Newborn babies don’t pop out of you with a manual. Thankfully, there are lots of baby books out there, but many times it’s either so much information it overloads our tired mom-brains or the information conflicts. Then you’re left to wonder…which is right?
That’s what I want to address this topic today. Many new parents often are told very conflicting things about how a baby should sleep. Some are told baby can sleep on their side, others are told on the back, and some think it’s ok for baby to sleep on her chest.
So before you start to panic, relax. I’ve got you covered with all the facts about the right way to put your baby to sleep safely.
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Is it Wrong to Let a Newborn Sleep on the Chest?
Now I hate to tell any mom or parent out there that they’re wrong, but please don’t ever let your baby sleep on her chest. Yes, it’s wrong, and according to the Chest Foundation, it puts your baby at higher risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
While the exact cause of SIDS is still not known, experts agree that the risks are most significant when a baby is vulnerable, such as premature or was exposed to smoking while in the womb. Another factor is when developmental instability is taking place, like when sleep patterns are changing. And one of the biggest factors that put babies at risk for SIDS is being placed on the belly or chest to go to sleep.
They surmise this is because their breathing reflexes aren’t fulling developed just yet. Yes, your baby might snuggle up on your chest while you hold her while laying down. Yes, she might doze off. And if she does, make sure you move her to a safe place in the correct position (more on that in a moment).
Babies sure do love to sleep on us, even in our arms.
Some babies won’t go to sleep without being in your arms! But you can’t stay like that forever. It’s safe to cradle them in your arms as long as their faces aren’t obstructed, but you should gently place your baby back in her crib or bassinet after she’s drifted off to sleep.
So, if babies can’t sleep on their bellies, then how should they sleep? Stay with me on this for just a moment.
Can a newborn sleep on their side?
As I just mentioned, safe sleep protects your baby from SIDS, not to mention choking and suffocation. If you knew about not letting baby sleep on her belly, that’s great. But what many more moms out there don’t know is that putting a newborn to sleep on their side is also dangerous.
Safe sleep, in essence, is when you put your baby in a proper position for rest in a safe space. I’ve talked about how cribs should only contain a fitted sheet and a decent mattress that fits perfectly into the crib (no pillows, stuffed animals, or crib bumpers please!) and how having a baby sleep in your bed with you is not advised by the AAP (though having a pull-up bassinet is perfectly ok). But now, I’m going to address the position you should put your baby in.
What’s the Safest Position for Baby to Sleep in?
I’ve mentioned countless times how I relied on my breastfeeding coach from La Leche League, Vivien. She was a massive help to me in trying to make sense of the whole mishmash of conflicting advice. Some books I’d read told me to put my baby to sleep on her side. Others said back.
Who’s right? The AAP’s most recent recommendations were updated in 2016 (nothing has changed in their advice on this issue since then) advising parents to lay baby on the back on a flat and firm surface.
Vivien had told me at the time that back sleep was the safest for babies. Given that she had more kids than me, I trusted her. Glad I did.
Why is it dangerous for my baby to sleep on the stomach?
The reason the experts all advise you lay baby to sleep on her back is that newborn babies can’t rollover. They are not equipped to do so and believe me, once they start pulling this adorable trick, you’ll be all over it like butter on a biscuit snapping about 100 photos and videos.
You can rollover in your sleep and so can bigger babies and toddlers. But newborns lack this skill. If they can’t roll over, they can embed their little faces in the mattress and suffocate. Remember what I said about those breathing reflexes not being fully developed yet? This is why you should never let your baby sleep on her chest.
Is there anything else I shouldn’t do with baby sleep?
As a matter of fact, yes. There are a few things you shouldn’t ever do when putting your newborn down for sleep. Like EVER.
- No sleep positioners
Don’t put these anti-rolls pillows or nests on your baby registry. The FDA has issued a stern warning about them because they can cause your baby to suffocate. Got one as a gift? Return it immediately.
- Take baby out of the car seat
If your newborn baby falls asleep in the carrier, car seat, stroller, or sling, get her out as soon as you can and put her to sleep in her sleeping space.
- Never use crib bumpers
They were made from the best of intentions, but it turns out, they’re more deadly than helpful.
What about when a baby is sleeping on tummy on my chest?
Here’s one last thing I’d like to add and a question I hear a lot. If the baby is sleeping on tummy on your chest, is it OK? No, but it is fine if they fall asleep there during that snuggle time. I remember when my eldest was a baby sleeping on her stomach on my chest. Those were precious moments. But every time she fell asleep like that, I moved her.
The bonding part is good indeed, but you can’t let them stay sleeping on stomach on your chest, or they could suffocate. It’s also a bad idea if you’re tired (which likely, you are because you’re a mom) because you could roll over or drop them.
I also want to mention that tummy time is crucial for your baby’s development. So are snuggles. And while tummy time should always be done on a firm surface with you wholly engaged and watching, the difference here is that your baby is awake.
In addition to tummy time, you can let baby lay on her tummy on your chest and enjoy the adorable stares. But if she falls asleep, move her promptly for her safety.
Now that you know how a baby should sleep safely, hopefully, you’ll be able to sleep just a little more soundly.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.