One of the things more noticed in young parents is that there is a fear that their child will suffocate in their sleep and they won’t be able to get there in time. One important part of development is that your baby gets put down on their stomach, back, and both sides. With infants, the cranial vault is malleable so it is important that you don’t only lay a child on their back.
Unfortunately there are some children in the world that have died from SIDS, otherwise known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It is important to note that SIDS is not related to sleeping on your belly. Your baby has a reflex that is actually firing inside of them called the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex. This reflex ensures that your baby has an airway. If your child’s neurology is working in the right direction then there is no reason to fear SIDS.
I work in pediatric development so I can tell you if your child is developing as expected. Oftentimes children that are at a real risk are going to show up at pediatric development center with a heart monitor on that shows they are already having difficulty keeping the rhythm of breath. Their parents have already taken them to a medical care provider.
If you are concerned about if your child should sleep on their belly or on their side, let me dispel those fears and we can take a look at what is really going on in their neurology. The asymmetrical tonic neck reflex is when a baby turns their head the arm and leg reflexively go out. This is what ensures an airway. Let’s say that your baby is laying on its belly and some way or another ends up face down in their covers, this is where the moro reflex should take over. The moro reflex turns on the sleep/wake cycle, the balance between CO2 and O2, and your sympathetic nervous system. So if your baby does happen to end up face down in the covers, then there would be a change in the CO2 and the O2, and the baby will startle itself and go right back into that turned position.
Unfortunately there has been a campaign about babies sleeping on their backs that has put a lot of fear into parents. The campaign is making them feel as though the can only let their babies sleep on their backs. In fact, some people get foam rolls and lock their baby into a face up position. In the beginning your baby needs to move as much as possible. When women go in for routine exams during pregnancy the first question your doctor asks is always about your baby’s movement. This movement is actually wiring your baby up. Once your baby gets here, they are fully formed but they are not fully developed. They need to continue to move. If we take away the very essence of what they need to ensure that their brain is going to develop correctly, we could create problems.
In fact over the years what we have seen with this campaign about your baby sleeping on their back is that there is more awareness of tummy time because many of these children are developing very flat heads, and subsequently having to get helmets put on in order to try and change the position of their cranial vault. If your baby’s head is misshapen, cranial work is a very non invasive procedure that does wonders for the cranial vault. We offer that therapy here at our office. We can also educate you on the right positions to put your baby in for sleep time, and work with you to help you understand how the nervous system works so we can actually quiet your fears.