Can Newborns Sleep On Their Side?

can newborns sleep on their side

Table of Contents

Welcoming a newborn into the family is a wonderful experience, filled with many moments of joy and love. However, it also comes with a host of new responsibilities and questions, one of which is about the safest sleeping position for the baby. “Can newborns sleep on their side?” is a common query. In this article, we delve into this question, providing comprehensive insights into safe sleeping practices for newborns.

Understanding Newborn Sleep Patterns

Newborns have a unique sleep pattern. They sleep a lot, but not for long stretches. On average, newborns sleep for about 16 to 17 hours a day with periods of wakefulness lasting 1 to 3 hours. But these sleep periods aren’t long, deep sleep like adults experience. Instead, they have shorter sleep cycles, and half of their sleep time is spent

in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase, which is lighter and easier to fall asleep and wake from. Understanding these patterns can help parents develop a healthy sleep routine for their baby, which includes safe sleeping positions.

The Risks of Newborns Sleeping on Their Side

At first glance, a baby sleeping on their side might seem harmless, perhaps even comfortable. However, for a newborn, this position can present significant risks. The main concern is the potential for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a situation where a baby under the age of one dies unexpectedly during sleep without an obvious reason. Research indicates that the risk of SIDS is higher when infants sleep on their sides or stomachs, compared to their backs.

The “Back to Sleep” Campaign

The “Back to Sleep” campaign, launched in the 1990s, was a response to the alarming number of SIDS cases. This initiative, now known as the “Safe to Sleep” campaign, emphasizes the importance of placing babies on their backs to sleep. It was a game-changer in terms of infant sleep safety and contributed significantly to the reduction of SIDS cases worldwide. The campaign’s central message, “Back to Sleep, Tummy to Play,” has become a mantra for new parents and healthcare providers.

Why Back Sleeping is Preferred

When babies sleep on their backs, their airways are unobstructed, allowing them to breathe without any interference. In addition, this position reduces the risk of choking and aspiration, as the trachea lies on top of the esophagus, preventing the spit-up from blocking the airway. Back sleeping also helps maintain a stable body temperature, as overheating is another risk factor for SIDS.

Challenges with Back Sleeping

Despite the obvious benefits, not all babies readily accept sleeping on their backs.

causing parents to question if back sleeping is indeed the best option. However, persistence is key. If your baby resists back sleeping, seek advice from your healthcare provider. They may recommend strategies, such as using a sleep sack or swaddle, which can make back sleeping more comfortable for the baby.

When Can Babies Start Sleeping on Their Side?


can newborns sleep on their side

As babies grow older and stronger, gaining more control over their movements, they may start to roll onto their sides or stomachs during sleep. This can happen around 4 to 6 months of age. Generally, once most babies’ can roll over independently, it’s safe for them to remain in the position they roll into. However, it’s still advisable to place them on their backs at the start of sleep.

Creating a Safe Sleep Environment

The sleep position is just one aspect of ensuring safe sleep for your baby. Creating a safe sleep environment is equally, if not more, important. This includes using a firm sleep surface, like a safety-approved crib mattress, and keeping the sleep area free of loose bedding, pillows, and toys that could pose a suffocation risk. The sleep environment should also be smoke-free, and the room temperature should be kept at a level comfortable for a lightly clothed adult.

Swaddling and Sleep Position

Swaddling is a technique that can help soothe a fussy baby and aid in sleep. It involves wrapping the baby snugly in a blanket to mimic the feeling of being in the womb. However, improper swaddling can lead to risks, especially if the the baby sleeps or is placed on their side or stomach. Therefore, it’s crucial to swaddle correctly and ensure the baby is always placed on their back for sleep.

Monitoring Your Baby’s Sleep

Keeping a close eye on your baby while they sleep is crucial for ensuring their safety and well-being. Regularly check on your baby to confirm that they are still in the correct sleep position and that their sleep environment remains hazard-free. Be aware of signs of distress, such as difficulty breathing, choking sounds, or changes in skin color. If you notice any of these signs, address the issue immediately and consult your pediatrician if necessary.

Transitioning to Different Sleep Positions

As your baby grows and reaches developmental milestones, they will gain the strength and coordination to move into different sleep positions. Parents can help facilitate this transition by providing supervised tummy time during the day, which helps strengthen neck and shoulder muscles. When your baby can independently roll from their back to their stomach and vice versa, it’s generally safe for them to sleep in the same position that they roll into. However, always start by placing them on their back for sleep.

The Role of a Pediatrician in Sleep Safety

Pediatricians play a significant role in guiding parents on safe sleep practices tailored to their baby’s specific needs. From addressing concerns about sleep positions to providing guidance on managing medical conditions that may affect sleep, pediatricians are a valuable resource. Make sure to discuss any sleep-related concerns with your pediatrician during well-baby visits or as they arise.

Understanding the ABCs of Safe Sleep


can newborns sleep on their side

The ABCs of Safe Sleep serve as a simple mnemonic to help parents remember the key components of a safe sleep and safe infant sleeping environment: Alone, on their Back, in a Crib. Your baby should sleep alone in their own safe sleep space, always placed on their back, and in a crib, bassinet, or play yard that meets current safety standards. This guideline helps reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related hazards.

The Impact of Sleep Positioners and Baby Sleep Devices

Various baby sleep devices and sleep positioners are available in the market, claiming to promote safer sleep or prevent specific issues like flat head syndrome. However, many of these products lack sufficient evidence to support their claims and may even pose risks. It’s essential to consult your pediatrician before using any sleep devices or positioners, and always prioritize the established safe sleep guidelines.

The Connection Between Feeding and Sleep

Feeding routines can significantly impact a baby’s sleep pattern. Ensuring your baby is well-fed before bedtime can help them sleep for longer stretches. Additionally, practicing safe feeding habits, like keeping the baby upright for a short period after feeding, can reduce the risk of choking and improve your baby to sleep- quality. Remember to follow age-appropriate feeding guidelines and consult your pediatrician if you have concerns about your baby’s feeding habits.

The Influence of Parental Habits on Baby’s Sleep

Parents’ habits and routines can directly or indirectly affect their baby’s sleep patterns and safety. For example, smoking exposes infants to secondhand smoke, which increases the risk of SIDS. Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine and creating a calm sleep environment can also help establish healthy sleep habits for your baby.

Signs of a Good Sleep in Newborns

Understanding what healthy sleep looks like in a newborn can provide parents with peace of mind. Signs of a good sleep include regular breathing, occasional stirring or twitching, and a relaxed body posture. Keep in mind that newborns have shorter sleep cycles and spend more time in the lighter REM sleep stage, which is essential for their brain development.

Sure, here’s a table illustrating the different sleeping positions for babies along with their pros and cons:

Sleeping PositionProsConsBack Sleeping

– Reduced risk of SIDS

– Less likelihood of choking and aspiration

– Promotes even head shape

– Some babies may find it uncomfortable at first

– Risk of developing positional plagiocephaly (flat spots on the head), although this is usually temporary and corrects over time

Side Sleeping

– May seem more comfortable for some babies

– Can help with acid reflux if the baby’s head is positioned correctly

– Higher risk of SIDS compared to back sleeping

– Baby may easily roll onto their stomach

Stomach Sleeping

– Some babies may sleep more soundly in this position

– Can help prevent positional plagiocephalyf

– Significantly higher risk of SIDS

– Increased risk of choking and aspiration

– Not recommended until the baby can roll over independently

It’s important to note that while each position has its pros and cons, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommends back sleeping for babies until they are able to roll over independently. Even when they can roll, the infant sleeping initial position should always be on their back.

Final Thoughts

Ensuring your newborn has a safe and comfortable sleep is a primary concern for any parent. While the side sleeping position may seem like a natural, comfy choice, it is not recommended for newborns due to the

associated risks, particularly Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). By adhering to the “Back to Sleep” guidelines and creating a safe sleep environment, parents can significantly reduce the risk of SIDS and ensure their baby’s well-being.


However, every baby is unique, and what works for one may not necessarily work for another. If your baby resists sleeping on their back or has a health condition that makes back sleeping challenging, it’s crucial to seek advice from a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance tailored to your baby’s specific needs and circumstances.

Moreover, as your baby grows and gains the ability to roll over independently, usually around 4 to 6 months, it becomes safer for them to sleep in the position they roll into. Even then, the initial sleep position should always be on their back.


Remember, safe sleep practices are not limited to the baby’s sleep position. A safe sleep environment is equally important. Use a firm, flat sleep surface, keep the area free of loose items, maintain a comfortable room temperature, and avoid exposing your baby to secondhand smoke.

Swaddling can be a useful technique to soothe a fussy baby and encourage sleep. However, it’s essential to swaddle correctly and safely, always placing the swaddled baby on their back to sleep. Improper swaddling, combined with incorrect sleep positions, can increase the risk of SIDS.

In conclusion, the first few months of parenthood come with many questions and concerns, especially about your newborn’s sleep. While it’s completely natural to wonder, “Can newborns sleep on their side?”, the safest answer, backed by extensive research and medical advice, is to place your baby on their back for sleep. As your child grows and develops, their sleep patterns and positions will change. Always remember, when it comes to your baby’s sleep, “Back is Best.”



Please note that the information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We are not medical professionals, and we strongly recommend consulting with a qualified healthcare provider for any questions or concerns you may have about your baby’s health or specific medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.


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Jenny Chaines

Jenny Chaines

Having the perfect bassinet is something that every mother wants for her child.
I've been doing my own due diligence since the day I knew I was pregnant and I'm here to let you in on the ins and outs of it all...

About Me

Having the perfect bassinet is something that every mother wants for her child.
I’ve been doing my own due diligence since the day I knew I was pregnant and I’m here to let you in on the ins and outs of it all…

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