How To Stop Baby Sleeping Face Down – 5 Important Tips From RN

How To Stop Baby Sleeping Face Down

Article by Jessica Pierce – Registered Nurse & Nationally Registered Paramedic

Making sure that your baby is always as safe as they can possibly be while they grow up can be overwhelming! It’s adorable to see that your little one is reaching big milestones such as finally learning to master rolling over… but this can be a cause for concern if they start to do it at night.

Your baby’s sleeping position is important because safe sleeping positions lower the risk of infant suffocation and improve baby’s health.

Simply putting babies to sleep on their back can improve babies sleep – which naturally leads to better sleep quality for parents, as well.

If you’ve ever snuck into the nursery to find your baby sleeping face down in their crib and immediately panicked, then this article is for you. There’s a lot of advice out there, but today we’ll bust through some common myths and get to the bottom of this issue, together.

I’ll answer your most pressing questions on how to create the safest possible sleep space for your bundle of joy, lower the risk of SIDS, and prevent baby suffocation so your whole family can get a safe and peaceful night of sleep.

This article is not a substitute for medical advice or consultation.

Why Does My Baby Keep Trying To Sleep Face Down?

There are many reasons why your baby may tend towards sleeping on their stomach. One of these reasons might be that they are simply more comfortable sleeping this way.

Babies sleep differently, and prefer positions that help them feel secure and safe. Sleeping face down might be a natural self-soothing practice1 for your baby because it helps them to feel like they are swaddled or held by the mattress.

To help your baby feel secure while they sleep, you can offer them a pacifier when you put them to bed. If you’re using pacifier clip, remember to remove it before putting baby to sleep, to prevent choking and strangulation.

Another reason why baby may “prefer” to sleep on tummy is colic or gassiness (and this is one of the reasons why parents sometimes put their babies on sleep on stomach). Although it may be hard to find a comfy sleeping position for colicky baby, remember that allowing your baby for tummy-sleeping is not a safe choice.

How To Stop My Baby From Sleeping Face Down

Should I Worry If My Baby Sleeps Face Down?

Once your baby is old enough, and far enough in their development, to roll over onto their stomach after they fall asleep on their backs, there isn’t near as much cause for worry.

There’s no need to stay awake all night, turning your baby back over every single time they roll onto their stomach. Just make sure that up until at least one year of age, you always put your baby to sleep on their back when they first go to bed.

Another way to avoid worry about when your baby sleeps on their tummy is to provide a safe sleeping environment that poses minimal risk to your little one’s breathing. Put baby to sleep on a firm mattress, and don’t allow crib bumpers or loose blankets in their bed.

Many parents prefer to keep their sleeping baby in the same room, so that they can keep a close eye on the little one after they put baby to sleep. This is perfectly fine, but give baby his or her own crib rather than letting them sleep in your bed. Co-sleeping baby dramatically increases suffocation risk.

Why Does My Baby Keep Trying To Sleep Face Down

Can Babies Breathe Sleeping Face Down?

For a short time, yes, babies can breathe while sleeping with their head down. However, this is not a desirable sleep position for young babies for a variety of reasons.

What happens when a baby is lying facedown on a mattress is that they end up “rebreathing” the exhaled air in the small area under their face. This leads to an unhealthy buildup of carbon dioxide, the waste product that we breathe out – as well as a lower intake of oxygen due to the lack of fresh air they are getting2.

In this article3 on safe positions for sleeping, researchers studied thirty eight babies sleeping on their stomachs. The babies either preferred sleeping on their tummy, or showed a tendency to roll over onto their tummy while sleeping.

The babies’ carbon dioxide levels were closely monitored, and carbon dioxide levels rose dramatically when they were breathing face down into their mattress. All of the babies woke up, but some of them were able to move their head to the side for easier breathing while others only lifted their heads briefly.

This study demonstrates that while older or more developed babies were able to protect their airways while sleeping on their tummy, it did make breathing more difficult if they weren’t able to move their heads from the face down position.

Can Babies Breathe Sleeping Face Down

Will A Baby Wake Up If They Can’t Breathe?

Many babies will in fact wake up once they start having difficulty breathing – this is a normal physiological response.

However, just waking up may not be enough to protect a baby from suffocation. Your baby needs to be able to turn either their head or their body over in order to get fresh air. If a baby doesn’t have the necessary muscle development or strength to change to a safer position, they’re still at risk of suffocating.

So to sum it all up, babies do generally wake up if they can’t breathe very well, but may or may not be able to do what they need to do in order to correct the problem and get into a safer position – especially while they’re sleepy4.

It’s better to make sure baby falls asleep in a safe position from the get go.

Will A Baby Wake Up If They Can’t Breathe

How To Stop My Baby From Sleeping Face Down?

Seeing your baby sleep face down can be scary, but there are plenty of things you can do to make sure your baby sleeps safely every time. Here are a few of my best tips on how to stop baby sleeping face down.

1. Train For Safe Sleeping Positions

Getting babies to sleep is difficult enough, but set yourself up for success by training your baby to sleep on his or her back from the very beginning. This means putting them down on their back to sleep every time, and not encouraging them to sleep in any other position.

Your little one rolls over during the sleep or gets stuck on tummy? Find out what you should do and how to prevent baby from rolling over in the crib.

2. Don’t Skimp On Tummy Play Time

Let your growing baby spend regular, supervised time on their tummy once they get home from the hospital. Time spent lying on their stomach will facilitate proper development of the muscles that help baby with lifting their head, rolling over, or moving around.

Once your baby is able to roll back to front as well as front to back reliably, this increases the chances that they will be able to reposition themselves should they end up falling asleep in a potentially compromising sleeping position.

3. Use Swaddling Mindfully

Swaddle them, if they haven’t started to learn to roll yet. Swaddling babies can actually be dangerous if they can roll however, as it can limit baby’s ability to reposition themselves if they get trapped in a face down position.

Once your baby can wiggle their hips, it typically isn’t necessary to swaddle them any more. It’s actually better at this point that your baby sleeps with their limbs free so they don’t get trapped sleeping face down and are unable to move to sleep on their backs again.

What Should I Do If My Baby Rolls Face Down While Sleeping?

4. Keep Them At A Safe Temperature

Remember that while swaddling can be a comfort measure for your baby, you want to make sure the extra layer doesn’t increase their body temperature to an unsafe level. The recommendation of baby sleep experts is to have your baby sleep in one more layer of clothes than you would in order to be comfortable.

When babies are very young, it is difficult for them to regulate their own body temperature. While many baby health experts focus on how to keep your baby warm, it’s also critically important that they are able to stay cool and avoid overheating, as this can be just as dangerous.

To avoid overheating in warm climates or during the summertime, put your little one to sleep in breathable pajamas that aren’t overly tight or restrictive. Put them to bed under one sheet or lightweight blanket, and tuck it in to the bottom of the crib mattress so that it does not get pulled up over your baby’s face.

5. Keep The Crib Free And Clear Of Any Objects

Experts encourage parents to avoid placing anything else in the crib while their infant sleeps.

There are a few baby products on the market that advertise their ability to keep baby sleeping on their back; however, these items are actually more likely to pose a suffocation hazard.

If baby sleeps face into a soft object like a pillow or sleep positioner, the likelihood of carbon dioxide buildup and impaired breathing increases by a large margin.

Choose a firm mattress for your baby’s crib – this prevents your baby’s face from getting buried in the mattress and blocking their airway. Babies don’t really need much more than this to get a comfortable and safe night’s sleep.

Official Recommendations For Baby Sleep Positioning

The American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep recommendations state that the best option to keep baby safe is to remember the mantra “back to sleep”5.

Putting baby on their back to sleep is the single best way to prevent or lower the risk for SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS occurs when babies die suddenly and seemingly without explanation.

In many cases, the sudden death is linked to suffocation caused by when babies sleep face down or are exposed to hazards like loose blankets, pillows, bedding or sheets, a mattress that is too soft, or other soft objects and choking hazards in the sleep space.

A safe sleep environment looks like a firm mattress, minimal blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals in the crib, and all toys and loose bedding removed.

It’s okay for babies to sleep in car seats for short naps, but don’t encourage your baby to sleep all night in the upright position.

What Should I Do If My Baby Rolls Face Down While Sleeping?

The answer to this question depends heavily on where your baby is at developmentally. If they aren’t able to roll back onto their back, you should place them on their back again6.

This is another reason to keep your baby’s crib free of any unnecessary items. Having large piles of blankets or pillow could increase the likelihood of baby rolling onto their stomach before they’re ready to. This could lead to your baby sleeping in an unsafe position they aren’t able to move out of.

But if baby is able to easily roll in either direction, you don’t need to move them. Simply ensure that their sleep space is free from all possible suffocation hazards to prevent complications like sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

Should I Worry If My Baby Sleeps Face Down

What If My Baby Is More Comfortable Sleeping On The Tummy?

Most babies prefer to sleep on their backs, but some babies would rather lie face down to sleep or nap. Is this a problem?

Tummy time is important, both to promote normal healthy development and to prevent complications like flat head syndrome (caused by too much time sleeping, playing, or laying on their back).

Tummy sleeping, however, is a bit of a different game.

All time spent face down should be supervised by an awake adult. If your baby falls asleep during tummy time, move them to their crib to sleep on their back. Never leave a baby alone while they are on their tummy, even if they are awake.

If your baby is old enough to roll from their stomach to their back, you don’t need to physically turn them over if they turn themselves to lying face down.

At What Age Is SIDS No Longer A Concern

At What Age Is SIDS No Longer A Concern?

SIDS risk dramatically tapers off after about one year of age7. Babies between the ages of one and four months are at the highest risk for SIDS or suffocation, with the risk being somewhat less but still high between ages four to six months.

Babies who were born early or at a low birth weight are more high risk. Other risk factors include being exposed to smoke in the home, or to smoking, alcohol, or drugs while in the womb.

Some interesting factors that can lower risk for SIDS include breastfeeding as opposed to bottle feeding and getting skin to skin time with Mom right after birth by being placed in direct contact with their chest on mom’s chest.

When Can Babies Sleep On Their Stomach Safely?

Once a baby is able to roll both front to back and back to front, they can be placed on their back at bedtime and then allowed to find their own preferred sleeping position8.

This will really depend on the age your baby is at once they master the ability to roll in both directions – this milestone typically occurs between the ages of four and six months, but can be earlier or later depending on the baby. All babies are different!

If in doubt, consult with your pediatrician about where your baby is at and what is best for them at their current stage in development. They can always help you find reliable sources for doing your own research as well as share the wealth of infant safety information that they have gained from their own training.

Always make sure that any blankets you place in the crib are not covering your baby’s head or face, and to always keep potential choking hazards away from baby’s face. The best place for toys is outside of the crib!

A Final Word Of Encouragement

I hope this article has been helpful for you, and provided a bit of relief from the anxiety of wondering how to keep your baby safe while they sleep. Come back to this article for a review if you have any more questions about this topic as your baby continues to grow!

Article By Jessica Pierce, RN

Jessica Pierce is Registered Nurse, Nationally Registered Paramedic, writer, and contemporary dance artist based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She holds two undergraduate degrees from Oral Roberts University – a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (2018) and a Bachelor’s of Art in Dance Performance (2019).

The purpose of this article is informative. It’s not a substitute for professional medical advice or medical care. Remember: safety first! Consult your doctor/pediatrician in case of any doubts. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here.


About Me - Zooey BarnettHello Moms! I am Zooey. I am a wife and a mother of three amazing kids: almost 5-year-old Haley and 2-year-old twins Jesse and Matthew. I am a jogger, cooker and blogger.

If you have a question or a comment, do not hesitate to write to me! 🙂

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