baby sleeping. tummy sleeper

The Tummy Sleeper Battle

Tummy Sleeper Battle – How We Dealt With Our Terrible Sleeper

At one point I thought my baby was actually trying to suffocate herself while sleeping.

Munchkin spent the first 8 weeks of her life sleeping elevated in a rock n play or swing due to ridiculous reflux.  We took her to a wonderful chiropractor and the reflux vanished within a week.  We were thrilled because she wasn’t in pain anymore and she was about to outgrow her beloved rocker.  We finally got to put her to sleep flat on her back like we’re supposed to in the wonderful co-sleeper!!  Munchkin was not pleased…..

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Sleeping just on her back was never something my daughter was going to do.  Even in her rocker she slept more on her side than her back. But in the rocker she couldn’t roll over – so I didn’t worry about it.  Now she’s flailing around.  And screaming.  We used a crib wedge to lift her mattress for a couple weeks with success.  But she learned to roll early…  And we were in trouble.

Once she could roll there was no way to get her to sleep on her back.  The instant we put her down she started arching her back to flip over.  No matter how many times we put her back down she would scream and arch.  We tried physically hold her in place while she screamed but she would only calm down when we released her enough to roll onto her tummy.  So what do you do when your baby will only sleep down on their tummy when EVERYONE will tell you babies are safer on their back?

Back to Sleep?

SIDS rates have dropped since the Back to Sleep campaign launched in 1994.  As a nurse SIDS is one of those things I feared (and still fear) above all else.  The enormous weight of suddenly being responsible for keeping a tiny perfect little creature alive that’s half your DNA is overwhelming.  The fact that you have to do this while on the least sleep you’ve ever is absolutely awful.  So when something comes along that says “Hey, you might get a little more sleep! You’re baby will be happier and less cranky!” it seems AH. MAZE. ING.   But then it inevitably comes with “By the way this may kill your kid.”   …….great.

After weeks of torturing her by trying to hold her in place or repeatedly flipping her until we were both exhausted, I made the decision to let her sleep on her tummy.

1. She could hold up and move her head.   One of the reasons back sleeping is recommended is newborns can’t hold up their heads so if they are not getting enough air or something is covering their face they cannot re-position.  Munchkin could, and often did, move her head from side to side while on her tummy.

2. She did not sleep swaddled.  Swaddling is NOT advised once a baby can roll over.  If they roll over they could get stuck.  Munchkin wasn’t being swaddled at this point (she was NOT a fan) so there was not a risk of her getting stuck up against anything.

3.  She slept in a correctly installed co-sleeper (that we loved).  She was 5 inches from my face & I could hear her breathing.  The co-sleeper was tight against the bed and there were no pillows, blankets or toys anywhere near her.  The mattress was firm, well fitted & the sheet was snug.

4. She doesn’t just sleep on her tummy. She rolled from side to tummy to side throughout the night.

5. I slept that way.  Before 1994 doctors advised mothers to place babies on their tummies so that’s how I (and everyone in my family slept).

6.There are multiple other high risk factors for SIDS that Munchkin did not have.  I do not smoke, I was breastfeeding full time (which makes me more likely to wake frequently and causes babies to sleep less deeply), she was not in our bed, their were no blankets or bumpers in her co-sleeper and she was on a firm mattress with thin fitted sheet. Plus she’s a girl. All these things reduce her risk.

7. She was nearly 12 weeks old before we let her get away with it.  SIDS decreases with age – especially after the first 12 weeks – although the risk is still there for the first year of life.

8. SIDS is actually very rare.  It doesn’t matter that it’s rare if it happens to you, but the odds are low.  The CDC reports around 1,500 SIDS deaths a year.


What can you do if you’re struggling to get baby to sleep on their back?

  • ALWAYS work to get your baby to sleep on their back first.  I do not recommend EVER letting a baby who cannot roll over alone sleep on their tummy.
  • If your baby is like mine and immediately rolls over and cannot be calmed on her back after WEEKS of trying do you best to reduce your risks in every other way.
    • DO NOT use sleep positioners.  They are constantly being recalled because they hold baby in position but can easily hold baby in BAD positions when they squirm hard enough.  For newborns a good snug – not tight- swaddle will keep baby in place.
  • A possible cause of SIDS is ‘rebreathing’ – babies breath out carbon dioxide into a small space like a blanket near their face and re-breath this air, causing a lack of oxygen.  Another possible mechanism of injury is suffocation – the babies face presses against a sheet, blanket, bumper or toy that obstructs the airway.  The risk of these issues happening can be reduced by taking EVERYTHING out of the crib.
    • Bumpers sound great.  Munchkin is now in a big girl crib (right next to my bed) and she regularly bumps her head on the rails when she wakes up and crawls around.  But she also rolls around a lot in her sleep and ends up with her face right in a corner.  If a nice padded bumper was their she could easily stick her face right on it.
    • Toys and loveys and little lambs that play lullabies are great but they do not belong in the crib until around baby’s birthday.
  • Dress baby right.  Overheating is another possible cause of SIDS and overdressing is a common mistake for new parents.  Wearable blankets and sleepsacks are the ONLY extra layers you want on baby.  If baby looks flushed, is sweating or feels hot take one layer off.
  • Get safe-baby gear.  Always get a firm mattress. There is even a woven mattress from Newton that is “breathable” that I wish we had – but we have a mini-crib!
  • Don’t smoke.  This is a major risk factors for SIDS deaths.
  • Never bed-share with a tummy sleeper.  American beds and sheets are not designed to be firm and tight enough for a baby.  On their stomachs this is even more dangerous than back sleeping and bed sharing.  In other countries where mom and baby sleep on a dense mat on the ground they can tummy sleep in the same bed all they want to.  Don’t do it on your Tempur-pedic or Sealey pillow top.
  • Talk to your doctor about your baby’s particular risks and discuss whether your baby may be mature enough to sleep on their side or stomach.

Did you have similar problems?  What worked for you? Comment below!


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