Why do newborn sleeping positions matter?

    Updated 26 September 2022 |
    Published 10 July 2019
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Dr. Olga Urban, Pediatrician, Baby Boss Medical Centre
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    Experts agree the safest sleeping position for newborns is on their backs. This pose reduces their chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the nation’s fourth leading cause of infant death. Join Flo as we take a closer look at newborn sleeping positions.

    The safest sleeping position for newborns

    You’ve probably spent some time researching breastfeeding positions for your baby, but what about newborn sleeping positions? Studies show that babies sleeping on their backs have a decreased chance of developing SIDS, which is most likely to occur during the first six months.

    Also known as crib death, SIDS is associated with problems with the part of the brain that controls breathing and sleep arousal. Side sleeping and tummy sleeping can partially obstruct your baby’s airway, making it harder for them to breathe.

    Back sleeping and parental concerns

    Have you been struggling to find the right newborn sleeping position? Perhaps it’s difficult to put your little one to sleep on their back due to fussiness. Other parents are concerned about the dangers of placing a sick baby in this position in the event of vomiting. (Medical professionals point out, however, that babies usually turn their head to the side before vomiting.)

    Another common objection to back sleeping is its tendency to create flat head syndrome, also known as positional plagiocephaly. Fortunately, this condition is treatable, and even preventable, with extra tummy time and sleep repositioning.

    Ultimately, the advantages of back sleeping far outweigh the disadvantages, and there’s a broad consensus that it’s the safest newborn sleeping position.

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    Why tummy sleeping isn’t the best newborn sleeping position

    Roughly 50 percent of sudden infant deaths are attributed to SIDS. As previously mentioned, babies who sleep on their stomachs are at greater risk for developing it.

    There are several reasons why this newborn sleeping position is believed to be unsafe. It could put added pressure on the jaw, potentially restricting your baby’s airway. Also, this head placement causes them to breathe recycled (rather than fresh) air continually. This eventually leads to a buildup of carbon dioxide and a lack of oxygen. Thankfully, back sleeping effectively addresses all of these issues.

    Why side sleeping isn’t the best newborn sleeping position

    Although side sleeping is slightly safer than tummy sleeping, it still carries many of the same risks. Furthermore, your infant could potentially roll from their side onto their belly at any time. Overall, the best position to sleep in is on their back.

    Tips on safe sleeping for newborns

    When it comes to newborn sleeping positions, there are numerous ways to keep your child both safe and well rested. Next, Flo reviews the experts’ top dos and don’ts.

    Choose a firm surface

    As babies become increasingly mobile (around the six-month mark), your infant may start rolling onto their stomach after being laid on their back. This is why a firm mattress or other surface is recommended. Soft mattresses tend to mold to the shape of your baby’s head and face, creating breathing obstructions. You can also choose a bassinet, a crib (including a portable one), or a play yard that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

    Eliminate loose bedding and soft objects

    Untucked linens, as well as stuffed animals and toys, all pose potential sleeping hazards. To prevent suffocation, use a tightly fitted sheet on the mattress and skip the pillow and blanket altogether (especially for newborns).

    Monitor the temperature

    Try not to overdress your baby for bed. Periodically check their temperature to see if they’re warm or even feverish. If they’re sweating or feel hot to the touch, remove any extra layers of clothing or adjust your thermostat. The ideal room temperature for babies to sleep in is between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Avoid co-sleeping

    Do not sleep in the same bed as your newborn. Instead, it’s helpful to share a room with your child so you can tend to them as needed and lower their risk of SIDS.

    Offer a pacifier

    A bedtime pacifier for your newborn is also recommended for the prevention of SIDS. There are two important things to note when it comes to pacifier usage. First, ensure that you’ve already established their breastfeeding routine. Secondly, if your baby rejects the pacifier, that’s totally okay — there’s no need to coax them.

    Get the proper vaccinations

    Infants with up-to-date vaccinations are half as likely to develop SIDS. That’s why it’s crucial to get them the right vaccinations at the right time.

    Don’t use cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol

    The risk for SIDS is far greater among children living in a house with smokers and whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. Also, recreational use of alcohol and illicit drugs is extremely harmful before and after the birth of your baby.

    Newborn sleeping positions: The takeaway

    When it comes to your newborn’s sleeping positions, seek out appropriate guidance from your doctor or midwife and take the proper precautions. Always put your baby to sleep on their back and follow the safety tips outlined above.


    “About SIDS and Safe Infant Sleep.” Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, safetosleep.nichd.nih.gov/safesleepbasics/about. 

    “How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained.” HealthyChildren.org, www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx. 

    “Sleep Position: Why Back Is Best.” HealthyChildren.org, www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Sleep-Position-Why-Back-is-Best.aspx. 

    “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 20 May 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sudden-infant-death-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20352800. 

    Task Force On Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. “SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment.” American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Nov. 2016, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162938.full.

    History of updates

    Current version (26 September 2022)

    Reviewed by Dr. Olga Urban, Pediatrician, Baby Boss Medical Centre

    Published (10 July 2019)

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