Baby Sleeping On The Side: Newborn Baby Sleeping Risks & Precautions

newborn sleep position

Pregnant women are suggested by experts to sleep on the left side since sleeping in this position makes it easier for them to pass the nutrients to their baby. But once the baby has come out, the question that arises is if your baby can also sleep on the side?

Since babies spend most of their time sleeping, you might be wondering about your baby sleeping on the side. You might think that it is safe for your baby to sleep on the side since even grownups do it too. But you need to know that babies are different from adults and sleeping on the side can have negative effect on them.

In this article let’s talks about the consequences of babies sleeping on the side and also the precautions that you can take to avoid them.

Is It Safe For Baby To Sleep On Side?

If babies sleep on the side, it can lead to some health conditions that I will talk below:

Harlequin color change

Harlequin color change is also called as unilateral erythema. As per NCBI, this conditions affects almost 10% newborn babies. Such condition can be seen on babies during their first week of birth. In Harlequin color change, you can observe that the baby’s color changes to red or pink on the sleeping side and unaffected on the other side. This color change happens when the baby slept on one side for long time.

Even though this color change may look alarming to you, it does not cause any harm to your baby. If you observe this condition, then simply switching your baby’s sleeping position will make the color fade away in minutes. While the exact reason for this condition is not known, experts say that this could be due to gravity affecting the immature blood vessels on the baby which accumulate on one side.

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How To Treat – There is no such treatment required for this condition since it is harmless and changing the sleeping position of your baby will make the color fade away.

Flathead

The skull of a baby is soft and malleable. This is because it will allow skull to grow at the same rate as the brain. And the risk of having a soft skull is that they pose the risk of developing flatheads. Flatheads can happen when pressure is built on the skull at one point for extended periods of time that it can flatten the skull or make concave. And the flat skull will affect the brain also since there will be less space for the brain to expand.

It can happen to a baby even if they are sleeping straight but their head is tuned towards one side. Flatheads can also be cause by torticollis which is a neck condition that I will talk later.

How To Treat – Flatheads can be treated using braces called baby helmets if they are diagnosed on time. Since the baby skull is soft, it will be easier to correct them. If the condition is not serious, then the doctor might simply recommend changing the sleeping position of the baby to reposition the skull.

Torticollis

If the sternocleidomastoid muscle (the muscle that connects the lateral side of the head to the clavicle) of a baby is abnormal due to severe shortening then it will lead to a condition called torticollis. Torticollis will result in the neck tilting to one side. There could be many reasons why torticollis could occur and one of them is improper sleeping position of baby.

Since babies muscles are soft, repeatedly sleeping on one side or sleeping on the back with their head on the side will affect the sternocleidomastoid muscle and shorten it. This will affect growth of both the muscle and bones.

How To Treat – The stiffness on the muscles can be treated by physical therapy. Doctors may sometimes recommend wearing a harness around the baby’s body. It will have a soft pad near the neck which will push the head on the opposite direction. This will gradually bring the neck to its normal position.

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Choking

If your baby sleeps on one side, it can result in torsion on the windpipe which can make it difficult for the baby to breath. It can also make the swallowed food accumulate near the tracheal opening which might also pose the risk of choking. There is an increase in the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) during tummy sleeping, where the baby may topple when it is sleeping on one side.

How To Treat – The only way to avoid this is by not allowing your baby to sleep on one side.

How To Stop Your Baby From Sleeping On One Side?

There are some easy precautions that you can take to prevent your baby from side sleeping.

1. Placing Your Baby On The Back

One of the simplest precautions that you can take to prevent your baby from sleeping on the side is by placing your baby on his back when you make him sleep. Research has shown that making your baby sleep on the back can prevent fatal medical conditions like SIDS. It can also help in preventing respiratory infections.

2. Avoid Placing Unnecessary Bed Supports

Do not place any support structures on the bed of your baby. Support structures such as pillows or crib bumpers do not provide any safety or benefit for your baby. Pillows can make your baby roll over to the side during his sleep.

3. Avoid Sleep Positioners

Sleep positioners are designed to ensure that you baby sleeps on the side which itself is a bad position to sleep. There are even sleep positioners which are designed to make the baby sleep on its back. It is recommended not to use any of them. They are proven to pose health hazards.

4. Avoid Swaddling

Swaddling can also increase the chances of making your baby roll over to the side. The reason for this is because swaddling creates a cylindrical surface around your baby which makes it easy to roll over. They also increase the risk of SIDS.

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5. Keep Changing The Sleeping Position

If your baby is sleeping on his back, then keep changing the position of the baby’s head every alternate night. For example, if your baby is sleeping with his head on the right side, then on the next night move the head to the left side. By following this you will be reducing the risk of flatheads. Keep the baby crib in the same room where you sleep and also avoid placing anything extra in the crib like padding or bedding.

What If Sleeping On The Back Makes My Baby Uncomfortable?

The safety of your baby is more important than its comfort. Encourage your baby to sleep on its back with the right posture. Make it practice on making him sleep straight on its back from an early age. By doing this, your baby will learn to sleep that way as it grows up.

When Can Babies Sleep On Side?

Atleast till your baby is 12 months old make them sleep on their back. Once the baby is 1 year old they can sleep on the side since the esophagus, trachea and other breathing mechanisms will be developed enough for them to safely sleep on the side.

What If My Baby Rolls Over To The Side While Sleeping?

A baby can roll over to its side or its tummy as it reaches 6 months old. This is a natural part of your baby’s development and if your baby rolls on its own then let them sleep in that position.

In general, a baby can only move to the side or tummy when its muscles are strong enough. If your baby can roll on the own, it is a sign that the internal organs are strong and the risk of choking is less during sleep.

But if your baby has still not reached 6 months and it has rolled over, then change their position to back again.

Make it a habit of putting your baby to sleep on its back until it is 1 year old. If your baby likes to sleep on the side, then gradually change its habits to sleep straight. You can train your baby by putting your baby to sleep in the back position regularly. Also make sure to always keep your baby in your line of sight.

Do you have any suggestions to add on baby sleeping on the side? Share with us in the comments below.

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