Every new parent wants their baby to sleep through the night, but thinking about sleep habits can get nerve-racking - especially when it comes to baby sleep positions.
Though it's recommended that parents place babies on their back to sleep for the first year of their life, you might find sometimes that your baby has rolled onto their tummy while they snoozed.
It's understandable to feel concerned about whether it's safe for your baby to sleep on their stomach or not, especially as it feels so out of your control when they just roll over in the night! To set your mind at ease, we're here to go over:
Age babies can sleep on stomach
What to do if baby prefers stomach
Stomach sleeping benefits
When it comes to sleep, there are certain guidelines you need to follow to make sure your baby is snoozing safely. While swaddling is a great tool for helping your little one sleep in the first few months of their life, it becomes unsafe when your baby is able to roll over, which usually happens by the 3 or 4 month mark.
This is because a swaddled baby sleeping on their stomach faces a higher risk of SIDS (or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) - for this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that you should always place your baby on their back to sleep, and stop swaddling when your baby shows signs of rolling.
Age babies can sleep on stomach
Though tummy sleeping has been shown to increase the risk of sudden unexpected infant death for the first year of your baby's life, once they reach their first birthday it's considered safe by medical professionals.
This is because, at 12 months old, most babies are fully mobile. They can independently roll from their front to back and vice versa, can lift themselves to a sitting position, and can easily raise their head if it becomes covered or restricted.
Before this age, you should always place your baby on their back to sleep, even if they roll onto their stomach later in the night.
What to do if baby prefers sleeping on stomach
Even though you place your baby on their back when you put them down to sleep, that doesn't always mean they'll be in that position come morning!
Just like grownups, lots of babies actually prefer to sleep on their stomachs at night, and in lots of cases you can safely let them - as long as they can already roll over independently, and you follow a few safety precautions:
Swaddling (newborn only)
As we said earlier, you should always stop swaddling your baby once they're able to roll over for safety reasons. However, you may be in a situation where you have a newborn baby who can only fall asleep on their front and when they're lying on you!
In this case, swaddling with sleepwear like our new Zen Neo can be a lifesaver! Just zip your baby up in this stretchy, womb-like pod and the gentle pressure (similar to tummy sleeping) will help soothe them to sleep.
If your little one is too old to be swaddled, why not try a sleep sack or wearable blanket instead? Our Zen Sack features a gently weighted Cuddle Pad on the front that provides just enough pressure to soothe your baby to sleep without needing to be swaddled.
In fact, we have a special tip just for tummy sleepers - just put the sack on backward so your little one gets the comfort on their back instead!
A firm mattress
It's recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that your little one sleeps on a flat, firm surface, and this is especially important for tummy sleepers to make sure their face isn't sinking into the mattress, restricting their oxygen intake. For similar reasons, you'll also want to avoid using sleep positioners you may have seen online, as they can pose a suffocation risk.
Safe sleep space
Whether your baby is a back sleeper or tummy sleeper, creating a safe sleep environment is vital for your little one's wellbeing. Until the age of 12 months, you should remove all loose blankets, stuffed animals, and other objects from your baby's sleep surface at night, and ensure that their bed is flat and firm. You should also make sure that their room is at the right temperature to avoid overheating at night.
Practice tummy time
Tummy time isn't just one of the first exercises your baby will ever do - it's also one of the most important! Having tummy time with your baby every day helps to strengthen muscles in their neck, arms, shoulders, and chest, improving their rolling skills and making them safer to sleep on their tummy at night.
Stomach sleeping benefits
For babies who are far along enough in their physical development to safely sleep on their stomach, having demonstrated an ability to roll onto their tummy and back without help, tummy sleeping can actually bring a whole host of benefits!
Babies who find stomach sleeping more comfortable are likely to sleep for longer stretches when in this position and are possibly less likely to experience nighttime wakeups because of the Moro (or startle) reflex. This means longer periods of high-quality sleep, which is critical for your little one's brain development.
Talk with your healthcare provider
Although tummy sleeping is considered safe for babies over 12 months, and it's ok for a baby a little younger than this to roll over in the night, it's understandable if you have some questions or concerns. If you're unsure about your baby's sleeping position or habits, make sure you speak to a medical professional for some peace of mind.
Baby sleeping on stomach: Key takeaways
Whether you have a newborn who only wants to sleep on you or a 6-month-old who's always on their stomach when you come to wake them up, there's a lot to think about when it comes to tummy sleeping. We hope that we've cleared up some of the rules and guidelines surrounding this tricky sleeping position - just remember these key points:
Place your baby on their back to sleep
Keep the sleep surface clear of blankets and toys
Try using our Zen Sack backwards on a fussy tummy sleeper
Keep practicing tummy time during the day to develop important muscle groups
Talk with your healthcare provider if you're unsure about your baby's sleeping position
Commonly asked questions about tummy sleeping
When can my baby sleep on their stomach?
Your baby can sleep safely on their stomach when they're able to independently roll from their back to their tummy and roll back again. At this point, their muscles are developed enough that they can move away from an unsafe position themselves if their oxygen intake is too low.
However, this doesn't mean that you should place them on their front to sleep - the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that you place your baby on their back to sleep until they're at least a year old to reduce the risk of infant sleep death.
Can newborn babies sleep on their front?
Though your newborn might sleep best when they're tummy sleeping on your front, it isn't safe for babies this young to sleep on their front unsupervised for any longer periods. This is because they lack the strength to move from an unsafe position themselves at night if they need to, which can lead to an increased risk of SIDS if their airways are blocked.
What should I do if my baby prefers sleeping on their stomach?
If your baby is too young to tummy sleep but finds it more comfortable, you can consider swaddling with sleepwear like our Zen Neo swaddle pod - this safely provides gentle pressure similar to what your baby craves while also creating a soothing, womblike environment.
If your little one can roll independently and is able to safely tummy sleep, just make sure you follow a few safe sleep guidelines: keep baby's crib clear of toys and loose bedding, make sure their mattress is firm and flat, and continue to place them on their back until at least their first birthday.
What should I do if my baby rolls over in the night?
It's understandable to feel a little worried if you keep finding your baby sleeping on their stomach in the morning after placing them on their back at bedtime. But if your baby is able to roll over independently from back to front and back again, then rolling over to a stomach sleeping position in the night shouldn't be a cause for concern.
If you aren't confident that they're able to roll back again just yet on their own, you can roll them back over yourself just in case. Otherwise, they most likely have the upper body strength required to safely tummy sleep, though you should still place them on their back until they're at least 12 months old.