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When Can Babies Sleep On Their Tummy?

babies blog development rolling

 Chances are that a well meaning friend, relative, or even stranger has told you to place your baby on their tummy for sleep in order to help them sleep better. What should you make of this advice? After all, chances are that you slept on your tummy as a baby and turned out just fine!

Back in the 1980's and very early 1990's, tummy sleep was the standard advice given by pediatricians. Why? Because it is true: many babies do sleep best on their tummies! What parent doesn't want to help their tiny baby sleep well, right? So, babies all across America slept on their tummies. 

Should Babies Tummy Sleep?

There was just one major problem with this; something we did not know was a problem at the time but that further research has shown to be true. Tummy sleep, before a baby is able to roll to their tummy on their own, has been shown to be a risk factor for SIDS.

There are a few theories as to how tummy sleep increases a baby's SIDS risk. One is that babies do sleep more deeply on their tummies; perhaps too deeply. It is believed that babies are created to arouse easily as a protective mechanism; too deep of sleep is thought to decrease how easily a baby wakes.

Another concern is that placing a baby on their tummy too early creates the risk of rebreathing too much carbon dioxide as well as makes it difficult for a baby to reposition their head if needed.

Tummy sleep is still commonly recommended in mom groups on social media, in large part because it does "work" for many babies - they do sleep better! But, there is a documented increase in SIDS risk and it is not worth taking. 

Tummy Sleep and Reflux

Tummy sleep is also sometimes recommended in mom groups to decrease the risk of a baby with reflux spitting up and choking. However, the opposite is actually true! When a baby tummy sleeps, his airway is below his esophagus, increasing the risk of aspiration should baby spit up. When a baby sleeps on his back, his airway is above his esophagus, meaning the spit up either goes out of his mouth or back down his throat, avoiding his airway. 

Unless explicitly told to put your young baby on his tummy for sleep by your baby's doctor, on his back is the safest way for your baby to sleep. 

When Can Babies Tummy Sleep?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing babies to sleep on their back for each sleep until 12 months of age. This is so that your baby gets to choose each time if he feels like sleeping on his tummy for that particular sleep.

Once babies are able to roll both ways, they get to sleep however they wish! Tummy and back are both fine at that stage. Sometimes, babies will have a transition period where they can roll to their tummy but not back over to their back. If your baby is in this stage and gets stuck on his tummy, a quick flip back onto his back will do the trick.

Helping Your Baby With Rolling

When trying to help your baby learn how to roll both directions, practice is the key! Brittany Zis, PT, DPT is a pediatric and perinatal physical therapist and the owner of Mother Baby Wellness Collective. She shares some fantastic tips for helping your baby with rolling on her blog. Check it out here

Rolling and Safety

Important safety note: once your baby shows the first sign of rolling, it is time to drop the swaddle, if you haven't already. For tips on the swaddle transition, check out this post.

It is tempting to add bumpers to the crib when babies start rolling, so they don't bump against the rails or get an arm and leg stuck in between, but resist the urge! Bumpers are another proven safety risk. Babies quickly learn where they are in relationship to the rails. They also quickly learn how to pull their arms and legs back through. The risk of injury from getting an arm or leg stuck is much lower than the risk of injury or death from using bumpers.  Bumpers just aren't worth it! 

The last safety item is, if you bed-share or use a floor bed rather than a crib, to be sure your baby's bed is at least a foot away from the wall on all sides. When there is a small gap, there is a risk of entrapment should your baby roll into the gap; even a small one. If you bed-share, also take into consideration the height of your bed and the flooring of your room - should your baby roll out of the bed, you don't want them to get injured! 

Before you know it, your baby will be rolling like a pro! 


Are you ready to make sleep a thing at your house, but feel stuck or unsure how? Working with parents 1-1 to take the stress out of baby and toddler sleep is my joy.

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