Is it safe for my baby to sleep on their tummy?
Why “Back to Sleep” is important and more tips for safe sleep
“Back to sleep.” You’ve likely heard these words, which remind you to put your baby to sleep on their back because it can help keep them safe. But new parents often still have questions for me as a pediatrician about safe sleep habits. After all, sleep is a big topic of conversation in the first year!
These are a few of the common questions I get from new parents, and what I tell them:
Is it safe for my baby to sleep on their tummy? My baby seems more comfortable that way.
There are very few things in life that I use the word “always” for, but when it comes to your new baby, you should always have them sleep on their back.
The reason this rule is an “always” rule is that “back to sleep” is about SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) prevention. It’s been found that putting babies to sleep on their backs is safest in all cases.
While they’re awake, it’s great to have tummy time with your baby because it helps them develop a strong head, neck and shoulder muscles, as well as motor skills. But when it’s time for your baby to go down for the night or a nap, laying them down in the crib on their back is best.
What if my baby is rolling over onto their tummy in the night?
How old is your baby? If your baby is 3-4 months old or older and is consistently rolling over on their own, then you don’t have to worry if your baby rolls onto their tummy in their sleep. At this age, babies have developed good core strength, so there’s no need for you to turn your baby over in their sleep.
Younger babies who are placed on their side to sleep might roll over to their tummies before they are ready, so make sure your baby is put to sleep flat on their back until they’re moving and rolling by themselves.
Can I put a blanket in the crib with my baby?
Another key rule for safe sleep is that your baby should sleep in their crib alone. That means without blankets or stuffed animals.
If you’re worried that your baby might be cold, you can dress them in thicker jammies, or use a fleece-lined sleeper. I also recommend using a sleep sack, which is a safe, wearable blanket. Plus, these sleep sacks that are designed specifically for young babies act as a swaddle, which can help your baby fall asleep!
Where should my baby sleep?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your baby sleep in the same room as you (but in their own crib) for at least the first 6 months. And ideally, your baby should sleep in the same room as you for the first year. I agree with those recommendations, but where you land within that range of 6-12 months is up to you.
The most important things to remember are what I’ve outlined above: that your baby sleeps on their back, and alone in a crib. I also highly recommend having an ongoing conversation about your baby’s sleep habits with your pediatrician. Developing these sleep habits will help keep your baby safe, and will help everyone stay well rested, too!
About Elsa Nisswandt Keeler, MD, FAAP
Dr. Elsa Keeler is a pediatric physician with HealthPartners in White Bear Lake, Minn. She’s honored and inspired every day to focus her career on a positive life trajectory for the children in her practice. “Life happens in relationships,” she says. Dr. Keeler is married with grown children and always enjoys a little music, canoeing in the sun and time with family.