Is back really best? Can newborns sleep on their side? Let’s take a look at what sleeping position is ideal for your brand-new baby.
At last, your brand-new baby has arrived. Congratulations, mama!
This huge change has no doubt brought a flurry of questions with it.
Hang in there, mama. We know that this can be an overwhelming time.
We’re here to help.
In this article: 📝
- Is newborn sleeping on side safe?
- Why can’t newborns sleep on their side?
- What if your newborn rolls to their side to sleep?
- Can newborns sleep on their side in a swaddle?
- Newborns sleeping on side: The bottom line
Is newborn sleeping on side safe?
As adults, most of us—around 60%, in fact—sleep on our side. But this is something we grow into.
Despite being in the fetal position for nine months inside you, your little one shouldn’t sleep in the fetal position on the outside until they’re a little bit older.
(This isn’t always easy, we know! We’ll look into what to do with your little wriggler in a minute.)
Lying them down on their sides isn’t considered safe.
So ideally, if your baby hasn’t smashed their little fingers through their first birthday cake yet, it’s best to put them to sleep on their back.
And that goes for both at night and for naps.
Why can’t newborns sleep on their side?
If your baby is on their side, they’re more likely to accidentally roll over onto their tummies, which might make it difficult for them to breathe.
Side sleeping can also increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, which is one of the most important things to be aware of in these early weeks and months.
There are several possible causes, many of which aren’t related to sleep.
But the rate of SIDS has come down a lot since doctors started recommending that babies sleep on their back.
There are a few other risks of side sleeping, too:
Your little one has a very soft skull (which is a relief—can you imagine vaginal birth if this wasn’t the case!)
This means that their skull can flatten a little if they lie in a particular position too often.
And that’s what plagiocephaly is.
Plagiocephaly is normal and usually goes away on its own, though it’s a good idea to tell your doctor about it if you notice it.
You can prevent it by trying to alternate your baby’s head position while they’re on their back.
And tummy time, while they’re awake, is great, too.
This helps prevent a flat head and makes those little neck, arm, and upper body muscles stronger.
You might think that having your baby on their back puts them at greater risk of choking on milk or vomit.
But, in fact, the opposite is true, says the National Institute of Health.
Your little one’s body is designed to spit up anything they can’t handle, even if they’re sleeping on their backs.
Torti means crooked or twisted, and collum means neck.
Sometimes called wry neck, torticollis is something we all experience from time to time.
You know that uncomfortable sprain you sometimes feel when you sleep funny?
Babies who sleep on their side can get it too, and, in the worst case, it can affect how their muscles and bones develop.
Harlequin color change.
This harmless condition might give you a bit of a fright when you first see it.
It’s when half of your baby’s body turns a different shade to the other half because they’ve been sleeping on their sides.
It should last no longer than two minutes, and it only affects about 10% of babies.
So, with all that in mind, it’s best to keep your baby on their back as much as you can, for at least their first year.
What if your newborn rolls to their side to sleep?
Not to worry, mama—it happens.
Keeping your baby in exactly the same position is nearly impossible, especially as they grow and start to get more mobile.
If you notice that your little one has rolled over while they’re sleeping, gently roll them back to where they belong (hopefully without waking them!)
You can start worrying about this less when your little one can roll over both ways by themselves (which usually happens between four and seven months).
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still do your best to place them on their backs, but that if they roll over onto their side and they’re able to roll back on their own, they should be fine.
If your baby is developing a clear love for side sleeping, try to discourage them by swaddling them or using a sleep sack if they’re a bit older.
A video baby monitor can also help to put your mind at ease—it means you can step in if they’re heading in a sideways direction.
Can newborns sleep on their side in a swaddle?
Swaddling is a wonderful way of soothing your little Peanut because it mimics the coziness of the womb.
But back is best, mama, even in a swaddle.
Swaddling also has an end point.
When your baby is starting to roll over, it’s time to transition them out of a swaddle.
You don’t want your little one rolling over onto their tummies while they’re all swaddled-up—and unfortunately, having them on their side to begin with only increases this risk.
Newborns sleeping on side: The bottom line
Getting into a sleeping groove with the newest member of your family isn’t always easy, and your little one might have their own ideas about the best sleeping position.
But mama knows best. Try and do what you can to keep them on their backs.
And remember that this period does end, mama.
It’s just the first year that you really need to be conscious of their sleeping position.
After that first year, they are free to sleep as they wish.
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