Whether you heard it from your mother, your neighbor, your aunt, or your great-great-grandma, science debunked the myth that it’s safe for your baby to be a tummy sleeper many years ago.

As early as 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) asserted that babies should always sleep on their backs. In 1994, the AAP officially kicked off the campaign “Safe to Sleep,” which reduced deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) down from 130.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 35.4 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. 

From multiple studies done throughout the last decade, it seems pretty definite that “babies” should not sleep on their tummy. But what if you have a baby tummy sleeper who just won’t sleep unless they’re on their tummy? This article will define what we mean by“babies,” outline the official sleep recommendations from the AAP, teach you what to do if your baby is a tummy sleeper, and let you know when to freely allow your baby to sleep on their tummy.

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How Do I Define “Babies”?

black baby

While this may seem like a silly question, there is an official definition of what constitutes a “baby.” If your baby is under 1 year old, they’re considered a baby. Why is this important?

Babies that are under 1 year old are “babies” because that is when their SIDS risks are at their highest. This is also when most, if not all, babies have learned to turn from their back to their tummy and vice versa smoothly and consistently.

As a general rule of thumb, when your baby turns one, you can start adding light blankets and some soft toys to their bed. But before then, it is important to keep potentially dangerous objects out of babies’ cribs.

baby on his back

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement on safe sleep recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS. These include placing baby:

These recommendations aren’t limited to sleep overnight—they also apply to naps during the day. Additionally, the AAP recommends using a crib or other separate surface free from any objects. These objects include pillows, blankets, or any toys that may cause harm to babies when they’re asleep.

What If My Baby Won’t Fall Asleep Unless They’re On Their Tummy?

sleeping baby

Many tummy sleepers prefer to sleep on their tummy because it makes them feel safe and secure. According to Harvey Karp, a pediatrician, and author of Happiest Baby on the Block, there are three alternatives to making the baby feel secure while ensuring their sleep safety:

  1. Swaddling: During babies’ infant stage, swaddling mimics the mother’s womb and can prevent babies from sudden movements that startle them during their sleep. However, once your baby can start rolling over, you should stop swaddling the baby. Don’t worry, there are multiple other ways to keep your baby warm without a swaddle!
  2. Loud, rumbling sounds: To make babies feel safe, loud and rumbling sounds also mimic the mother’s womb. Lullabies and white noise and also help babies feel safe.
  3. Change your baby’s position after they fall asleep: If your baby absolutely can’t fall asleep unless they’re on their tummy, once your baby is in a calm and sleepy state, gently put them back to bed on their back to ensure their safety.

Some other methods that are related to baby sleeping safety include:

When Can I Freely Allow My Baby to Sleep on Their Tummy?

baby tummy sleeper

The general rule of thumb is that you should continue to put your baby to bed on their back for as long as they’re in a crib. As mentioned earlier, an infant is considered a baby anytime before they hit 1 year old. While some people may suggest that if your baby can move themselves from their back to their tummy and vice versa, and that your baby will be fine sleeping on their tummy, it is still not recommended

Most babies are able to move themselves from their back to their tummy and vice versa around 6 months old. While the risks of newborns dying from SIDS peak between 2 to 4 months, the SIDS risks do not drop significantly enough until they are 1 year old. Therefore, even if your baby is able to move around freely before they turn one, it is not safe to allow them to sleep on their tummy. Once they reach the age of one, you can start letting your tummy sleepers do their thing (and enjoy some more sleep yourself)!

If you choose to move your baby into another room after the age of one, there’s always the option of using smart baby monitors to keep an eye on your baby and get a notification of any potential danger. 

Concluding Thoughts

Having a tummy sleeper is very common because it makes your baby feel safe and secure. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it is not safe to allow your baby to sleep on their tummy anytime before they turn one. With that said, there are many options, such as swaddling and using white noise, to help your baby feel secure when they’re sleeping without compromising their sleep safety. For more information on baby’s sleep safety, refer to the AAP’s official website.

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