Baby Sleeping on Stomach

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Do you ALWAYS put baby to sleep on his back?

August 2005

Ok, we all know that one should always put one's baby to sleep on his back. What I want to know is how many of you ALWAYS do that. What about the baby that has a difficult time sleeping on his or her back? Obviously I don't want anything bad to happen to my baby, but my feeling is that he'd nap much better on his tummy than on his back. Needless to say I don't want my baby to die of SIDS, but it would be great if he could sleep a couple of hours on his tummy. Your thoughts on the matter are appreciated. Anon

I do think babies sleep better on the tummy. However, until they are rolling over on their tummies of their own accord I don't recommend you taking the chance.

We were big fans of the tight swaddle and found our son slept very well if he was burritoed up really well. The startling would wake him up and the swaddle prevented this. My mother was kind of disturbed that we swaddled as late as five months if necessary, but we have a very good sleeper now.

If you haven't read it, I recommend Happiest Baby on the Block. I followed his instructions to the letter and I fully believe in that method. anon

I was the poster on the Jan '02 question: ''3-month-old won't sleep on his back.'' My son is now almost four years old and has almost always preferred sleeping on his stomach. We started by letting him nap on his stomach so we could watch him more carefully. But then he pretty much insisted on doing that all night as well. He co-slept with us till he was almost two and for the first year I was very nervous about his tummy sleeping. I guess, for that reason, it was good that he woke up so much! His pediatrician didn't seem too worried about it, especially since he was a healthy weight, had no medical problems, and my husband and I are not drinkers/smokers/drug users (other risk factors for SIDS). My second son has always preferred sleeping on his back but if he was like my first, I wouldn't have worried about it. You could do as our ped recommended and wedge your baby on his side. If he sleeps in a crib, even better. --Happy sleeping!

Our child had reflux and when he was a little under 6 months old, the pediatrician said it was ok for him to sleep on his tummy. He had good neck control and could turn over at this point, so she thought it was ok. I'd ask your pediatrician.

My son hated sleeping on his back, so it took me a while to figure out how to make him feel secure sleeping that way. I swaddled him tightly and that seemed to do the trick. Eventually he got used to it and I didn't have to swaddle him any more.

I'm sure plenty of people still put their babies to sleep on their tummy and not all babies who sleep on their tummy die of SIDS, obviously. However recommending that babies sleep on their backs has reduced the incidence of SIDS more than pretty much anything else, probably because the kids get more air that way. Nobody knows for sure what causes SIDS, but it seems to have something to do with the development of the mechanism that controls breathing in response to oxygen levels. anon

My first baby learned to roll from his back to tummy at 3 months, and consistently did that in order to sleep. I would always put him down on his back, and he would always roll over to his tummy. I was freaked out, but his doctor said that if he was strong enough to do that, then SIDS was really not much of an issue. I was reassured.

Now, I have a second baby who's four months old. It was clear to me by about 2 months that he simply sleeps better on his tummy. So I started actually putting him on his tummy so he could fall asleep, then I would try to flip him over after about 15 minutes. Soon, I found that he was always sleeping on his stomach, and I was leaving him there. Again I was freaked out so I called his doctor and she really wasn't too concerned. Said that stomach-sleeping is one risk factor in SIDS, but from what they know, it's is not going to create SIDS all by itself. I looked in the BPN archives on this topic, and some people describe research that says that some kids may be predispositioned to SIDS, and that added risk factors sort of trigger it. Anyway, my baby is sleeping on his stomach every day and night, and after a few months of constantly checking on him, I feel pretty comfortable doing it. tummy time all the time

Both my kids would only sleep on their tummys - it really does work for collicky babies. I know its not ''correct'', but if you are attentive to your child, and there are no other risk factors for SIDs (smoking in the home, low birth weight, etc) then I don't think its that big a deal. Obviously I'm not a doctor, just my opinion. anon

Here's my dirty little secret: Our son (now a toddler) slept on his tummy almost exclusively from a couple of weeks old on. On his back, he'd startle himself awake all the time, but on his tummy, he slept much longer at a stretch. And ever since he's been big enough to turn himself over, he almost always ends up on his tummy, anyway. We always made sure it was in an empty crib with a tight sheet, no blankets or anything. My mom always put me down on my tummy when I was a baby, and 15 years ago, when I was a teenage babysitter, I was told to put babies down on their tummies to help with gas...I think you have to weigh the risks and rewards and decide for yourself, but it seemed to me that it was safe since we didn't have other risk factors, like second-hand smoke. anon

The best thing we ever did was get permission from our pediatrician to let our daughter sleep on her tummy. Granted, it wasn't until she was 5 months old, but it was the best thing we could have done. She was definately not a back sleeper. In fact, at one year, she still hates being on her back. Our doctor is definately a more liberal one and more laid back than others. He did say to try to get her to sleep on her back as much as possible, but she absolutely refused. So, we are big fans of tummy sleeping. Good luck! Stephanie

My 2nd son, now 2, has always been a tummy sleeper. He started rolling over at 10 weeks. I would just watch him carefully while he slept and he slept in bed with us so that is how he was monitored at night. He still like to sleep on his belly with his butt high in the air. I know it is unpopular but years ago it was the preferred position. anon

I agree sleeping is easier for babies on their tummies. They are less likely to startle themselves awake, mine tended to sleep longer, and I think it helps develop all sorts of neck and back muscles that all that back sleeping and car seat sleeping neglect. I did quite a bit of reading on SIDS wth my first child, and spoke with her pediatrician on the topic. While it is a risk assessment to decide to let your baby sleep on his tummy, I saw that our household and my baby had none of the risk factors for SIDS. (smoking, low birth weight, to name a few). At night my babies were always in bed with me, laying on their side and nursing, and for daytime naps, I often put my kids down on their tummy. I found this to be a reasonable compromise to what sometimes seems a ''Back to Bed'' hysteria. anon

I heard/read the admonition too, over and over. But my baby always had gas, squirmed himself onto his tummy whenever possible, and always slept better that way -- he'd squirm and fart on his tummy and rest so much better. Starting at 4.5 months. For the first few naps, I lay next to him and watched every single rise and fall of his lungs. He slept with me until 8 months, somehow that made me feel better. I read so much about SIDs and the suspected causes and felt it was a decision I could make. He's now 20 months, has slept on his tummy since 4.5. Lot's of other mothers I know confessed to having done the same. confessing too

When my first was a baby, the advice was to sleep on tummy & it was obvious that he slept better that way. W/ #2, the advice was to sleep them on their side, with this little wedgie thing that kept them propped there. This was AWFUL. AFter a couple weeks no sleep, I moved to the tummy. I knew I would probably die of guilt if anything happened, but really, I HAD to sleep. So, when the back advice came for #3, I really ignored it. Sorry. I just did. After so many changes & such obvious preferences by my baby, I went right for the tummy. anon

I had twins three years ago, born a month early at about 5.5 pounds each. They were pretty healthy and happy and slept pretty well once asleep (though putting them to sleep was a big chore and they didn't sleep though the night until at least six months). Their biggest problem their first two months of infancy was a huge struggle with digestion that left them at times gasping, crying, and straining to pass gas. They were both breast fed and bottle fed and we assumed their digestive systems were perhaps a wee bit underveloped).

My mother in law felt that they'd digest better if left to sleep on their tummies and twice she put them down that way. While they slept well, I was adamantly opposed to putting them on their stomachs. I felt that since they were born a little early and a little small, they were potentially at risk for SIDs and I did worry about it. While their digestive problems were not serious, they were chronic and distressing (to me and to them) but I was not willing to put them on their stomachs to sleep until they were able to roll over themselves (which at two months they could not). I had to watch my mother in law closely to make sure she repsected my wishes and since she didn't care for them frequently I didn't have to worry frequently but I was religious about putting them down on their back.

My pediatrician told me, at the time, that a theory about ''better'' stomach sleeping is that a person has to turn her head to sleep this way, and that twist of the neck may actually constrict some blood vessels slightly; the result being less blood flow and therefore a lowered oxygen level in the blood stream for the time spent on the stomach. If this is true (and I have no idea if it is) it helps explain the differnt type of sleep a person gets in this position; it appears more sound because it is more ''drugged-like''; one is getting less oxygen. It might also explain the greater instances of SIDs as well. ''new school'' mom, sleep on back

I was nervous about that too. With my first child who is now 2 1/2 I was trying to do everything by the book. But she was waking up too much & I couldn't handle it. So I called my aunt & she told me to put her on her stomach. That was the best advice ever given. I put her on her stomach & she would sleep for hours. You have to remember that years ago, all women put their babies on their stomachs. The only thing with me though, I was so nervous about doing that, that I never got any sleep myself because I was too worried about SIDS. But after awhile as I watched her sleep I seen she had very good head control. So when my son was born, he's now 11 months, I immedately put him on his stomach with no worries. I even was able to sleep. They say that boys are more likely to suffer from SIDS, but like my daughter, he had very good head control. Trust me, your baby will sleep a lot better on it's stomach. I believe they feel the warmth like they are in your belly & think about it, when you get into bed, do you prefer back or stomach? Good Luck! Shelly

When our son (now 2 1/2) was first born, we tried having him sleep on his back, but he would never stay asleep for very long in this position. We tried swadling him, but he always ''broke free''; we tried propping him on his side, which didn't work that well either. He would wake every 20 minutes or so. After about two weeks of this, I figured out that he was more comfortable on his stomach and decided to let him sleep this way despite warnings about SIDS. While we worried a little, for us, having our baby sleep well outweighed the risk that stomach sleeping posed. I don't remember now, but I believe there are other risk factors, such as smoking and low birthweight that also increase the risk of SIDS. Neither of these factors was present in our situation.

We are expecting our second next month; if this second baby is like the first, I would also put her on her stomach to sleep. anon

My babies almost always slept on their tummies, and slept better that way. When I would put them down on their backs, especially as newborns, they would startle awake and we'd start all over again. As soon as they were able to turn their heads, I put them down on their tummies.

I had a friend who was so worried about her baby (then about 2 mos old) smothering himself on his tummy that she put him down asleep face first in a down pillow and watched anxiously to see what he'd do. After a few seconds he turned his head, and she stopped worrying so much.

If you go to and read about sleeping on the tummy, you'll see a picture of my second child sleeping on his back. It's funny---for the picture they made me flip him over because they didn't want a picture of a baby sleeping on his stomach.

Good luck. mama of tummy sleepers

3-month-old won't sleep on his back

Jan 2002

My three month old son will not sleep on his back. Even when sound asleep in my arms, when I put him down on his back, his arms and legs start flailing and his eyes pop open. During the day he naps on his stomach. At night he either sleeps on his father's or my chest or he sleeps very close to us on his side. This sleeping arrangement is not allowing the three of us to get a good night's rest. We discussed this with his pediatrician and she just said to wedge him on his side. This doesn't work either! We'd like to move him out of our bed in the next few months but are at a complete loss as to how we'll do it.

Does your son turn over and can he hold his head up well? If so it is okay to put him to sleep on his stomach at night. Our daughter started turning over just after she turned 3 months old. We asked our pediatrician what to do about sleeping because she clearly preferred to sleep on her stomach. We were of course concerned about the risk of SIDS. He said that once the baby has developed neck strength and turns over on his/her own, there isn't much cause for concern. He suggested we put her down on her tummy right next to the bumper pad in her crib. It worked like a charm!

Flailing arms seem to be a standard feature of the very young baby. Our son woke himself constantly until we started swaddling him. We use two swaddling methods...the first is the standard one you see in all the baby books. The second I learned from a British breast feeding video at the Kaiser Health Education Center (open to members and non-members.) Lay the blanket out in a diamond shape. Lay the baby down with his head at one of the points. Lift a side point and bring it over the baby's arm and then underneath his back so that his own weight keeps the blanket in place and his arm snuggled to his side. Repeat on the other side. Use a second blanket to cover his chest.

Also, when it comes to transferring to the crib, I found it helpful to break the transition down into steps. For example, I would try the swaddle for a few nights but leave the baby in the bed with you where he is used to sleeping. Then maybe try it at nap time on your lap or in the crib. Then maybe at night but with a lot of assistance falling asleep (rocking or whatever) and then finally at night with decreasing assistance.

Ultimately, our baby did not sleep through the night until he could fall asleep on his own. Using baby steps, we were able to make that transition over about a 2 month period with no trauma and no crying it out. Of course there was that ultimate moment when we had to put it all to the test. He whimpered briefly and went to sleep.

Best of luck. Elisa M.

We had a similar situation with our daughter when she was around three months -- she still had to sleep on top of me or my husband, and when put down, her arms would flail out and wake herself up. We found that swaddling her like we did when she was a newborn really helped her to learn to sleep on her back, and on her own. She was not a big fan of being swaddled with her arms confined at first, but after only a few minutes of pushing to set them free, she would often be asleep. You could try first swaddling, then walking or rocking your son to sleep before putting him down. I believe that my daughter came to associate being swaddled with going to sleep, because she was quickly able to sleep on her own, in a bassinett. After nursing and changing at night, I reswaddle her and put her down again. We've been doing this for about a month, and have found that she no longer needs to have her arms confined. We still swaddle her, but keep her arms free. The flailing doesn't seem to bother her as much as it used to. Soon we're going to move to no swaddling at all. Good luck! Elisa S.

My son wouldn't sleep on his back, either, startling awake whenever I'd put him down. (My daughter had no problem with it, however). So I let him sleep on his stomach. Yes, DESPITE what the doctors say about SIDS, etc. It wasn't so long ago that putting babies to sleep on their backs was de rigeur (15 years ago, I think), so I didn't feel like I was deliberately putting him in harm's way. I put him down on a taught mattress/sheet, with nothing else in the crib. He slept 100 percent better, which made everybody happy. Did I still worry about SIDS? Of course I did, a little. But I checked on him regularly, and there he was, curled up like a little roast chicken, snoring away.

I know it's not the right way to do it at the moment, but if he wants to sleep on his stomach, (and he's otherwise healthy) let him. Both of our mothers, who raised six children between them, put babies down this way, to no ill effects. I prefer to listen to experienced moms rather than the experts, who change their story every couple of years. --- Julie

My now-7-month old son did not sleep well on his back either. I was very worried about SIDS (in part because my husband had a sibling who was lost to SIDS) and did a lot of soul-searching and reading. While the medical advice is obviously still to try to get your baby to sleep on his back, a little knowledge might go a long way to your being able to get a little more sleep (and your son, too). First, there is an interesting SIDS chapter in the most recent edition (1999) of Three in a Bed : The Benefits of Sharing Your Bed With Your Baby by Deborah Jackson. In cultures where babies sleep with or near their parents, SIDS is almost unheard of (perhaps it also has something to do with breastfeeding, which is also know to decrease the risk of SIDS); this chapter discusses things like the potential benefit of the baby hearing the parents breathing or the CO2 from the parents' breath stimulating breathing in the baby. Babies also are not as likely to overheat when near their parents (ie, they're not overdressed in order to try to stay warm sleeping alone in another room). I've also read a bit of the lay literature on recent SIDS conferences. One of the theories is that SIDS is a sort of sleep apnea that some babies may be predisposed to. My laypersons' and new mom's opinion on this is that, since there's no way to determine ahead of time (yet) which babies are predisposed to this severe sleep apnea, we've got to make ALL babies sleep less well !!!! Breastfeeding certainly keeps babies waking up more often and so does, in my experience, making them sleep on their backs ! The night my baby could roll over on his own and sleep on his tummy (at exactly 5 months) was the first night he slept longer than 4 hours (with an average of 3 hours) ! Our pediatrician, who obviously knows us and our son well and our own particular circumstances, said that we should still lay him down on his back but not to worry if he rolls over on his own. So, until the 5-month rolling over stage, here is how we survived:

He slept with us or in a co-sleeper attached to our bed until he was 4 or 4.5 months old and looking like he might roll over. I would usually put him down on his side, in our bed between us (with enough room for all 3 of us to sleep comfortably) or in the co-sleeper wrapped in light blanket burrito-style. I purchased a crib wedge to elevate his head and upper body (NOT a side wedge) in the co-sleeper, as a lot of his discomfort of being on his back I think was due to reflux from eating and having his tummy at the same level as his head. These are available in local baby stores for about $12 (and are supposed to help toddlers with head colds, too, although we haven't had to face that yet) and fit across the entire top part of the crib or co-sleeper. My son's arms would also flail often upon putting him down. Maybe you've already tried this, but we found that gently holding his arms and hands on his chest was comforting to him; I'd gently hold him like this (sometimes adding singing) until he relaxed again (sometimes this was up to 15 minutes, or sometimes I'd sleep like that with my hand in the co-sleeper; the latter was at least more comfortable for me than always having him in our bed). And gently swaddling him was always necessary, too. We eventually found that he actually preferred to be in the co-sleeper (on his side or on his back). At about 4 or 4.5 months, the co-sleeper was less appealing as he was moving around a lot and going to bed earlier, so we moved the co-sleeper out and the crib into our room. I still lightly swaddled him and would sometimes still hold his arms gently against his chest so he wouldn't wake himself up flailing upon first putting him down. The crib transition was actually not hard for us. Then, once he could roll over at 5 months, he began to sleep much longer periods because he could choose and change his own position.

In solidarity with you, I'd like to add one final comment which I'd love some medical study to be done on. We moms and dads all read that babies may, can, and, some say, should be sleeping through the night at about 2 months or 12 pounds. I think all these studies were done when babies were most likely formula fed and were sleeping on their stomachs. Well, I'd like a NEW study to be done on breastfeeding babies who have to sleep on their backs. I think the statistics will change drastically, which would provide relief to most of the moms I talk to who wonder what they're doing wrong because their breast-fed, back-sleeping babies aren't sleeping well. I'm not advocating formula or sleeping on the stomach, but I am advocating that maybe our expectations of when our babies will be sleeping longer and more comfortably can be changed so we can more realistically know what to expect.

After sleeping on her back for her first month, by the second our baby also would not sleep on her back. She would fall asleep fairly readily but would wake up upon being placed down on her back. Eventually, she would not sleep even in her car seat. My husband and I also ended up taking turns holding her to our chests at night so that she would sleep for a few hours. Sleeping on her side didn't work either. A couple of weeks of this left us exhausted and in despair.

I finally put her down to sleep on her stomach for a nap and it was the first time for a couple of weeks that she stayed asleep without being held. According to an advice nurse at Kaiser, many babies prefer to sleep on their stomachs because sleeping on their backs leaves them feeling too exposed. As our baby became more conscious of her surroundings, she would only sleep in what she felt to be a safer position--on her belly. She's slept this way ever since.

She is now five months and sleeping well. She started sleeping through at just over three months and now regularly takes long (2-3 hour) naps in the morning plus a shorter one in the afternoon. Few medical experts would say to let babies sleep on their stomachs but as a parent, sometimes there is little one can do to train babies in an act that requires feeling as secure as falling asleep.

My son, now 14 months, was the same way at that age. My pediatrician recommended a couple of things that helped. 1. Try putting a heating pad in the crib or bassinet for a few minutes before putting him down. Take it out before you put him in -- it may be just enough for him to settle down. 2. If you're nursing, try putting a receiving blanket or burp pad in your bra or against your chest for an hour or two and put it near your baby. The smell of you may also be enough to settle him down. 3. If all else fails, you might try letting him sleep on his tummy at night. I know that goes against all medical advice, but sometimes it's the only thing that works.

I used to be the research editor at and this subject was of particular interest to me, too, with a baby who didn't like sleeping on his back, and so I put up this poll: Do you let your baby sleep on his tummy? I think you'll be interested in the results, and you'll find some great comments that parents have posted.

Good luck! Mollie

The child authorities may track this e-mail and arrest me, but my second child also refused from day 1 to sleep on his back. So after trying everything you're doing, as well as the wedge for him to sleep on his side, he slept on his stomach. The operative term being slept. By now, your infant probably can roll over himself (or is close), so soon he will sleep on his stomach whether you want him to or not. My child is now 2. He still sleeps on his stomach. He was our second, so it was not as traumatic a decision ( even though my first back-slept no problem) because we were that much more desparate for sleep. Your pediatrician cannot recommend this because of malpractice insurance purposes, but 10 years ago, the advice would have been, put him on his stomach. As for SIDS, I'm assuming your child is not otherwise at risk with respiratory issues and that you would be careful about a blanket (I used! o! nly one loose cotton receiving blanket in the bassinet or crib at a time, no toys, plain knit sheets, etc.). Was I nervous and concerned? Of course. But once I say how much happier he was and how much better he slept, I just stayed vigilant and enjoyed the result. Good luck.

My son slept in the car seat in our bedroom for at least 3 months. Otherwise he hated sleeping on his back. He enjoyed being gently swung to sleep in the car seat. We enjoyed knowing that he was on his back and his portable bed. Diane

I've actually researched this subject quite extensively because my two toddlers would not stay asleep on their back either from DAY ONE!!!! (They would be laying in my arms sound asleep and DEAD-WEIGHT and I would lay them slowly and quietly and in stages onto their bed and in two minutes they would be screaming bloody murder with their hands and legs waving in the air -- it was very frustrating for me). So I talked to people about it and began to research it.

From what I gather, there are some general risk factors that seem to keep coming up in SIDS babies. They are as follows:

1st - SIDS is twice as common among African-American infants as compared to white infants.

2nd - Mothers who smoke during pregnancy are 3 times more likely to have a SIDS baby

3rd - Exposure to 2nd-hand smoke doubles a baby's risk of SIDS

4th - Babies who co-sleep, have fluffy bedding and lots of pillows/blankets, etc, and get overheated are more at risk.

5th - Mothers who are less than 20 yrs. old at the time of their first pregnancy, babies born to mothers who had no or late prenatal care, and premature or low birth weight babies are also major risk factors.

6th - I also read an article a couple of years ago (that I am sorry to say I cannot find because I have needed it quite a few times in the past two years -- if anyone out there knows which article I'm talking about or one that is similar, if you could please email me and let me know where the article is, I would greatly appreciate it) that talked about a 'problem' in the brain of most of the SIDS babies studied that basically showed that a connection in their brain hadn't been quite completed yet at birth and consequently most of these babies were not able to hold their head up yet. Because of this, when the baby began to inhale carbon instead of oxygen, s/he was not able to move their head to a different position, therefore allowing themself to breathe oxygen again.

All this to say, if your baby does not meet any of these risk factors (ie: not an African-American family, no smokers in the home, doesn't co-sleep, and can hold head up), then the changes of SIDS are extremely low. If however, your baby does fall into one of these categories, then I would talk to your pediatrician to get more advice and tips on how to handle the situation.

Sorry this is so long. I just wanted to give some of the facts that I have encountered in my search on this study. I hope this helps. If you have any questions or want to know where I got my information, you can contact me at and I will be happy to reply. April

6-month-old is rolling over on to his stomach to sleep

Dec 1999

My 6-month-old baby has just started rolling over on to his stomach to sleep, which I know is also a SIDS hazard. However, rolling him back on to his back doesn't work -- it just wakes him up, & he promptly rolls back. Any suggestions? Thanks

My pediatrician said that when they can roll back and forth, one can pretty much stop worrying about them sleeping on their stomachs.

As long as he's not covered with heavy blankets and such that could impede his breathing, I think that by this age you can just let him sleep as he wants to. Just my two cents. Pleasant sleeping!

Regarding sleeping on stomach: there's a product I've seen in the baby catalogs that's a special mattress pad. It's got air circulation holes to prevent the child from suffocating by rebreathing their own air (which is what they *think* might be contributing to SIDS). You might consider one of those if you can't get your child to sleep facing up. Good luck!

Im no expert, but my understanding from my doc and others is that once a baby can roll around and get himself onto his stomach and back again, the risk of him sleeping on his stomach is not an issue anymore. It is really a concern with small babies who get their faces pushed into the mattress and can't breathe. My 21-month-old has been sleeping on his stomach since he was able to roll over and put himself on it, and nothing we do changes, that, so I have just let it be.

My daughter also prefers to sleep on her stomach. I tried to use the prop to keep her on her side...didn't work. I think that once your child is mobile there is not a whole lot you can do to prevent them from rolling onto their stomachs (aside from staying by their crib all night and promptly putting them back on their backs when they do roll over). I don't know if this helps, but just thought I would share what has been my experience.

When my daughter started to do that, my husband and I spent the first week or so desperately flipping her over to her back, and losing a lot of sleep from worry about her suffocating! We were especially concerned because she couldn't really roll over from stomach to back on her own yet, and couldn't lift her head up very well when she was on her stomach. When we asked our pediatrician (also Kaiser, by the way) he said that all bets are off once they start rolling back to front and sleeping on their stomachs. There's basically nothing we could do to stop it and the best thing we could do to assure the baby's safety would be to remove *everything* soft from the crib: no blankets, no soft toys, nothing. So now, in the colder weather, we put her in two sleepers at night (the inside one has no feet) and we take everything out of the crib when she naps or goes down for the night. She still sleeps on her stomach...