Your baby turns over on his or her stomach while sleeping: What can you do?

Your baby turns over on his or her stomach while sleeping: What can you do?

When babies turn on their side or belly for the first time, this is a positive experience for many parents. Turning over for the first time is considered a milestone in children’s development, as it is a step towards eventually crawling and walking.

From the third month onwards, some babies start to turn on their own to the side. Once they can do this, it usually doesn't take long before they can turn on their stomachs by themselves. From around seven months onwards, babies can generally turn onto their stomachs without their parents’ help.

However, not all babies go through this stage of development. Some babies may skip this step and go straight to crawling.

Parents are naturally happy to witness this step in their baby’s development. That said, this joy is often accompanied by anxiety, as lying on their belly also presents dangers, particularly if your baby can’t return back onto a safe supine (on the back) position. So, what can I do in such a situation and how can this be prevented? How dangerous is the prone (on the belly) position really?

 

Why the prone position at night can be unfavourable

Several studies have now proven that the safest position for babies to sleep in is on their backs. If your baby turns on their stomach at night and does not have enough energy to turn on their back again, their air supply may be disrupted and they might have a hard time breathing. 

If your baby sleeps with their face on the cot, it is possible that carbon dioxide can accumulate in the mattress and your baby can have difficulty breathing. The fixed lateral position is also unfavourable, as it can lead to breathing difficulties in the lower lung.

Another risk is if your baby suddenly vomits at night. Although it is often assumed that the prone position is safer when vomiting, this is false. If your baby lies face down, they must exert themselves in order to breathe. This is obviously dangerous. 

Awareness of this fact leads many parents to worry so much that their baby might turn over on their stomach at night that they can’t sleep and often get up at night to check on their baby. Some parents even set their alarm clocks for this. But it does not have to come to that.

 

My baby turns over on his stomach when he sleeps: should I be worried?

You can’t always stop your baby from lying on their belly. As soon as their muscles are strong enough, many babies will turn on their side or stomach at night on their own. Even before this stage, babies often move while sleeping, either by kicking or rowing their arms.

This is because babies also develop their motor skills at night, which is in fact important for their physical development. At night, children dream and process the events of the day, which is why they often kick or move back and forth.

If your child is already strong enough to turn around, he or she should also be strong enough to hold their head and turn it to the side on their own. This means you don't have to immediately correct your baby's sleeping position every time.

There are also other methods to make it safer for your baby to sleep on their stomach. 

 

How can I make the prone position more secure

As previously stated, you can’t always stop your baby from lying on their belly. Many babies even find the supine position uncomfortable and prefer to sleep on their stomach. That said, there are a few things you can teach your baby to do to make the prone position safer, so that you as a parent can also sleep easily.

 

Train the prone position during the day

Once your baby is two or three months old, you can start training the prone position in a playful way to strengthen the neck and back muscles of your child. During the day, place your baby on their baby blanket, but on their stomach, so that your child will learn by themselves how to hold their head up and support itself.

You can even place a cuddle cloth close to your baby to motivate the child to make further movements. Be close to your child during these exercises so that you can intervene when your baby is not yet supporting themself.

 

Familiarising your baby with the supine position

Lay your child consistently on their back at night. This will familiarise your baby with the supine position and it will get used to it very quickly.

If your child simply does not want to fall asleep in the supine position, you can rock them on your arm and make them fall asleep there. However, as soon as your baby has fallen asleep, they should be placed in the supine position. Try not to make a habit of falling asleep with your baby on your arm, however, as this should only be considered a temporary solution.

Another tip is to attach a toy over your baby’s crib. This way, your baby's attention is directed upwards and it is easier for your child to remain in the back position.

 

Swaddling

Swaddling is a wrapping technique in which a baby is wrapped tightly with a cloth. This prevents your baby from turning on their stomach at night. However, the correct swaddling technique is very important, otherwise more harm can be done than good.

If you want to use this technique, be sure to ask your midwife about the correct wrapping technique and how long your baby can be swaddled.

 

The right sleeping environment

To ensure that your baby can sleep through the night and doesn't roll over on their stomach, the optimal sleeping environment is very important, as the right sleepwear can help prevent your baby from turning over.

Babies roll over onto their stomach while sleeping, but this can be minimised by using sleeping bags. Sleeping bags keep your baby comfortably warm and restrict your baby's movements, though not excessively so.

Your child still has enough room in a sleeping bag to kick, but it can only turn into the prone position with great effort. The right size is therefore very important for a sleeping bag: if the sleeping bag is too big, too much warmth escapes and the child can move too much. If it is too small, it can be uncomfortable.

If your baby often cries in their sleep, you should check the room temperature and the clothes they’re sleeping in. Babies sometimes cry in their sleep because they are too hot or cold.

The right mattress is another important point to make the prone position safer. Used mattresses should not be used for babies, nor should mattresses that are too soft. Otherwise, your baby’s face may sink into the mattress and find it difficult to breathe.

Firm mattresses can prevent this. In addition, make sure that the material of the mattress is breathable and free of harmful substances. Furthermore, your baby bed should be designed as barrier-free as possible. So, the rule here is “less is more.”

 

My baby turns on their stomach while sleeping: An overview of all methods to make it safer for your baby to lie on their stomach

  • Only under your supervision, place your baby on their belly during the day in order to strengthen their neck muscles
  • Get your child used to lying on their back and always place them on the back in bed
  • Dress your baby in a sleeping bag or swaddle them at night
  • Buy a firm mattress that is also breathable and free from harmful substances