Baby Sleeping on Side – Risks and Precautions

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A baby sleeping on one side

Some swear that a baby is supposed to lie on his back or stomach, while others claim that sleeping on the side is the best. In this article, these questions are answered among many others, including whether sleeping on the side is safe for babies.

Why is it Important that your Baby Sleeps in the Right Position?

SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome refers to the sudden death of children who are under a year of age. SIDS usually occurs as a direct result of fatal sleeping accidents in infants, so it is extremely important to ensure that your child uses a safe sleeping pattern. SIDS mainly occurs when the baby is sleeping, too. Therefore, it is imperative that the child always sleeps in the right position.

Is Sleeping on the Side Safe for Babies?

Can a baby sleep on one side? No- sleeping on the side is not a safe option for children, as it can directly lead to a number of health conditions in the child.

1. Harlequin Colour Change

In this condition, the side in which the baby is asleep on changes colour into pink or red, while the other half remains unaffected. There is always a clear demarcating line that runs through the centre of the body of the child, with either side coloured markedly different. The sleeping side will be a bright pink or red, while the other side will be normal. This occurs when the child sleeps on his side for hours. However, it is to be noted that even though it may look alarming, this condition does not have any ill-effects on the child. The condition is a benign one, and the colours fade away in a matter of minutes after switching the side of the baby. This condition is thought to occur due to gravity affecting the blood flow in the immature blood vessels of the child, causing accumulation of red blood cells near the skin.

Treatment

No treatment is required for this condition, as the colours fade away in minutes after the position of the child is changed.

2. Flatheads

At a young age, the skull of the child is soft and malleable. This allows the brain to grow and expand, and the skull expands at the same rate too. Flatheads occur when pressure builds up at some point of the skull, causing it to go concave or flatten, or even sink inwards. This can happen if the child is placed in the same position repeatedly so that the contact area on the head is the same. Flatheads can occur in children even if the child has been sleeping straight, but his head was turned to the side. The improper shape of the skull may result in the brain being unable to expand, leading to stunted brain growth.

Treatment

The treatment consists of using braces called baby helmets to correct the problem. These are manufactured by certified manufacturers or hospitals and help reposition the skull of the child.

3. Torticollis

Torticollis is characterised by the abnormal tilting of the neck of the child in one direction, due to the severe shortening of sternocleidomastoid muscle that connects the lateral side of the head to the clavicle. Since the muscles of the child are still tender and growing, they may be affected and shorten due to the repeated sleeping on the side or even turning of the head.

Treatment

The stiffness in the muscles of the child can be released via physical therapy or wearing a recovery harness. The harness is usually wrapped around the body of the baby and has a soft pad near the neck. This pad effectively pushes the head in the opposite direction, which gradually brings the neck to the normal position.

4. Risk of Choking

Torsion is created in the windpipe, which makes breathing difficult for the child. In some cases, regurgitated food can get accumulated near the tracheal opening, and this results in another choking hazard. Tummy sleeping is more likely when the baby sleeps on his side, and this can increase the risk of SIDS.

Treatment

There is no treatment for this- the best thing to do is to prevent your child from sleeping on his side.

What If Baby is not Comfortable Sleeping on His Back?

This is not about the comfort of the child- safety is of a higher priority, compared against comfort. You have to make your baby get used to sleeping on his back, by encouraging him to sleep in the right posture. You should never let him know how convenient it is to lie on the sides. This can be done by making him sleep on his back from an early age, as early as possible. This way, the child gets used to sleeping like that even if he is not comfortable with the position.

Precautions to Prevent Baby from Side-Sleeping

A baby sleeping on its back

Some of the precautions include:

1. Place Your Baby on the Back

This is an easy way to ensure that your child does not side sleep. Just make sure that you place him on his back when you put him to sleep, whether it be his crib or his cradle. This position also reduces the chances of upper respiratory infections occurring in the child.

2. Remove Unnecessary Support Structures

In many cribs or beds, it is found that there are items which don’t benefit the baby in any way. These include home pillows and even crib bumpers, which can negatively affect the sleeping position of the child.

3. No Sleep Positioners

Most sleep positioners or wedges are designed to ensure that your child sleeps on his side, which is not a good sleeping position. Even if the positioner helps the child sleep on his back, it must still be avoided- they have been proven to pose a suffocation hazard to the children.

4. Reduce Swaddling

Swaddling creates a cylindrical surface around the baby, which makes it easy for him to roll over in his sleep. Therefore, you must ensure that swaddling is reduced- it also increases the risk of SIDS.

5. Change Up the Positions

To reduce the risk of flatheads in children, switch the position of his head every alternate right. Shift his head to the left and right at night alternatively, when he lies on his back.

When Can Babies Sleep on Side?

For the first year of his life, it is essential that the child only lies on his back. After that, the oesophagus, trachea and breathing mechanism are all fairly developed- it is, therefore, safe for him to lie on his side.

What if your Baby Rolls Over to its Side while Sleeping?

Newborns sleeping on side have to be absolutely avoided, so you must keep an eye on the child in the first year to check if he rolls over in his sleep. Baby sleeping on side in 3 months is still bad- it is only around 6 months of age the muscles get sufficiently strong enough to support the child lying on his tummy. When the child rolls over on his own, it means that the risk of him choking during sleep is low- however, this should not be allowed to happen below the age of six months.

A baby sleeping on its back

Sleeping on the side does no good to children below the age of 12 months, and is an unsafe practice. Only after a year of development do the muscles and internal organs of the child get strong enough to lower the risk of choking, so the baby must not be allowed to lie on his tummy or side during the first year of its life.

Also Read: 

How Many Hours Does Baby Needs to Sleep
Baby Sleep Training
Baby Sleeping Too Much

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