The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all healthy infants sleep on their backs during the first 6 months of life. Studies have shown sleeping on the back reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the sudden unexplained death of a healthy infant. Thousands of babies die each year from SIDS. Typically, a baby dies from SIDS while sleeping. SIDS is also called crib death.
The AAP started recommending that babies sleep on their backs in 1992. Over 80% of parents now follow this advice and there has been a 60% drop in the rate of SIDS.
Laying a baby on his stomach puts pressure on his jaw bone. This causes the airway in the back of the mouth to become narrower. Also, if the baby sleeps on a soft surface, the nose and mouth may sink in so the child breathes from a small pocket of stale air.
If your baby sleeps on his stomach, the risk of SIDS is 5 times greater. Sleeping on the side is an unstable position, has almost the same risk, and should not be used. If you use a child-care center or babysitter, be sure they know how important it is to put your baby on his back to sleep.
You can also reduce the risk of SIDS by:
Your baby should only sleep on the stomach if recommended by your child's healthcare provider. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends putting your baby to sleep on his stomach in the following cases:
Any baby who needs to sleep on his stomach for medical reasons must also be placed on a firm sleeping surface.
There are 2 minor disadvantages. When lying on the back, young infants are more likely to have a startle reflex that awakens them. Swaddling your baby in a snug blanket can prevent this. To swaddle your baby use the 3-step "burrito-wrap" technique. Start with your baby lying on the blanket and the arms at the sides. Then pull the left side of the blanket over the body and tuck. Next, pull the bottom of the blanket up. Then pull the right side over and tuck.
The other disadvantage is that some babies get a flattening of the back of the head. You can prevent this by changing the direction your baby is placed in the crib and having some supervised tummy time every day.
It is good for your baby to spend some time on his tummy (stomach) when he is awake during the day and you can observe him. The back position is only recommended for bedtime and naps. Letting your baby play on his stomach helps strengthen his shoulder muscles. Changing positions also keeps the back of your baby's head from becoming flattened from laying in the same position all of the time.
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