When Newborns Sleeping on Their Side Stops Being Dangerous

Updated 
May 15, 2024
 | 
5
 minutes read
Written by
Mandy Treeby
Chief Baby Sleep Consultant

Do you tend to sleep on your side at night? If yes, you’re not alone!  

While most people tend to favor sleeping on their side, it’s important to know that when it comes to your little one, side-sleeping is not safe for newborns and young babies. In fact, putting your baby to sleep on their side is unsafe until their first birthday.  

Read on for more about why it’s unsafe to put your baby to sleep on their side, when side-sleeping becomes safe for a baby, and why you should put your baby to sleep on their back for the first year of life.  

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Is it Safe for Newborns to Sleep on Their Side?

It is never safe for a newborn to sleep on their side. Extensive research shows that the safest position to put your baby under one-year-old to sleep is on their back. The research also shows you should never put your baby to sleep on their side for any sleeps, including naps.  

The side-sleeping position is known to increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is when a young baby passes away unexpectedly for no apparent reason. If a baby sleeps on their side, they are more likely to roll over to their tummy, which also increases their risk for SIDS.

While placing a baby to sleep on their side might seem like a comfortable position for them, it's important to prioritize safe sleep practices to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related accidents.

Why Shouldn’t Babies Sleep on Their Side?

Research has shown that an unsafe sleep position is one of the strongest risk factors for SIDS. Based on research, the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines specifically recommend a supine, or back, sleeping position and against a side sleeping position. Over the last 20-30 years, the focus on creating awareness against babies sleeping on their sides and stomachs has significantly reduced sleep-related deaths in infants.

A major reason why putting a baby to sleep on their side is dangerous is because they are more likely to roll onto their stomach, which increases the risk for SIDS. If your baby rolls from their side to their stomach and struggles to breathe or is uncomfortable, it may be hard for them to roll out of that position.  

In addition to breathing obstruction, other risks of a young baby rolling from their side to their stomach include overheating, rebreathing, and more.

When is it Safe for Babies to Sleep on Their Side?

Babies should not be put to sleep on their side until they are at least one year old. However, once your baby is physically able to roll back and forth unassisted, it is safe for them to continue to sleep on their side if they move into that position.  

Babies often start showing signs that they can roll back and forth around 2 to 4 months old (but every baby is different). Until they are fully able to roll back and forth, it is not okay for a newborn to sleep on their side even if they roll onto it. This is because they likely won’t be able to roll back to their backs if they are struggling to breath or uncomfortable.  

If your baby rolls onto their side and cannot get back on their own, gently move them back to their back. Once they can roll back and forth on their own, if they roll onto their side while sleeping, you don’t need to return them to their back.  

What to if Your Baby Rolls on Their Side During Sleep

If you see your infant sleeping on their side, it’s important to consider if your baby is able to roll back and forth unassisted.

If the answer is yes, your baby can roll back and forth independently, you can let them continue to sleep on their side. Research does not show that it’s dangerous for a baby physically able to get out of the side sleeping position to sleep on their side.

If the answer is no, your baby is not able to roll back and forth on their own, you should reposition them gently to a back-sleeping position.

How to Prevent Your Baby from Sleeping on Their Side Before It’s Safe

Here are tips to prevent your baby from sleeping on their side before it’s safe.  

  • Swaddle Them (if safe): Swaddling is recommended for little babies to keep them feeling safe and secure in their early months and help them sleep better on their back. Once your infant shows signs that they may roll over onto their side, you should stop swaddling.
  • Safe Sleep Space: Make sure your baby’s sleep space includes a firm mattress with a tight sheet. Stuffed toys, blankets, and other loose bedding is dangerous to have in your baby’s sleep space for the first year.  
  • Comfy Sleep Enivornment: Setting your infants sleep space to the temperature of 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit (20-22 degrees Celsius) and keeping it pitch black for naps and at night helps promote restful sleep.  
  • Sharing Sleep Space: The American Academy of Pediatrics say sharing a room with your baby under 6-months-old can reduce the risk of SIDS as much as 50%. It also makes it easier for you to make sure you to keep an eye on them and adjust their sleeping position if they roll on their side.

The Smart Sleep Coach by PampersTM app can walk you step-by-step through how to set up your baby’s nursery or sleep space to ensure it’s comfortable, safe, and optimized to promote the most restful sleep possible. If you share a room with your little one, Smart Sleep Coach can also support you through the transition to your baby becoming an independent sleeper. Take this free 3-minute sleep quiz to get your personalized sleep support plan to help your baby sleep better.

Is it safe to use an anti-roll pillow, rolled-up blanket, or sleep positioner for my newborn?

It’s not safe to use an anti-roll pillow, rolled-up blanket, or sleep positioner for your newborn.  For the first 12 months of life your baby’s sleep space should be free of anything soft or loose.

Final Thoughts

How to keep your baby safe while they sleep can be a nerve-wracking topic for parents. However, practicing sleep practices such as never putting your baby to sleep on their side until their first birthday is proven to reduce the risk of sleep-related accidents and SIDS.  

If your baby does roll onto their side when sleeping return them back to sleeping on their back. Keep doing this until you know your baby can roll comfortably in both directions. Still, back-is-best at least to start the night for the first year of life!  

If you have questions about safe sleep practices or when it’s safe for your baby to sleep on their side, reach out to your pediatrician. If you want more tips or guidance on promoting the most restful sleep possible, which includes how to create the ideal sleep schedule to promote easier bedtimes and less nighttime wakeups, download the Smart Sleep Coach app and get a scienced-back plan tailored to your little one.

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FAQs:

It’s not safe for a baby to be put to sleep on their side until they are at least the age of one. If your baby is of an age where they can roll back and forth independently, which usually happens between 4 and 7 months of age, they can sleep on their side if they choose.

It is never safe for a newborn to sleep on their side in a swaddle. It is not safe for a baby to sleep on their side in a swaddle because of the risk they will roll over onto their stomach, which can increase the risk for SIDS and suffocation if their arms are swaddled.

It is never safe for a baby who is unable to roll back and forth unassisted to sleep on their side, even if they are supervised. Studies show that all babies should be put to sleep on their back for the first year of life, regardless of if you’re watching them or not.

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How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 7th ed.

American Academy of Pediatrics, “Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2022 Recommendations for Reducing Infant Deaths in the Sleep Environment”

Frontiers in Pediatrics, “The effect of swaddling on infant sleep and arousal: A systematic review and narrative synthesis”

Mayo Clinic. Guide to Your Baby’s First Years, second ed.

National Institutes of Health, “About Back Sleeping”  

National Institutes of Health, “Safe Sleep for Your Baby”

New England Journal of Medicine, “Factors potentiating the risk of sudden infant death syndrome associated with the prone position”

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