Confession: My Baby Sleeps Tummy Down

I Put My Baby on His Stomach to Sleep

Why? The short answer is he sleeps better that way. The long answer is that I don’t think that the Back to Sleep campaign is really all that.

Yes, the numbers of babies who passed away from SIDS declined in the years after Back to Sleep was introduced, but that could be from more accurately diagnosing the cause of death. It used to be that any unexplained baby death would be ruled as SIDS, and now we’re more sophisticated. The ongoing research indicates that true SIDS (vs. suffocation, which is not SIDS) may be the result of a defect in the baby’s brain stem—“the portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep doesn’t work properly.” – Mayo Clinic.

The rise of torticollis and other medical issues can be linked to the start of the Back to Sleep campaign. We have none of the other SIDS risk profiles: we don’t smoke or drink, we breastfeed, we aren’t African American or Inuit, no family history, I’m not a young mother, we have a new firm baby mattress in a crib with no loose items or fluffy quilts/stuffed animals, the baby was full term and of average weight. Basically, the only risk factor among the dozen listed, is that he’s a baby.

It happened with my first child. One sleepless night, in a fit of desperation and my mom’s voice echoing “babies love to sleep on their tummies”, I put him to sleep on his stomach. He slept marvelously for 3 whole hours. It was blissful. After that, I wouldn’t put him tummy down unless I was truly desperate for a little shut eye—only a couple times. As soon as he started rolling over independently, I always put him tummy down (I figured if they can get that way by themselves, they can start out that way.)

And my youngest child? I started him out as a tummy sleeper. I just did it. I feel like I’m getting away with something. He happily shuts his eyes and goes to sleep because he’s not hitting himself in the face with his arms accidentally (my kids won’t stay swaddled.)  During the day, his stronger neck muscles are plain to see. A belly full of milk and a warm mattress, he’s my best sleeper yet, with a nice round head.

So yes, I put my kid tummy down.

The short answer is he’s happier and sleeps better that way—and so do I.

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Comments (13)

  1. Clara 04/16/2017 at 1:27 pm

    Hi, I’m a student Midwife in Ireland and all our research suggests that babies who sleep prone (tummy) are at a greater risk of SIDS than those who sleep supine (back). One fifth of all Irish SIDS cases are found prone. For this reason I suggest you don’t recommend to other mums to place their babies to sleep on their tummies. It goes against all current healthy sleep guidelines.

  2. Dave 11/05/2015 at 11:07 am

    African American??? Get the F**k out of here .. Racist BS
    All of the babies in y family lay on their belly and we have never had any problems .. African American has nothing to do with Infant deaths .. They can happen among any race .. Grow a brain and stop listening to to Mainstream Racist BS … You’re not a crazy mom, but you are a dumb one .. SIDS is nothing but a myth anyways … In fact my daughter Co-Sleeps with me every night, since the night she was Born .. And she loves it .. sleeps like a baby .. No pun intended ..

  3. Sarah S 12/10/2013 at 2:01 pm

    I put my baby down on his tummy to sleep as well. I think the whole SIDS thing is pretty overblown. My baby sleeps very well because of it, his neck and shoulders are strong, and he doesn’t have a flat backed head.

    When you have gas to pass or an upset stomach it’s a natural reflex to lay on your tummy and bring your knee or knees up. This puts your body into the easiest position to pass gas. Babies are no different. Just think of how awful it would feel to be lying flat on your back with a tummy ache and unable to have relief. People are very quick to quote The American Academy of Pediatrics in relation to back sleeping when it comes to SIDS, but you see plenty of dissent towards the same group of doctors when the subject is shifted to circumcision.

    My baby sleeps on his tummy, and he sleeps better because of it.

  4. Christina D 07/12/2012 at 9:44 am

    I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only “crazy” mom who does this. Putting your baby on its back to sleep halves the risk of death, but everyone needs to understand the risk in only 1/1000 in the first place (and that’s factoring in the average risk – if your children have no other risk factors, this number is even smaller), so the risk of sids goes from 1/1000 to .54/1000. You don’t see that number quoted on any of the websites that advocate back to sleep though, probably because they realize that’s really not all that much of a reduction in deaths. The risk of sids for your baby goes from .1% to .05%.

    To illustrate the point, you might also just never ever go outside even when there’s no sign of a thunderstorm because it reduces your risk of getting hit by lightning.

    As to the mother posting about their “friend” that is haunted by her choice to put her baby to sleep on her tummy, I call bullhonky… I bet you it’s a friend of a friend that you heard about… That’s usually where these illustrative stories come from rather than actual experience. Based on the risk of sids deaths, there would have still been a large chance that your “friend’s” baby would have died even on her back.

    Anyway, I will continue to put my babies to sleep on their tummies because they sleep better that way (and yes, I do try back sleeping first to see if any of them take to it – they do not) and they and I are all happier because of it, whereas if I put them to sleep on their back and they wake up screaming every five minutes because they hate it, I see the chance of shaken baby syndrome becoming far more likely than sids when I’m extremely sleep deprived. Also, my kids hit milestones much faster than any back sleeping kids and have better muscle tone. There’s a good amount of research that shows that back sleeping may very well not be good for kids development if you look for it.

  5. Sisifo 08/16/2011 at 8:38 am

    I put my kids down on their backs, but once they could roll over, they’d always end up on their tummies. I check on them periodically, but it’s been alright so far. I’m not for putting them on their tummies, but I’m not going to put them on their backs every time they roll over. Ya know?

  6. Karen H 08/15/2011 at 7:32 pm

    I too agree this is an irresponsible article. Lucky for you, you were lucky. My friend was not so lucky and the first day home from the hospital while her daughter was sleeping on her tummy, she stopped breathing. She witnessed it happening. She immediately started CPR and her husband called 911. But her daughter died in the hospital a week later. She doesn’t have any of those other risk factors you mention. And she now has a beautiful son and daughter. But she is still haunted by the loss of her first born to SIDS.

  7. Rachel J 08/15/2011 at 3:48 pm

    While I understand the sentiments that everyone sleeps better and not many people understand the ‘fuss’ about sleeping on tummies, I still think this is an irresponsible article.
    My oldest had torticollis and ended up with a flattened side of his head, but I don’t blame that on the Back To Sleep campaign. It just happened.
    The reason that babies are supposed to sleep on their backs is because, even though they sleep better on their tummies, they also sleep deeper. That means that if they have something in front of their face, they’re less likely to wake up because they’re being smothered by something. Carbon Dioxide pools around their little faces when they’re on their tummies, and so instead of breathing fresh oxygen, they’re breathing in the carbon dioxide.
    I don’t know about you, but I feel better knowing that I’m doing what I can to ensure my baby is as safe as possible. Wouldn’t you just die yourself if you pooh-poohed the Back to Sleep campaign because you don’t ‘fit’ any of the other risk categories so you feel as if your baby is ‘immune’ to SIDS, only to end up losing them to it because you ignored it?
    Obviously, when baby is old enough to roll over on their tummy, then they’re fine. But, please, re-think this irresponsible activity!
    And, regarding preemies-the rules for term babies don’t apply to preemies. There is no comparison. There are other reasons that they put preemies on their tummies, but in the hospital they are also being watched constantly, so there’s little to no chance of SIDS.
    There are reasons that babies are supposed to sleep on their backs. Yes, moms, you may lose sleep. That is part of being a mom. My son HAD to be woken up every 3 hours when he first came home from the hospital because of a metabolic issue, so I know what feeling sleep-deprived is. But, I would gladly sacrifice my own sleep to know that I am doing what I can to keep my little one healthy.

  8. Tess Adams 08/15/2011 at 2:57 pm

    My daughter was born with spina bifida and the nurses at the hospital have been so brainwashed wish the back to sleep thing that they immediately went to put her on her back when she came out. The doctor ran across the room screaming at her no!!! She had a fragile jelly liuke bubble sticking out of her back holding her spinal cord, putting her on her back and bursting that bubble would have most likely killed her, yet they are so brainwashed by this that they almost did it without even thinking. Needless to say, that even after her closure surgery she slept on her tummy always.

  9. Carey 08/15/2011 at 1:37 pm

    With my first (5yrs ago) I was so nervous about having him on his belly I put him on his back but after a couple of months started putting him on his tummy during nap time (napped so much better and I was awake so vigilant). Can’t remember exactly when but eventually put him on his belly (had never slept through the night and just thought “normal”). Yes, I was so sleep deprived and desperate (and nervous about it). Wow! he slept so much better! And I had been also using a sleep positioner (when on his back) which is now a no-no (gee!!)
    With my 2nd he ‘transited’ to sleeping on his tummy sooner (didn’t like to be swaddled) and slept much better.

  10. stephanie 08/15/2011 at 12:10 pm

    My twins were a month early and were in NICU for a couple of weeks. They put them to sleep on their tummies there because they have all the appropriate monitors. When we brought them home, we tried putting them to sleep on their backs and quickly learned that we would all be happier with them sleeping on their tummies, and so they did.

  11. Taslim Jaffer 08/09/2011 at 11:11 pm

    I love this – thank you for writing this!! When my first child was born 4 years ago she would NOT go to sleep on her back. Her startle reflex woke her up within minutes which left me EXHAUSTED, FRUSTRATED and ANXIOUS! My parents kept telling me to put her on her tummy as we all grew up sleeping that way. When I casually mentioned this to my lactation consultant she flipped and so I vowed to never mention this to another healthcare practitioner again! I switched her to her tummy and enjoyed longer periods of sleep! When my second was born 18 months ago, I didn’t even bat an eye when I put him down on his tummy. It’s too bad that some of the negative comments I heard were from other moms. They were well-meaning but not substantiated in my eyes. Thanks again – really enjoyed this and will share it!

  12. Denise Webster 08/09/2011 at 9:19 pm

    With my third child (who is a year now) I did too. The whole house slept so much better.

  13. Rosesdaughter 08/09/2011 at 9:44 am

    Saw this post on twitter, and I agree: my next child will sleep tummy down from the start.