Most baby milestones are very exciting — your child learns how to latch onto your breast properly for feedings, or they flash you that first real gorgeous gummy smile. But there’s one baby development that can make you feel proud and absolutely petrified at the same time, and that’s when your little one rolls over onto their stomach while they’re sleeping. But if you’re wondering when can babies sleep on their stomach, it might be sooner than you think.
When can babies start sleeping on their stomach?
During your pregnancy, you’re going to be told time and time again that once Baby is born, they should only sleep on their backs — and never on their stomachs. Even if your baby seems to prefer to sleep on their stomach or side, you should always place them on their back to sleep until age 1. Why? Each year, around 3,400 babies die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), per the Centers for Disease Control. “SIDS is one of the leading causes of death in an infant's first year, especially during the first 4-6 months,” says Dr. Sharon Wiener, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician at Pediatric Offices at Willow Bend. “The risk continues, however, through 12 months of age.”
So when can babies start sleeping on their stomach? It really depends on your child. Although some babies begin to roll over around 4 months, others might start earlier or later, so going solely by your child’s age isn’t a good indicator of when they can sleep on their stomach. What is, though, is their ability to make a complete rollover. “If your baby rolls onto their stomach while asleep and rolls back again with ease, it is generally all right to let them shift to stomach sleeping,” advises Wiener. Even then, a caregiver should never place a baby on their stomach to sleep.
That said, there might be medical conditions that would make stomach sleeping unadvisable, though. “There are always exceptions, such as reflux, respiratory illness, or neurological issues that may affect breathing,” Wiener explains. In that case, it’s best to speak with your pediatrician to find the safest sleeping practices for your child.
What should you do if Baby rolls over in their sleep?
You know your baby best. If you are confident in your child’s ability to roll both ways independently, you don’t have to flip them back on their back. If you are not, then you should probably do so. Having a monitor on your baby at night can alert you if Baby starts fussing and wants some help to get back into a comfortable position.
But if your baby is able to roll from back to front, it’s possible they should be able to perform the reverse. “Developmentally, a baby should be able to roll themselves from stomach to back before they can roll from back to stomach,” says Dr. Sarah Lazarus, DO, FAAP, a children’s emergency department physician. Of course every child is different. If you are concerned about your child getting stuck on their stomach, you can help them by getting in lots of tummy time during the day. “Give your baby the opportunity to learn to roll over under the awake observation of the parent — and not at night when the household is sleeping,” advises Wiener.
Can babies sleep on their stomach in swaddles or sleep sacks?
When your baby starts rolling, it’s time to stop the swaddle ASAP. “Once a child shows signs of being able to roll (even if it’s inconsistent), you should stop swaddling your child,” advises Lazarus. “One of the dangers of swaddling is that if the child were to roll over and were swaddled with arms or legs entrapped, they would not be able to roll onto their backs and could suffocate.” And once your child starts switching their sleep position, never use any weighted swaddles or sleep sacks, either.
Is it okay to put Baby down on their stomach?
Now, just because you’ve seen your baby sleeping on their stomach doesn’t mean that you should directly place them in the prone position when bedtime rolls around. “Always put your baby down on their back to sleep, even if he/she wakes up and you put them down again,” advises Wiener. Additionally, to aid in the prevention of SIDS, parents should always, always place their babies on their backs to sleep to start, and on a firm mattress with no loose beddings, toys, or bumpers, researchers reported.
It can be worrisome when you catch your baby sleeping on their stomach for the first time — and you know for a fact that you placed them down to sleep on their back. More than likely, though, your little one is ready to roll, so help them accomplish this major milestone by encouraging tummy time to reinforce their rolling capabilities. If you do continue to swaddle, be sure that your child has their arms free, and that their sleep space is safe from any potential hazards. Continue putting Baby back to sleep, and as with any new baby milestone, just be ready to roll with it.
Jullien, S. (2021) “Sudden infant death syndrome prevention”, BMC Pediatrics, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34496779/.
Dr. Sharon Wiener, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician at Pediatric Offices at Willow Bend
Dr. Sarah Lazarus, DO, FAAP, a children’s emergency department physician
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