suggested that stomach-sleepers get less oxygen or possibly have difficulty ridding themselves of carbon dioxide (CO2) by “re-breathing” the air due to the baby’s proximity of its nose to the mattress.

How To Get Your Baby to Sleep Safely

Your baby’s safety is understandably one of your most important priorities. And, while it’s tempting to allow your baby to snuggle with you (who doesn’t love cuddling with a newborn!) or to let him sleep in whatever position he prefers as long as it means you can get some rest, too, it’s important to remember that your child’s safety must come first.

According to a recent Yale University and Boston University study, only 77.3% of moms regularly put their babies to sleep on their backs. In addition, non-parental caregivers are more likely to ignore the recommendations for back sleeping because they may not be aware of the recent research.

Many parents had heard grandparents remark that stomach-sleeping was the preferred method for rearing their children. If it worked then, it must work now, right? Wrong. The vast majority of the research conducted over the last few generations concludes that many infant deaths and injuries can be avoided simply by putting your baby to sleep on his back.

So, always keep in mind the ABC’s of Infant Sleeping – Alone on the back in a Crib – and follow the advice generously shared by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to ensure a safe sleeping environment for your baby:

  • Always put your baby to sleep on their back.
  • Put your baby to sleep on a firm surface, such as an approved crib mattress.
  • Do not allow soft items such as pillows, sheepskins, quilts, crib bumpers, toys, etc., near the baby during sleep.
  • Keep the baby’s face clear of obstructions.
  • Never smoke near the baby or in the baby’s environment.
  • Do not bed-share. If you prefer to co-sleep, invest in a co-sleeper bedside unit.
  • Do not overheat your baby’s sleeping room or place your baby near heating vents, air conditioning units, open windows, drafts, etc.
  • Dress your baby in light sleepwear. If the room’s temperature is comfortable for you, then it’s comfortable for your baby.

Additional Advice

In addition to the above suggestions, parents are also advised to consider the following:

  • Breastfeed, if possible. Breastfed babies have a lower incidence of SIDS.
  • Immunize your baby according to the schedule your pediatrician suggests. Research shows that adequately immunized babies have a 50% decreased risk of SIDS.
  • Share your sleeping room with your baby – just not your bed. Research shows that babies who sleep in the same room as their caregivers are safer than those who sleep in a separate room.
  • Provide plenty of tummy time for your baby. Encouraging your baby to spend time on his stomach during playtime helps her to develop more muscular neck, shoulder, and back muscles.

Play It Safe

While parents often receive well-meaning advice from friends and family, it’s important to remember that not all advice is good. When it comes to your child and their safety, there is no room for the additional risk.

It may not be easy at first, and, yes, you may lose a few more hours of sleep in the long run, but remembering the ABCs of safe infant sleeping and adhering to the guidelines above will help keep your child as safe as possible. Your baby will thank you!

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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