Is Belly Sleeping Safe?

My most recent sleep training client was at the perfect age for a lot of things. At 5 months old and over the course of two weeks, we worked through a lot! Teething, the introduction of solids, a mysterious cheek rash, consolidated and longer naps, sleeping through the night, a leap, and you guessed it, rolling from his back to his belly.

It was really enjoyable to be able to help my clients navigate some of these fun and uncharted waters. Babies grow and change so fast. Some parents need help remembering to enjoy these moments and also not to worry quite so much!

About a week into working with this family I got a text message in the late afternoon, “he just rolled from his back to his belly!” I knew over the next few days, this new “skill” would be practiced more and more frequently. It was time to have the conversation about what to do/not do if this happened in his sleep.

So what should you do if your baby rolls from their back to their tummy in the middle of the night? Here are a few important things to know and keep in mind:

Safety first – If your baby is indicating and showing readiness signs of rolling, it is no longer safe to swaddle them. They should be transferred into a sleep sack with arms out immediately.

Skills – Any new “skill” whether it’s cooing, getting onto hands and knees or rolling from back to belly or belly to back will be practiced by your baby during two primary times: 

1) when they are awake and having activity time and 

2) when they have quiet time to process events from the day. AKA, when they should be sleeping! 

With any new skill being learned, you want to provide your baby with enough time to practice this fun thing that they have learned so that they don’t want to do it ALL. NIGHT. LONG! It’s quite logical that for a few nights they may roll much more frequently, but if they aren’t allowed to practice during the day, the frequency of practicing the skill will be more prominent at night. This translates into less sleep overall for you and your baby!

Frustration – When learning to roll, your baby may get frustrated being “stuck” on their belly and start to whine or cry. This is okay. They need to learn to get more comfortable in that position, so try and leave them a few additional minutes. They also need to learn how to roll from their belly to their back so that they can transfer positions at night without your assistance.

Games – Be careful not to make a game of flipping baby back over, especially at night and during sleep training. It can seem innocent enough, but will very quickly turn into a never ending game. You go in, flip your baby onto his/her back and before you are out of the room, they are back to their belly and fussing. The best thing to do to avoid this scenario is allow them the opportunity during the day to practice their new skill and help them build a tolerance for being on their belly. 

The First Few Nights – The first few nights your baby rolls to their belly in their sleep, be more attentive to how they are handling this new experience. You may want to go in and help them to their back a few times, but only do so after you have allowed them to experience the position and given them the opportunity to try and get comfortable sleeping this way. You may allow 10-30 minutes to pass before helping. Some may fuss a little and others not at all.


Is Belly Sleeping Safe? 

The answer here, is it depends on baby’s age. If your infant is a newborn and cannot roll on their own, it is absolutely not safe. We know that belly sleeping at this young age causes an increased risk of SIDS because the infant doesn’t have the neck strength and ability to lift and rotate their head, putting them at an increased risk for suffocation. But if your baby is older than 4 months, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can my baby can roll from back to belly on their own consistently?
  • Can my baby can roll from belly to back on their own consistently?
  • Does my baby sleep in his/her crib alone and not in a bassinest, swing or in bed with mom and dad?
  • Is my baby sleeping in only a sleep sack, with his/her arm free to move and push them up onto their belly if desired (updog)?

If you answered yes to all of the above questions, your baby is fine to sleep on their belly as long as there are no medical reasons that would indicate otherwise. Additionally, you will want to continue to place your baby on their back for all sleep until you know that their preferred sleeping position is in fact on their belly. This could take weeks or months. Initially, your baby may not want to be on their belly and/or they may not prefer to sleep on their belly. Allow them to show you their favorite position. At this age, they are capable of moving around and getting comfortable on their own, so it’s best to just place them on thier back and let them settle into their favorite position.

Enjoy this milestone! Many babies much prefer to sleep on their bellies and are significantly happier in this snuggly position.

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