You’ve probably already realized how important getting enough sleep is for your baby’s mood, but your baby’s sleeping position is also extremely important. So, is it safe to allow your baby to sleep on one side?
The short answer is no. While it might seem harmless, side-sleeping puts your infant at greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy infant. SIDS usually occurs during sleep, and is the leading cause of death for babies under the age of one.
Aside from SIDS, side-sleeping can lead to several other health issues, ranging in severity from from benign to life threatening.
On the less severe end, side-sleeping can lead to harlequin color change. Also known as unilateral erythema, this condition causes one side of the sleeping infant’s body to turn pink or red. Unilateral erythema is harmless and will go away on its own, but experts remain unsure of its exact cause.
Side-sleeping can also put your child at risk for plagiocephaly, more commonly called flathead. This condition occurs when your baby’s head is placed in a single position repeatedly or for a long period of time. Because your baby’s skull is still soft and malleable, the sustained pressure from a crib mattress, for example, can cause the affected point to flatten or become concave.
Depending on the severity of the condition, doctors may recommend using a head brace or simply repositioning your baby for sleep. If left untreated, however, the condition can stunt brain growth and impair baby’s cognitive abilities later in life.
Most seriously, side-sleeping can put your baby at risk of choking. Sleeping on the side can cause your baby’s trachea (windpipe) to twist, making it more difficult for them to breathe. Equally seriously, it can cause regurgitated food to accumulate around your baby’s windpipe, inhibiting breathing.
So, how do you prevent your baby from side-sleeping?
If you notice your baby sleeping on their side, there are several relatively simple ways to solve the problem.
First, simply place your baby on their back when it’s time to sleep. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the back position is the best for preventing dangerous medical conditions, including SIDS.
Second, don’t put any unnecessary support structures in your baby’s crib. Pillows and crib bumpers can cause your infant to roll onto their side while sleeping. The same goes for sleep positioners and wedges. In fact, sleep positioners have even been proven to increase the risk of suffocation.
Third, don’t swaddle your child before sleep. Because swaddling bundles baby into a smooth, round shape, it increases their risk rolling onto their side. Swaddling has also been linked to an increased risk of SIDS.
When can your baby start sleeping on their side?
Doctors advise that you put your baby to sleep on their back until they’re 12 months old.
By the time they’ve reached this age, your child’s esophagus and trachea are well developed enough to reduce risk of respiratory problems associated with side-sleeping in infants.