When is it Safe for Tummy Sleep?

Cara Dumaplin, Founder

Research shows a decreased risk of SIDS when babies are placed flat on their backs for sleeping (specifically, on a firm mattress with no loose bedding).

Can a baby ever safely sleep on his tummy? If so, when?

There is not a universal age for safe tummy sleep because all babies are different with skill development. However, once your baby can purposefully and consistently roll from back to tummy, most pediatricians will say tummy-sleeping is safe. (Ask YOUR pediatrician though!)

Most doctors will agree that parents should still continue to place a baby on his back for sleeping, but if he is strong enough to roll onto his tummy, he is strong enough to lift his head and safely sleep in this position. This same principle applies if your baby seems to be face down after rolling over onto his belly; if he has the strength to roll over, he has the strength to lift or turn his head if he needs to while on his belly. (Again, ask your pediatrician.)

However, babies MUST NOT be swaddled if sleeping on their tummies for safety reasons.

But what if he HATES sleeping on his belly?

You may find that your baby is so accustomed to sleeping on his back that flipping to his tummy and getting stuck there turns him into one very angry little person. This is what happened when my son started rolling over onto his belly, and I remember flipping him over 1,143 times one night! That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it sure felt like that!

So what is a parent to do?

You don’t have to go in and roll your baby over onto his back each time he flips to his belly, but expect that it will take time for him to learn to like this new sleeping position.

During the day, practice tummy time frequently.

If he awakens in the night after flipping to his tummy, resist the urge to roll him to his back (or get ready to do it 1,142 more times). Instead, rub his back, pat his bottom, and shhhh him to help him learn to fall asleep while on his tummy.

Most likely, this will take about 4-7 nights.

What if we still need some help? Can I use any products that will keep my baby on his back?

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend positioning agents; these devices pose a suffocation risk.

However, there are a few products that may ease some of the frustration of this transition:

  1. Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit prevents young babies from rolling while in the crib and helps maintain that favorite back-sleeping position. Once your baby is able to start rolling onto his tummy IN THE SLEEP SUIT, you’ll want to follow the tips above to help your baby transition out of the suit.
  2. Nested Bean Zen Sleep Sack has a weighted bean that can be placed upon the baby’s back to mimic your hand soothing her.

Rolling over and tummy sleep may begin when babies are 3-4 months old, a time filled with developmental advances and sleep challenges. If you are in this tricky phase, we have a resource for you! Navigating Months 3 & 4 is a 50-page digital download that will guide you through the dreaded 4-month sleep regression and help you on your journey towards more restful nights.

If your nights continue to be exhausting due to a little one struggling with sleep, I have a class that can help. The ABC’s of Sleep is an online class for parents with babies 5-24 months who desire a step-by-step approach in conquering nights and naps.

*Edited to add: If your baby is rolling in the DockaTot, THIS blog post will help you begin weaning out of it if desired. Please discuss with DockATot the safety concerns about a baby rolling while inside this product.

Cara Dumaplin

Cara Dumaplin


Cara Dumaplin is not a blogger. She is, however, a mom to four kids who keep her laughing daily. Although she swore she would never date a doctor, it is with joy that she admits marrying her husband, a pediatrician, was the beginning of a crazy-amazing life together. (Albeit, she has had to learn to forgive him for constantly feeding their kids Pop-Tarts for breakfast.) A registered nurse with 18 years experience, Cara’s eyes light up when she discusses her passion of educating, encouraging, and empowering new parents.  Follow Taking Cara Babies on Facebook or Instagram for helpful baby sleep tips, successful infant sleep stories, and a glimpse into this chaotic, yet blessed life. For more blogs by Cara, you can click HERE.

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