How Does Back Sleeping Prevent SIDS?

By now, all of us know that we’re supposed to lay our babies down on their backs when it’s time to sleep. Chances are, we also know that the main reason is to prevent SIDS. Cases of SIDS have been almost cut in half in the United States since the government began its campaign to encourage parents to lay their children down to sleep on their backs and the results have been even more dramatic in other countries.

But how, exactly, does sleeping on her back help your baby avoid SIDS? Here are the main reasons why it’s better for your baby to sleep on her back:

  • Babies who sleep facedown generally get less oxygen than babies who are sleeping on their backs. This is because, simply enough, babies who sleep on their tummies often get their faces pressed up against the mattress and sheets. Not only does this pose a suffocation risk in and of itself, but it also can cause bits of air to be trapped between the sheets and baby’s face, causing baby to keep breathing the same air she has exhaled. This air has less and less oxygen every time it is inhaled and exhaled.
  • Babies who sleep on their backs wake up easier than babies who sleep on their stomachs. While this might not exactly sound like a perk to a tired parent, the fact is that babies who are on their stomachs are less likely to wake up if something is disturbing their breathing than babies who lie on their backs.
  • Babies are less likely to become overly heated if they are lying on their backs. The main reason for this is that babies release most of their body heat through their faces. It’s easier for a baby to release body heat if the face isn’t pressed up against the mattress. Laying on her back allows your baby’s body to naturally regulate her body temperature better than if she were lying on her stomach.

Unless your doctor specifically instructs you otherwise, you should always lay your baby down to sleep on her back. There are some specific conditions, mostly amongst newborns with underdeveloped lungs, for which a doctor might suggest stomach sleeping, but in most cases, healthy babies should be laid to sleep on their backs.