The answer to this isn’t simple.
Can babies sleep on their side?
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests prone and side sleeping are risk factors for SIDS in infants under one year of age. Therefore, babies under 1 year should always be placed on their backs for all sleep times.
According to the AAP, once your baby can roll from back to tummy and tummy to back, she can remain in the sleep position that he or she assumes. However, if your little one can only roll from back to side and can’t roll herself from tummy to back and vice versa, you need to return her to her back. Once she has mastered rolling both ways, you no longer need to correct her sleeping position.
Just because a newborn baby occasionally rolls from back to tummy doesn’t mean she is ready to sleep on her stomach. A baby must consistently be able to roll from back to tummy and vice versa in order to safely sleep on her side or belly.
What age do babies start to roll on their side?
Babies usually pick up the skill of rolling around 3 to 4 months of age. Even though a baby sleeping on side at 3 months or a baby sleeping on side at 4 months is relatively rare, you want to ensure you are always placing your baby on their back for sleep times. If your 3 or 4 month old baby is able to comfortably roll both ways during awake time (which isn’t likely for this age), then you do not need to intervene and re-position her on her back.
Can my six or seven month old baby sleep on their side?
Babies usually begin to master rolling from back to tummy AND tummy to back around six to seven months. If your baby still has yet to perfect their skills, you can help through supervised tummy time, which has also been proven to reduce SIDS, prevent the flattening of the occiput, and strengthen the upper shoulder girdle.
Just like with any skill, the more we practice, the quicker we learn and the more efficient we become at it. So, once your 4-month-old baby starts showing signs of rolling, practice, practice, practice! Even when your baby is able to roll both ways, you still want to ensure you are always placing your baby on their back for every sleep period for their first year of life.
What if my baby ‘forgets’ how to roll both ways?
From my experience (as a mom and sleep coach), babies who have newly mastered the skill of rolling both ways sometimes ‘forget’ how to do this in their cribs. If your baby can roll both ways during the day, then you do not need to go in and re-roll them at sleep times.
Help your baby practice rolling before bed; place your baby in her crib and allow your child (or help your child to roll both ways) as a means to remind her how to perform this skill. At first, there are bound to be some exhausting nights (been there, done that!) as going in to roll your child back can get old fast. But remember: this is a short, short phase of your baby’s life and it isn’t worth the risk of SIDS.
I realize it is not practical to constantly watch your baby while she sleeps; you need to sleep, too! (Yes, you do!!!) All we can do is all we can do. So, when you wake and check on your baby, roll her back if she is on her side or tummy.
The safest newborn sleep position is on their back
Some parents choose to prop their newborn baby upright (using a swing or sleep positioner), or use a side sleeping baby wedge. These sleep spaces are not safe and should not be used. Just because a product is advertised and sold does not mean it is safe! A newborn baby should not be sleeping on their side as the safest way is on their backs.
If you swaddle your baby, The AAP suggests stopping with swaddling when an infant exhibits signs of attempting to roll. Swaddling your baby when they start to show signs of rolling can be potentially life-threatening. I recommend dressing your baby in a Woolino sleep sack as an alternative to the swaddle.
My side sleeping advice
Always place your baby on her back for all sleep times until your chubby is one year old. If your baby can roll both ways (back and forth and vice versa), it is then safe for your baby to sleep on her side.
Lindsey Hennigar is a certified pediatric sleep coach and owner of The Sleep Ranch with more than two years of sleep coaching experience. She has helped hundreds of families worldwide get the restorative sleep they need.