Featured Questions

Question:

But my baby doesn’t like sleeping on his back. Can’t I let him sleep on his tummy?

Response by
Betty McEntire, PhD, Executive Director, American SIDS Institute

Answer:

The most important message for all parents is that belly-sleep has up to 13 times the risk of sudden death compared to back-sleeping*. As you may already have observed, it is true that babies do tend to cry more when placed on their backs and, for many “hard to soothe” infants, placing them on their stomachs does seem to calm them and help them fall to sleep. Also, babies wake less when on their stomachs and it takes more stimulation to wake them than when they are on their backs. Another thing we know is that tummy-sleeping infants retain more heat than when on their backs.

However, parents should definitely NOT give in and place their baby on the tummy! Infants are more likely to have apnea (pauses in breathing) when on their stomachs. They are also more likely to re-breathe the air they have just exhaled, which can lower their levels of oxygen and raise their levels of carbon dioxide. The increased retention of body heat can also be dangerous for some infants. Again, the critical point to remember is that belly-sleep has up to 13 times the risk of sudden death as back-sleep*.

Stomach-sleep Back-sleep
Cries more X
Wakes more X
Harder to arouse X
More likely to over-heat X
Re-breaths more X
Increases carbon dioxide X
Has more apnea X
Spits up more same same
More likely to choke same same
Greater risk of Sleep-related death X
*SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment Task Force on Sudden Infant Syndrome Pediatrics 2011;128;e1341