baby only sleeps on stomach

The Science Behind Why Your Baby Only Sleeps on Their Stomach – Exploring Safe Sleeping Positions

Table of Contents

Is it safe for a baby to sleep on their stomach?

Sleeping on the stomach, also known as prone sleeping, is generally not recommended for babies due to the increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents to always place infants on their back to sleep for the first year of life or until they can roll over independently. This is because sleeping on the stomach can restrict airflow and increase the chances of suffocation.

While there may be instances where a baby falls asleep on their stomach during playtime or tummy time when they are awake and supervised, it is important to always place them on their back when putting them down to sleep. This reduces the risk of SIDS and allows for better monitoring of the baby’s breathing and overall safety during sleep.

The Back-to-Sleep Campaign

In 1994, the AAP launched the “Back-to-Sleep” campaign to educate parents about safe sleep practices for infants. This campaign aimed to reduce the incidence of SIDS by promoting placing babies on their backs to sleep. Since then, there has been a significant decrease in SIDS cases attributed to this simple change in sleep position.


Safe Sleep Environment

In addition to placing babies on their backs to sleep, creating a safe sleep environment is crucial. Here are some guidelines:

  • Use a firm mattress that fits snugly in the crib without any gaps.
  • Avoid using pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals in the crib until your baby is at least one year old.
  • Dress your baby in lightweight clothing suitable for room temperature instead of using heavy blankets.
  • Ensure that your baby’s head remains uncovered during sleep to prevent overheating.
  • Keep the room at a comfortable temperature, around 68-72°F (20-22°C).

Supervised Tummy Time

While sleeping on the stomach is not recommended, tummy time when the baby is awake and supervised is essential for their development. Tummy time helps strengthen the neck, shoulder, and arm muscles, promotes motor skills development, and prevents flat spots on the back of the head. It is best to start tummy time when your baby is awake and alert, placing them on a firm surface such as a play mat or blanket.

Why do some babies prefer sleeping on their stomach?

Some babies may prefer sleeping on their stomach due to various reasons:


Sleeping on the stomach can provide a sense of comfort for some babies. The pressure on their abdomen may mimic the feeling they experienced in the womb, which can help soothe them to sleep. Additionally, being in a prone position may make it easier for some babies to settle down and fall asleep.

Reflux Relief

Babies with gastroesophageal reflux (GER) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may find relief by sleeping on their stomach. The prone position can help keep stomach contents from flowing back up into the esophagus, reducing discomfort caused by acid reflux.


If your baby has reflux issues or discomfort during sleep, it is important to consult with your pediatrician before making any changes in sleep position or routine.

At what age is it appropriate for a baby to start sleeping on their stomach?

Developmental Milestones

Around the age of 4-6 months, babies begin to develop the strength and coordination necessary to roll over onto their stomachs. This is typically when they start showing an interest in exploring different sleep positions and may naturally gravitate towards sleeping on their tummies. However, it is important to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep until they reach one year of age.

SIDS Risk Reduction

The risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is highest during the first six months of a baby’s life. Research has shown that placing babies on their backs to sleep significantly reduces the risk of SIDS. Therefore, even if your baby shows signs of wanting to sleep on their stomach, it is crucial to continue placing them on their back until they are at least one year old.

What are the potential risks of a baby sleeping on their stomach?

Sleeping on the stomach can increase the risk of SIDS. When a baby sleeps on their tummy, it may restrict their ability to breathe properly. This position can also cause overheating as babies tend to bury their faces into the mattress or bedding while sleeping, leading to an increased risk of suffocation.

Obstructed Airway

When a baby sleeps face down, there is a higher chance that soft bedding or objects in the crib can obstruct their airway. This can lead to difficulty breathing and potentially result in suffocation.

Inadequate Oxygen Supply

Sleeping on the stomach can also compromise oxygen supply for babies. The pressure applied by lying face down may restrict airflow and reduce oxygen intake, which can be dangerous for their developing respiratory system.

Are there any benefits to a baby sleeping on their stomach?

While it is important to prioritize safe sleep practices, some babies may find comfort in sleeping on their stomachs. This position can provide a sense of security and help soothe babies who have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. However, the potential risks associated with stomach sleeping outweigh any perceived benefits.

Soothing Reflex

Sleeping on the stomach can activate a baby’s soothing reflex, which may help them settle down more easily. Some babies find the pressure on their tummy calming and may feel more secure in this position.

Reduced Startle Reflex

When babies sleep on their stomachs, they are less likely to startle themselves awake due to the reduced movement of their limbs. This can contribute to longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep.

It is important to note that while these benefits exist, they should not override the recommended practice of placing babies on their backs to sleep for safety reasons.

How can I encourage my baby to sleep on their back instead of their stomach?

Create a Safe Sleep Environment

Ensure that your baby’s crib or bassinet is free from loose bedding, pillows, stuffed animals, or other objects that could pose suffocation hazards. Use a firm mattress with a fitted sheet and dress your baby in appropriate sleepwear for temperature regulation.

Swaddle Your Baby

Swaddling can help create a cozy and secure environment for your baby while they sleep. Wrapping them snugly in a lightweight blanket can prevent them from rolling onto their stomach during sleep. However, it is essential to follow safe swaddling techniques and discontinue swaddling once your baby shows signs of rolling over independently.

Offer Gentle Guidance

If your baby consistently rolls onto their stomach during sleep, gently reposition them onto their back. You can do this by rolling them back while keeping a hand on their chest to provide comfort and security.

Are there any specific sleep positions that are recommended for reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?

Back to Sleep Position

The AAP recommends placing babies on their backs to sleep until they are at least one year old or until they can roll over independently. This position has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of SIDS.

Tummy Time

While sleeping on the back is crucial, it is also essential for babies to have supervised tummy time when they are awake. Tummy time helps strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles, promotes motor development, and reduces the risk of developing a flat spot on the back of their head.

Can swaddling help prevent a baby from rolling onto their stomach while sleeping?

Swaddling can provide temporary assistance in preventing a baby from rolling onto their stomach while sleeping. When properly swaddled, it restricts their movement and keeps them snugly wrapped. However, once your baby shows signs of rolling over independently, it is important to discontinue swaddling as it may increase the risk of suffocation if they roll onto their stomach and cannot move freely.

Sleep Sacks

Transitioning from swaddling to sleep sacks can be an effective way to maintain a safe sleep environment while allowing more freedom of movement for your baby. Sleep sacks provide warmth and security without restricting arm and leg movements.

Are there any signs I should look out for if my baby is uncomfortable or having difficulty breathing while sleeping on their stomach?


If your baby appears restless or frequently changes positions during sleep, it may indicate discomfort or difficulty breathing. They may try to shift their body or move their head to find a more comfortable position.

Excessive Sweating

If your baby is sweating excessively while sleeping on their stomach, it could be a sign of overheating. Overheating can increase the risk of SIDS and should be addressed promptly by adjusting the room temperature or clothing.

Unusual Breathing Sounds

Listen for any abnormal breathing sounds such as wheezing, gasping, or choking. If you notice these sounds while your baby is sleeping on their stomach, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation.

What are some safe alternatives to help my baby get comfortable and fall asleep without needing to sleep on their stomach?

Elevated Head Position

Placing a small towel or blanket under the head end of your baby’s mattress can create a slight incline that may help with comfort and digestion. This elevated position can mimic the feeling of sleeping on the stomach without compromising safety.


Offering a pacifier at bedtime has been associated with a reduced risk of SIDS. The sucking motion can help soothe babies and promote better sleep without the need for them to sleep on their stomachs.

White Noise Machines

Using white noise machines or apps can create a soothing environment that helps babies relax and fall asleep more easily. The gentle background noise can drown out other sounds and provide comfort without relying on specific sleep positions.

In conclusion, it is important to prioritize the safety and well-being of babies during sleep. While some babies may prefer sleeping on their stomachs, it is recommended to follow safe sleep guidelines that advise placing infants on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Is it okay if my baby sleeps on his tummy?

If your baby is able to roll onto their stomach after being placed on their back in a safe sleeping environment, it is generally considered safe. However, until they reach this milestone and can consistently roll both ways, it is recommended that babies sleep on their back to reduce the risk of SIDS.

How do I stop my baby sleeping on her stomach?

If your baby is sleeping on their side, they may easily roll onto their stomach. If this happens, gently turn them back onto their back for sleep. Keep doing this until your baby can easily roll over in both directions on their own without any help.

Why won’t my baby sleep on his back?

According to Dr. Deena Blanchard, a pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics NY, a lot of babies prefer not to sleep on their backs. This is because they are more easily startled in this position, and babies with reflux who spit up may feel less comfortable. However, most babies tend to sleep better on their stomachs.

Can my baby sleep on his stomach on my chest?

Placing a baby on their stomach on the parent’s chest, with direct skin-to-skin contact, is a highly effective method for calming an infant and assisting them in regulating their body temperature. However, it is important to ensure that the baby and their airway are under constant observation by either the nursing parent or another responsible adult caregiver.

Why do NICU babies sleep on stomach?

Babies find it easier to breathe when they are lying on their stomach. This is particularly important for babies in the NICU who require breathing assistance and various medical devices.

What to do if baby sleeps face down?

If you notice that a baby is lying with their face down, you can attempt to turn their face upwards. However, it is common for babies to return to their comfortable position, similar to rolling onto their stomach. It is important to always place the baby on their back when putting them to sleep. Additionally, increasing the amount of time the baby spends on their stomach while awake can be beneficial. If you are still swaddling the baby, it is necessary to stop doing so in order to allow their arms to be free.

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