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Why should I put my baby to sleep on their back?

27 Nov, 2023

We know that sleeping your baby on their back greatly reduces the risk of sudden and unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), which includes SIDS.

But not many people know the ‘why’ behind the research.

There’s actually a pretty simple reason at the heart of Red Nose’s key safe sleeping recommendation, and that’s:

Airway protection.

Babies are born with strong primitive airway protection reflexes that work best when they are lying on their back on a firm flat surface that is not tilted.

These reflexes are:

  • Gagging
  • Sucking
  • Swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Waking up from sleep

Supporting these natural reflexes in as many ways as we can means baby has the best chance possible of protecting their vulnerable airways from dangers.

Sleeping baby on their back keeps the swallowing reflex strong, therefore they are less likely to choke if they vomit. In this position, the airway sits above the food pipe, proving good airway protection.

Baby is also more able to arouse him or herself from sleep in a back-sleeping position.

“Sleeping your baby on their back is important for every sleep – including naps,” says Red Nose Chief Midwife, Jane Wiggill.

What if baby starts to move or roll from the back-sleeping position?

Midwife Jane says that’s OK.

“This can be a tricky time for parents, because the rolling milestone takes a little while to master.”

“Most babies can only roll one way to begin with and this normal.”

“During this time, it is especially important to continue to place baby on the back for sleep and ensure that the sleep environment is free of any additional items such as pillows and loose bedding that could pose a risk to your baby.”

“Practicing Tummy Time 2-3 times throughout the day when your baby is awake will help build necessary back, shoulder, neck, and core muscle strength needed to support them during this time.”

“Tummy Time helps babies to achieve their motor milestones (like rolling) more quickly and helps them stay safe in the sleep environment because they can move themselves into a position of safety if they need to.”

“Once your baby can move themselves from their back to their front and back again, it’s OK, always place baby on their back to sleep, but let them find their own comfortable sleeping position.”

Back sleeping is just one of Red Nose’s six safe sleep recommendations. To educate yourself on the others, visit Red Nose or visit our team of safe sleep educators at the PBC expo who will be happy to answer all of your questions!

Article supplied by Red Nose

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