Calculated risk, or why I let my kid sleep on his stomach

Guest post by R. Hamilton

Yes, I let my baby sleep on his stomach.

I’m not stupid: I know that it’s recommended that infants sleep on their backs, and I understand why it’s recommended. SIDS is scary, terrifying stuff — and the fact it’s still mired in mystery means that there’s extra fear around it.

But my son sleeps better on his stomach, and with all the shifting recommendations about what’s OMG DANGEROUS!!! for babies, I’ve gotten exhausted by all the flashing red lights telling me everything is going to kill my kid. It starts to feel like babies are essentially to sleep face up on concrete in a cage. Bumpers? SUFFOCATING! Blanket? SMOTHERING! Stuffed animal on the glider a few feet away? Why are you trying to kill your baby!?!!

In some ways, it reminds me of Just Say No … if drug educators put something as harmless as marijuana on the same danger level as heroin, it’s easy for people to get jaded and dismiss it all as bullshit. With the amount of recalls, safety alerts, and unsolicited advice around baby sleep safety, it starts to feel like someone’s going to call CPS if I let my baby even look at a crib bumper.

Furthermore, it’s hard for me to know how to take these safety recommendations when the American Academy of Pediatrics still views bed-sharing/family beds as terribly dangerous and awful. Meanwhile, international studies have found bed-sharing can actually reduce SIDS. For me, I’ve decided napping with my baby isn’t something I’m worried about — but all the flashing red lights about how everything is dangerous make me worry that I’ll ignore a legitimate warning.

Again, I’m not stupid here. I understand the fear around SIDS. I understand how hard doctors are working to bring SIDS levels down through research and education. I’ve done my research, and read first hand accounts from parents who have lost children to SIDS. And yet still, I let my kid sleep on his stomach.

It’s up to each parent to calculate the risks and make the choices that are right for them. What’s safe? What’s dangerous? What feels right to you? I knew one mom who wouldn’t let her 5 year old walk to the next door neighbor’s house on their dead-end street. For her, the risk wasn’t worth it.

For my family, I feel like I’ve calculated the risks and decided that I feel ok about sleeping with my baby, and ok about letting him sleep face down. What calculated risks do you take?

Comments on Calculated risk, or why I let my kid sleep on his stomach

  1. "It's up to each parent to calculate the risks and make the choices that are right for them."

    So true. 🙂

    Jazz is a side sleeper…he's never slept well on his back. He's also a co sleeper. It works for us!

  2. The problem with SIDS or anything called a Syndrome is that they really don't know anything about the cause of the Symptoms. In fact, it's a bunch of symptoms lumped together; they may not even be related.

    There is even new research to suggest that SIDS isn't a random disease at all, but that problems with brain stem formation could cause the sleep-death disorder. A child is diagnosed as having passed away (tragically) due to SIDS when they can't find any other obvious reason for the death…but that doesn't mean there wasn't a definable cause. It just means they haven't found one.

    I slept on my stomach…in fact I still sleep on my stomach. Research has shown that babies actually sleep more deeply on their stomachs (better REM sleep). If my child sleeps better on their stomach or with a blanket then I will put them on their tummies with a blanket.

    I 100% agree with your statement that it's up to every parent to calculate the risks and make their own choices. I would also add, that we shouldn't feel like criminals for doing so!

  3. I let both my sons sleep on their stomachs. I did my research and I tried to get them to sleep on their backs and sides for the first couple of weeks. Then, I would test them by putting them to sleep on their stomachs for a nap. It’s worked wonderfully!

    I really wish that all the “OMG Everything is dangerous” recalls would stop. We need to know what actually has a high potential for harm and what has a minisule potential for harm. It makes our decisions difficult.

    So, I just stopped telling others what I’ve done. It’s sad because part of me feels closed up, but I’ve already had CPS called on me because I didn’t have sheets on the beds. I found out later it was my ex and yes, the form said “no sheets on beds”. Maybe I should never wash them?

    It’s good to hear that I’m not alone. 🙂

    • The recalls will never stop because companies insist on making shitty products that contain toxic chemicals to tiny humans. So, until that stops and their bottom line becomes about making a GOOD PRODUCT instead of profit, the recalls shall persist. 😛

  4. My daughter has slept on her stomach since she was about 4 months old when we made the switch from co-sleeping to her crib. I could get her to sleep on her back for like tops 45 minutes but then my mother in law (who swears both of her kids slept on their tummies from the night they were brought home from the hospital – she was before the SIDS era) said to just try her belly and she has been sleeping beautifully ever since. Now since I'm an excessive worrier, I did go out and buy the Angelcare monitor but I think that was more to calm my nerves.

    But as the others have already said, ANY mention of this to other people makes me feel like I've done something horrible to my child. I always get "Aren't you worried about SIDS?" Always! Although it took me a few months, it finally clicked one day that every parent does what is best for their child in their situation.

    • Wow, I hadn’t thought of that. Of course, I’m not a mother yet, but I slept on my stomach with a blanket as did my 4 sibs, and we all turned out just fine. Considering the trouble my sisters have had with their children not sleeping through the night, I may give tummy sleeping a shot when I do have kids and compensate with the angel monitor.

      Life is all about calculated risk and, though I am a chronic worrier, I refuse to be a helicopter parent. My parents let me run around unsupervised with the neighborhood kids and fall off my bicycle and climb trees. I think it was a good childhood, and I think my kids should have that as well if they want.

  5. I'm very glad to read this. We sleep our son on his stomach and have since birth. Sometimes we use a sleep positioner to put him on his side, but he sleeps better, deeper, longer on his stomach, and will actually put himself to sleep, whereas if he's on his back he just won't go to sleep. And I don't blame him! Try to fall asleep in a position you're not comfortable in!

    With our oldest child we tried to do everything right, and never let her sleep on her stomach even though that was the only way she wanted to sleep. She never slept well and was nearly 2 before she slept through the night. We vowed not to do that again.

    But, lordie, try telling that to someone! It's almost like we're admitting to taking him to the park and leaving him there for a few hours while running errands.

    • But, lordie, try telling that to someone! It's almost like we're admitting to taking him to the park and leaving him there for a few hours while running errands.

      EXACTLY! My son was hospitalized for pertussis at a month old, and the incessant lectures I would get about allowing him to stomach sleep were almost as difficult to deal with as seeing my son become cyanotic every five minutes.

      The wanted to place my four week old who was already having problems breathing on his back, so he could cry incessantly and have even more troubles. Really? I think not.

  6. Remember that it wasn't too long ago when docs were telling mothers to have their babies sleep on their stomachs because of the risk of an infant burping up formula and then choking on it!

    • Yep. My mother had me and my brother sleeping on our stomachs for this reason, as it was DRUMMED into her that any other form of sleeping would be bad/fatal. In fact, speaking to a clerk at an upscale baby store recently, we were told the safety information changes so often, that staff don’t know what to tell parents anymore, for fear of harming someone’s child.

      • My mother told me this at one point right after the birth of my younger sister’s eldest. She said most doctors had made a 180 degree turn from what she was told raising us to what my sister’s doctor was telling her.

    • Yes. I’ve been a back sleeper all my life and I was born when they were saying you shouldn’t let your child sleep on their back. My mother used to creep in and try to turn me over on to my stomach without waking me!!

      Eventually she decided that since I was rolling on to my back anyway, I was probably just fine that way.

      It’s so hard to keep track.

  7. My daughter slept on her tummy for the first few months because she WOULD NOT sleep on her back. Granted when she was asleep on her tummy she was on top of me (Yaay for being awake from 7pm till 4 or 5 am)

  8. When my daughter was only a month old, she would sleep on her side. I would put her in her bassinet on her back and she would flip over on to her side. Of course, I freaked out and talked to her doctor about it. Our pediatrician said it just depends on your baby. Putting your baby to sleep on his/her back REDUCES the risk of SIDS, not prevents it completely. I think ou're just doing what's best for your son.

  9. I was crazy paranoid about SIDS, If they told me that standing on one leg while singing to a fan would reduce the risk by 1/2%, I would have done it. However, my baby always napped better on her tummy. I wish I would have been able to relax and let her sleep on her tummy at night, because I think she would have gotten better nights sleep.

  10. My son likes to sleep on his back only in the crib. When in bed with me he likes to curl up so he can breastfeed when he wants. His most favorite spot to sleep is on my chest with his head on my shoulder while I'm on the sofa or rocker. In any position he's never choked when he spits up, it always ends up on his neck, shoulder and wherever he's snoozing 🙂

    It seems that the deaths mostly come from people that are under the influence of something and smother the child with their body. Or when they just do other stupid things, not from when the baby sleeps on his tummy.

  11. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! My husband and I are fans of co-sleeping and my son happily sleeps on his belly-and has almost since birth. I've been criticized for many things we do (we have 4 kids), but I also make educated decisions based on risk. I decided when it was time to introduce foods. I'm with my kids all day, I know them quite better than a doctor who seems them quarterly or even as an infant; monthly. I watch Family Guy with my kids. We listen to metal, rock, even some rap. I chose which immunizations I felt were needed. I homeschool. My sons sleeps, now in a crib, with a blanket, bumperpad and… GASP!… a giant monkey named Ed.

  12. Here's to being outlawed for sleeping with your child! Obviously if you've been drinking or taking any type of drug it probably wouldn't be the best idea….but sleeping with my 1st and planning on sleeping with my 2nd both i, the baby, and daddy sleep so much better. Its not for everyone….but it works for us.

  13. After I had my baby at the hospital, a pediatric nurse came into my room and saw me sleeping with my baby in the bed with me. She half-jokingly told me that if I let that continue that I was "creating a monster". When I then sharply asked her to leave my room she stammered out her AAP shpeil, which I again countered with a stern voice, " please leave". I then asked to speak to a patient advocate, to whom I complained about the nurse, and later that nurse appologized to me in tears for giving me her glib opinion on a matter I did not ask her about. Stand up for what you think is best for your babies, mommas.

    • This reminds me of my experience in the hospital. I had a c-section but the hospital allowed rooming-in, so I had Alice with me in my room. The problem was that because of my surgery, it was hard to lean over and pick her up from the bassinet or put her back in. The hospital was understaffed that weekend, and my husband wasn't allowed to spend the night with me, so I often ended up falling asleep with Alice on my chest or in my arms because it took so long to get a nurse to help me. The nurse would come in and scold me for falling asleep with the baby! Ridiculous! When we got home, we took all our naps together in my bed. It was heaven.

  14. I love this piece. Education is the key, not nessarily a list of set instructions. Knowledge of the many ideas out there and a listening to the needs of your child. I was dutiful and have always tried to keep them of their backs but not only do I let them kinda do what they feel like but there had been times when they spit up a lot and if I hadn't been woken to them choking in the cradle next to us who knows. Really, just being attentive and informed is all Mom's can do. I feel this will be true for the rest of their little lives too;)

  15. I look back on how psycho I was about my daughter remaining on her back. I freaked out when she learned to turn over on her stomach . I would hear her turn with my super mommy ears and run into her room and flip her back over. Poor baby never slept through the night….and neither did I.
    My pediatrician told me to chill out, if she was strong enough to flip over when she was half asleep she would be strong enough to move her head if she was having trouble breathing…besides the fact that neither one of us would ever get any sleep if I continued to flip the baby all night long.
    Once I let her sleep on her stomach, she slept for 13 hours. (I of course tip toed to her crib every thirty minutes to make sure she was still breathing)
    She is 15 months now and continues to sleep on her stomach. I am blessed with a really good sleeper.

  16. I slept my son on his side and then his tummy because his reflux caused him to choke at just a few weeks old and it scared me! After that I made sure he slept so that anything he spit up went right on the bed and never had a chance to clog his air ways. He also slept really while just like everyone else is saying. I also used bumper pads on his bed… And all in all the only issue I ever had was when he slept on his back and choked.

  17. We lost our baby girl 8 months ago to SIDS. We also let her sleep on her tummy. For about the last 6 months I blamed myself for her death for letting her sleep on her tummy, and warned every new mother I could about it. After going through bereavement counselling, I now see that it was more than likely not my fault, and that making her sleep on her back would have only reduced the risk, but may not have prevented her death.

    Every mother must make her own choice for her child, we are all individuals and so are all our babies. Risk reduction is always wise, but there is a happy balance between being super safe and super relaxed. The time we have with our babies is too precious to waste worrying about SIDS statistics and the likelyhood of it happening to our children.

    • My thoughts are with you. The thought of losing a child is gutwrenching, and for you to be able to write online here about it is absolutely amazing and truly welcomed. I wish you and your family all the best. My niece passed away at 7 months old, 18 months ago and our family is still recovering also. Much love.

    • "more than likely"? etna, it was NOT your fault. no ifs, ands, buts or even "more than likely" about it. It was so brave of you to share this. thank you for your perspecitve. May you and your family continue to heal and be surrounded by peace and love.

  18. I put Alice on her back until she stopped wanting to be swaddled, and starting rolling over on her own. (If you swaddle your baby, you pretty much have to put them on their back since their arms are pinned, and they can't change their position.) At that point, developmentally, they can sleep on their stomachs, no big deal, regardless of whatever one's belief is about back vs stomach sleeping. I have friends who would get up all night just to turn their baby back onto their backs after rolling over. No thanks! LOL

  19. I was terrified of EVERYTHING when I had my first baby. Part of it was that I had almost no experience with newborns and I've never felt like I had a natural maternal instinct… I loved my son but I didn't feel like the procedures and "right ways" of mothering came to me. So I relied heavily on parenting books and professional advice. I checked on my son constantly because I never felt like I knew if a sound he was making was a natural baby sound or the sound of him choking to death.

    My son was "colicky" (if you think there are problems with the confusion behind a "syndrome" then I'm sure you understand the frustration of a term like "colicky".) Anyway, one time I had my mom watch him so I could finally get some sleep, and she laid him down on his stomach. That was the best he'd slept in his whole little life… but I was so terrified of SIDS that I wouldn't duplicate that success. I was so afraid he would die and I would obviously be at fault, because I knew better.

    This time I hope to take a more intuitive and less nervous approach to mothering a baby. Its easy for me to say that now, and I really fear that once my second baby is here I will revert to the nervous wreck I was during Jonah's first months. Its hard to drown out everyone telling you all the ways your baby could die.

  20. And as for the crib bumper, our son was a chunky little thing and his legs regularly got stuck between the slats of his crib before we put a bumper in there. They were the perfect shape to slide in between the slate and get stuck, and then he had to be oiled down to get back out… I never thought of them as pure decoration.

  21. The only time my nine-month-old ever will sleep (and she's been this way from the start) on her back is when she's in bed with us. In her crib, I put her down on her side, and she immediately rolls over to her tummy. I've honestly never been too worried about this. Don't get me wrong, SIDS definitely gives me the heebey-jeebies, but since we don't have any of the risk factors present (smoking, etc.), I feel safe about this sleeping choice. Sure, I won't put her face down on a fluffy comforter, as my mother-in-law would have me do.

    The thing I can't stand is the slew of products that are *supposed* to help prevent SIDS. Like a particular type of pacifier from Gerber. How can it make such a bold claim, "Helps prevent SIDS" (I think it might actually even go so far as to say that it's PROVEN to help prevent SIDS)? Are there any cases of babies who "almost" died of SIDS, but were saved by the pacifier (or the mesh crib bumper, or the pad with the alarm that goes off if your baby quits moving–which one of my sisters has for her second baby)? The notion that a product can prevent a baby from dying from SIDS says to parents whose babies have tragically died that, if they had just had this pacifier, or bumper or pad, their baby would still be alive. How horrible!

    The other thing that bothers/confuses me is the seeming mis-association between cosleeping and SIDS. If a baby is smothered by a parent who has rolled over on a baby, it's not SIDS, right? It's neither sudden nor unexplainable. The cause is still tragic, but pretty straightforward. Right?

    • I was either told or I read somewhere that pacifiers can HELP to prevent SIDS, because one of the suspected causes of SIDS is that the baby chokes on saliva and is unable to coordinate their swallow mechanism on their own to get the saliva down, so the pacifier helps to facilitate that swallowing process. So, I let Alice suck on a pacifier all night long when she was a newborn. At the very least, it helped her sleep. LOL. (Woe was me when, at 4 months, she completely refused to take a pacifier ever again.)

      • Just wanted to respond to the question about "smothering" and co-sleeping. No, that is not considerd SIDS. I think people are bringing it up because doctors so often frown on co-sleeping and often cite studies where children die in these situation BUT these deaths in the studies are usually associated with a parent who has been drinking or using drugs.

        Hope that helps

  22. Brooke, I totally agree with your last point, sudden infant death due to being crushed by parents or falling out of the bed is not part of a syndrome!!

    However, I think that the pads can theoretically prevent SIDS. A parent could wake up and possibly rescusitate their child. I'm not sure how that would actually work in reality. That pacifier malarky is idiotic though.

  23. Pacifiers are shown to help reduce SIDS, so it can be a legitimate claim. Maybe they don't actually mean *their* pacifier, but they are implying it, sure. Anyway apparently sucking on something reminds them to breathe or something along those lines.

    Mine rolled onto her side/stomach the second she could figure out how to roll over. Both my husband and I are side/stomach sleepers and so it makes sense that she would be too.

    We co-slept for the first 5 months without any problems. I took all the recommended precautions, but transitioned her to naps in her crib at 4 months then out of our room at 5 months so that I wouldn't have to struggle with the change later. Soon after she went into her crib, she started rolling around like a crazy person and now it is almost impossible for me to sleep with her (which I do on occasion if she is upset in the night or I want her to have a nice long nap with me). She mostly kicks me in the stomach or the face and flails her arms about making it impossible for me to sleep. Sigh. I do miss curling up around her sweet little warm body and feeling her warm breath on me.

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