We should all know that when it comes to newborn sleep, “back is best”. But can newborns sleep on their side or their stomachs if they seem to like it more?
What if your newborn keeps half-rolling onto their side, or maybe they seem to prefer sleeping on their stomach? How do you navigate getting good newborn sleep, following all safety guidelines, and feeling confident that you can provide both for your little one?
In this blog post, I’m going to answer the following questions:
Let’s dive right in!
Why does my newborn like to sleep on their side/stomach?
When our newborns are super new and super tiny, their bodies often naturally scrunch up a little bit. You may have seen those adorable and popular videos on the internet or all over social media (and experienced it yourself!) when you lift a newborn and they scrunch their knees up towards their stomach. This is called the newborn scrunch!
Basically, it’s your baby imitating what life was like for them back in the womb. The newborn scrunch only lasts up to one or two months as your baby “stretches” out more with their new (more spacious) environment.
Preferring stomach sleeping, on the other hand, usually sticks around a little longer. A huge reason your baby might prefer sleeping on their stomach is because it’s actually a lot more comfortable for many babies. This does not mean you should lay your baby down to sleep on their stomach – more on this in the next section!
Can newborns sleep on their side and/or stomach?
Before your baby is strong enough to safely roll onto their belly and then back over onto their back, the answer is NO. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “recommends all babies sleep on their back, on a flat, firm, separate sleep surface such as a bassinet, play yard or crib, and to keep the baby’s sleep space free of blankets, bumpers, toys or other objects.” So, for the first year, lay your baby to sleep on their back when placing them in their sleep space.
What if my baby doesn’t like sleeping flat at night?
If you are noticing that your little newborn regularly doesn’t like to lay flat while sleeping, my first suggestion is to rule out tummy troubles.
Tummy troubles can mean:
- Tongue or lip tie
- Reflux (*Click here to read more about how to help a gassy baby in another blog post.)
- Gas (*Click here to read more about how to help a gassy baby in another blog post.)
- Food intolerances
We want to get to the bottom of our baby’s discomfort so we can best meet their needs. One thing you can try is to keep your newborn upright for 15 minutes after a feeding and before laying them down. BUT, if they won’t lie down to sleep at all, then safety is the top priority.
You can consider the safe sleep 7 for co-sleeping or if you are worried about falling asleep in an unsafe sleep position while holding them, then (as unpleasant as it might be for you) try walking around with them to keep yourself awake.
Remember, this won’t last forever! Reach out to your pediatrician or specialist to get to the root of the problem, and know that we are always here to support you with whatever your sleep journey goals are.
Click here to watch more on what to do if your baby does not sleep flat on Instagram.
How can I help my baby with rolling over?
Your baby can safely sleep on their side or stomach once they are able to roll themselves both onto their tummy and then back onto their back. Still, we want to continue laying them down on their back to sleep for the first year.
If you feel like your little one is on the verge of rolling but might need some help and practice, here are four tips to get your baby rolling:
1. Encourage Lots of Tummy Time
The best way we can help a baby learn this skill is to practice! Spend a few minutes practicing each day. A little frustration is normal but remember to take breaks when needed.
2. Use Toys as a Motivator
Take their favorite toy and bring it up and behind their ears. This helps strengthen those neck muscles so they can roll over. Plus, it feels like a game!
3. Let Them Practice in The Crib
Their crib is the ultimate developmental playground. If your baby wakes up in the morning or after a nap and is content and safely practicing their skills, let them! Sometimes they’ll wake up with a completely new skill!
4. Assist Them So They Know What The Movement Feels Like
Rolling can feel scary! Gently guide them through the movement. Once they know how it feels and what they should do, it might help them get the hang of things sooner.
Click here to watch more about helping your baby start rolling on Instagram.
Is it safe for my newborn to sleep in a swaddle after they’ve started rolling?
No. The AAP recommends dropping the swaddle as soon as your baby is showing signs of rolling! This is because we don’t want them to roll onto their stomach, face down, with their arms restrained and unable to roll back over.
So, the safest and best practice is to ditch the swaddle as soon as they start showing signs of rolling. The good news is that there are many different products available to help babies make the transition out of the swaddle.
What products can I try to help my baby transition out of the swaddle?
- Merlin Magic Sleep Suit: This sleep suit is great to use if you are trying to give your baby a calm, snug feeling while preventing their sleep from being disturbed by any of their jerking or flailing.
- Dreamland Weighted Sleep Sack: These gently weighted sleep sacks are great, and don’t restrict movement! (And you can use code CHRISSY15 for 15% off your order!)
- Swaddle Sleeves: These sleep sacks have gently weighted arms that are detachable. This way, you can remove one or both of the weighted arms sleeves so your baby can move around safely. (Use code PEACEFUL10 for 10% off your order!)
*Disclaimer about using weighted products:
According to the 2022 AAP updated recommendations, “It is recommended that weighted blankets, weighted sleepers, or other weights not be placed on or near the sleeping infant. A single crossover randomized nonblinded trial of 16 infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome found no adverse events when a 1-pound weighted blanket was placed on each infant for 30 minute observed episodes. However, no studies have documented the safety of weights for infants in an unobserved, nonclinical sleep environment.”
We at The Peaceful Sleeper believe in doing what feels best for you and your family. Since there have been no documented adverse “events” from using weighted sleep products (at the date of posting this), and no studies that prove that using a weighted product is unsafe (at the date of posting this), some parents feel comfortable using a weighted product and others do not. We always advocate for doing your own research, staying informed on up-to-date safety recommendations, and making an informed decision that’s best for your family.
You can find the full 2022 AAP guidelines here.
- Sleep sacks: Sleep sacks are basically wearable blankets that can be used as long as you like. I would consider dropping it and moving to a blanket once your little one is transitioning to a big kid bed.
To learn more about swaddle safety, click here to read my “Baby Swaddles Simple Guide: 5 Things to Know About Safe Swaddling” blog.
Recap of Can Newborns Sleep On Their Side
In short, it is not safe for your newborn to sleep too far on their stomach until they are able to roll themselves onto their bellies and back to their backs again. While many babies are more comfortable sleeping on their stomachs it is important that, for the first year, you consistently place them on their backs to sleep.
If your baby has trouble sleeping flat on their back, we can help! I have a team of incredible certified pediatric sleep consultants who can be in your corner supporting you throughout your unique sleep situation. Click here to grab a consultation with one of them!
Whether your little one is a newborn (0-4 Months Content Library), 4-24 months (4-24 Months Content Library), or a toddler (2-5 Years Content Library), we have the resources you need to get your family the sleep you all deserve!