Trying to understand what counts as normal when it comes to infants and sleep habits can be tough. For instance, do babies sleep sitting up, and is this a safe way for little ones to catch a nap? Some kids manage to conk out at the strangest times.
For the most part, babies are able to fall asleep in all sorts of ways. "Yes, it’s definitely possible and very likely that infants can and will fall asleep sitting up," as Dr. April Mattingly, M.D., a pediatrician with Norton Children’s Hospital, tells Romper in an email. However, this isn't the preferred way for infants to snooze. "Generally speaking, it’s not recommended to leave infants sleeping in a sitting position if unattended in a device such as a car seat or swing," Dr. Mattingly further explains.
Why is this?
"There are biomechanical studies that show that babies, particularly the youngest babies, struggle to keep their heads up while in a sitting position, and this position creates more difficulty in keeping the airway straight and open," as Dr. Rachel Y. Moon, chair of the AAP Task Force on SIDS, explains to Romper via email. Plus, babies who nap in a stroller or car seat are generally getting lighter sleep. Chances are, you want those naps to be as deep and restful as possible.
Even for quick naps, there's a consensus among experts about the best sleep environment for babies. "The safest place for babies to fall asleep is on a firm, flat surface," Dr. Moon says. There's even a proposed law against inclined sleepers for babies because the issue is that serious. Although sleeping on a flat surface is crucial, it isn't the only thing to keep in mind. "First and foremost, all pediatricians agree (or should) on the ABC’s of sleep. Alone on the back in a crib (or bassinet)," Dr. Mattingly says. If you'd like to learn more, the safe sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics are basically the gold standard.
In real life, babies are going to have an occasional nap attack during car rides or stroller trips, and that's OK. "Certainly your baby may fall asleep in your arms, in the car seat, or other places, but it’s important to transition him or her to a safe sleep space when possible," Dr. Mattingly says. Even though babies do fall asleep while sitting up from time to time, a flat, firm sleep surface is the safest space for naps and nighttime sleep sessions alike.