My Newborn Is Sleeping On Their Side. Is This Safe?

newborn sleeping on side
PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

If your newborn is sleeping on their side then this is a habit that we will want to wean them out of. It might be that your newborn likes sleeping on their side but until they are older we will want to discourage this. In this article we will go into the reasons why as well as provide you some tips to help ensure that baby is sleeping both soundly and safely. So if you are ready, let’s discuss why you don’t want your baby sleeping on their side and what you can do about it!

My baby sleeps on their side all the time. Why shouldn’t’ t they?

Can a newborn sleep on their side safely? Well, it is not so much that sleeping on their side is bad as it is the fact that a newborn sometimes rolls to their side and then over again to sleep on their stomach. This position is associated with the highest risk of SIDS, also known as ‘Sudden Infant Death Syndrome’.

Wait, my child can die if they sleep on

newborn sleeping on side
Gromovataya / Pixabay

their stomach?!

It’s a little more complicated than that. In order to better explain why sleeping positions are very important to your baby right now we will discuss a few of the things that can occur based on how baby is sleeping. You see, unlike us, your baby doesn’t have a fully developed digestive system, their blood vessels are still maturing, and some of their bones are still developing (just to name a few examples). Baby’s kneecaps are not bone right now, but cartilage, and their skulls are soft and not completely closed and fused yet. Simply put, your baby is very vulnerable right now so we want to ensure that no complications arise from HOW they are sleeping. Let’s review a few reasons why your baby should sleep on their back whenever possible.

Collision avoidance – Newborn rolling to the side in the bassinet

One good reason that baby is better off sleeping on their back is the chance of rolling into the side of the bassinet. Your baby doesn’t have a lot of motor control now and the side of the bassinet is definitely no fun for them to run into. Some safety measure that can help prevent this include inner mesh, foam, or simple blanket-barriers to keep your baby from rolling into the sides.

Blood vessel development – Harlequin color changing

This is a weird one. You get your baby out of bed and note, with alarm, that half of their body is red and half of it is their normal skin color. What happened? Known as a Harlequin color change, this can occur when your newborn sleeps on their side for a few hours and their blood vessels are still developing. It is not associated with any sort of chronic health problems, however, so it is not a cause for alarm.

Muscle development – Torticollis

Torticollis is a condition that can occur while your child’s muscles are developing under the influence of poor sleeping positions. So what is torticollis? This generally occurs if baby is sleeping on their side too much and the muscles of the neck develop shorter than they should. This causes an unnatural bend in the neck and can also result in abnormal bone growth, requiring the use of a special harness in conjunction with physical therapy to correct.

Skull development – Flattening of baby’s skull

Another good reason that you will want your child to sleep wholly on their back whenever possible is to ensure the proper development of the skull. While it is uncommon, flattening of the skull may result if a child is sleeping on their side too much or tilting their head on one side too much when sleeping. This occurs because the skull is soft at this stage and thus it is malleable. Don’t believe us? Some tribal societies were known to take advantage of this by attaching a flat board to a child’s forehead, so that they would grow to have a flat forehead (a desirable trait amongst the tribe). While this practice was not detrimental to the baby that we know of, when flattening occurs from the baby favoring sleeping with their head to one side too much can be very dangerous. Flattening of the skull can produce a condition known as plagiocephaly, which can

“That’s right, swaddling and blanket-barriers are your friend!”

affect your baby’s cognitive development and require the use of a head-brace or special helmet to correct.

baby sleeping on side*
Engin_Akyurt / Pixabay

Swaddling to the rescue!

All of this sounds scary but there is an easy solution to help you to ensure that your baby sleeps mostly on their back. All you need is a good blanket or three. That’s right, swaddling and blanket-barriers are your friend! Swaddling your child snugly in one blanket while using a rolled-up blanket on each side of the child can help to minimize rolling and encourage your child to sleep on their back. This also prevents your child from rolling into the side of the bassinet as well and with a warm, soft blanket you know that your little angel feels like they’re are sleeping in a comfy-cloud. It’s a very simple trick bur it is effective, so if your newborn keeps rolling to the side be sure to add ‘setting up a blanket barrier system’ to your daily tasks to make sure that your wee one sleeps safe and sound.

Some closing words

In this article we have described some reasons why it is paramount that your baby does not sleep on their side too much. Granted, some babies can sleep on their sides or their stomach with no ill-effects but generally this is when they are older and more developed. When in doubt and if your baby keeps resisting sleeping on their side then you should consult your pediatrician. Pediatricians are a treasure-trove of sound advice and just a phone call or an appointment away, so be sure to take advantage of this. Our little angels are certainly worth it!

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