Why Stomach Sleeping For Newborns Isn’t the Answer to a Good Night’s Sleep

Why would parents place a newborn on her stomach to sleep, even though their pediatrician clearly advised against this position due to the increased risk of SIDS?  Simple: many babies fall asleep faster and stay deeply asleep this way.  Many, many babies struggle to fall asleep easily or stay asleep  when they sleep on their backs.  This leaves parents torn between safety and sanity. It does not have to be this way!

Parents have good reasons to be afraid of SIDS; the death of an infant is an almost unimaginable tragedy.  One of my best friends said that she could imagine surviving the death of her husband but she couldn’t imagine the pain of losing one of her children.  Back sleeping is one of the simple recommendations to lower the risk of SIDS that has a proven record of efficacy.  Simply put:  placing your baby on her back to sleep could save her life.

One reason that babies sleep so well on their stomachs is that it positions them so that the Moro reflex isn’t triggered when they move their head or limbs.  It also gives them a lot of nice soothing deep pressure as the weight of their body is pulled by gravity into the firm bassinet mattress.  This is also the reason it isn’t safe.  This position makes it harder for a tiny baby in that deeper newborn sleep to clear her airway to breathe, since she doesn’t have the strength to turn her head while barely awake that older babies have.

Getting a newborn to sleep isn’t easy, but it is made so much easier with The Happiest Baby on the Block techniques.  I am a certified HBOTB educator, and I find the greatest error parents have made when they call me for a consultation is that they haven’t layered all the techniques.  They bought a swaddle blanket or garment, they have a white noise playlist on their iPhone, and they got a swing as a baby shower gift.  They use a pacifier, and they know about calming in side lying.  Then they behave as if they are ordering appetizers at Cheesecake Factory: they pick the strategies that they think will be good tonight.

Very young or very fussy babies just don’t sleep as well if you don’t give them all of the 5 S’s.  The sequence is solidly based on the unique neurology and biology of newborns, and you ignore the details at your peril.  Each component gives some support for calming a baby, but most babies need more than one, and most of the consultations I have done are for very fussy babies that clearly needed all 5 right from the start.

Find a consultant if you just cannot get the swaddling or the jiggle down, and practice, practice, practice.  Buy a swaddle garment if you are all thumbs with the origami-like blanket swaddle.  But don’t think that since it works “a little” with just a garment and a pacifier, you are going to get the long, deep sleep that all 5 techniques together can allow.   Always use the side lying or stomach position to calm your baby, but not to sleep.  Don’t cave and put her on her stomach, thinking that most likely nothing will happen.  You do not have to make that kind of gamble with your baby’s life just to get a good night’s sleep!

By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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