How to get an infant to sleep on his back?...

nathanbault

Junior Member
Jul 13, 2016
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San Francisco, CA, USA
Our son is 4 months old. He's healthy, happy, and active. However, we've been unsuccessful getting him to sleep on his back and he only remains asleep when he's on his stomach. Since birth he's had excellent neck control and is able to turn his head from side to side. After a few weeks he was strong enough to lift his head, and he's gotten stronger. He's about 18 lbs (8 kg) now, and 26" (66 cm) in length. We're not aware of any medical conditions or allergies, and we ourselves are non-smokers and have no ongoing medical conditions. His crib and mattress are under no current recall.

Given the above, we're semi-comfortable with allowing him to sleep on his stomach. He sleeps well through the night, waking up once or twice to feed. On a good night he'll sleep for 6 hours. However, we're consistently admonished by medical professionals about it (see below) and it's gotten us overly paranoid that we're "doing it wrong."

So when it's time for sleep we try and place him on his back, but he will fuss and cry continuously, and while his voice gets hoarse, he doesn't appear to tire. We've tried allowing him to cry for as much as half an hour, and we fully believe he would keep going longer. Needless to say we don't want him to suffer any trauma, so we pick him up and comfort him, rock him to sleep and place him on his front.

Some of the things we've tried:
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  • We rock him until he's asleep in our arms, then place him on his back in the crib. As soon as he's down his eyes open and he begins fussing and crying.</LI>
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  • We have the room dark, with a ceiling fan and mobile overhead. We use a white noise app that plays a variety of sounds from running water and ocean waves to static and music. He appears to ignore all of them while he's on his back and crying.</LI>
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  • We've tried swaddling him tight, but he's apparently strong enough to twist and wriggle until he loosens the blankets. We're loathe to use thicker blankets because we live in a very warm tropical area. The only thing we haven't done is tie the blankets closed, mostly because he doesn't appear to appreciate being restricted like that and will twist and wriggle and cry in frustration.</LI>
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  • We consulted our parents, who said that both myself and my spouse were placed on our stomachs, so since we're alive it can't be that bad. Granted, those were different times.</LI>
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  • My spouse's therapist (for PPD) said that if the boy can only sleep prone, let him sleep prone. However, I understand this recommendation was made more to address my spouse's physical and mental well-being.</LI>
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  • We've consulted our pediatrician. He just kept saying that infants must sleep on their backs, we should just buy some earplugs and warn the neighbors, and we wouldn't want our kid to die, would we? His tone sounded very judgmental and it made us uncomfortable. Also, he did not offer any other help nor any resources to try and get our infant to sleep on his back, beyond saying we should just do it and let him cry (we're going to find a new pediatrician).</LI>
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What we're looking for:

We are aware of the correlation between supine sleeping (lying on the back) and a decreased risk of SIDS. We know this is a very serious issue and we want to make the best decision possible. We're open to hearing and discussing possible options, but unfortunately we no longer feel our current pediatrician is the right person for that. We are in the process of looking for a new pediatrician, but for the time being, is there any advice or other resources we can look up for more info? For what it's worth, we are in the US.

We've tried searching around for other tips on getting an infant to sleep on his back, but haven't found anything not already mentioned above. We did see some older AskMe questions and recommendations for activity monitors; we will definitely invest in one, but we'd also like to alleviate more concerns and really get our infant to sleep in any position, front or back. If anything for the sake of our own well-being!

Additionally, we've tried searching for possible exceptions to the "back to sleep" rule. We're wondering if our infant's "strengths" and his environment put him at less risk for SIDS or suffocation, but we haven't found anything. <I>I'm not expecting any medical professional to state that sleeping on the stomach is okay</I>, but I'm hoping there might be something out there that says our son has a better advantage than most. Does anyone know of research that support exceptions to the "back to sleep" rule?

We feel blessed to have such a healthy child, and every day he's a bounty of joy. This "prone vs supine" sleeping issue is the only thing that's dampening our spirits!
 

artmom

PF Fanatic
Feb 26, 2015
775
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Canada
I was born in the 80's and my mom said I was placed on my stomach, too.
The idea of putting babies on their backs started in the '90s. First, as an initiative/study. During that time the incidences of SIDS dropped dramatically. It's still unknown as to why stomach sleeping can cause SIDS. In 1985, it was reported that Chinese put their babies on their backs and SIDS is rare over there.
It supposed to be the way to put a baby to sleep for the first year, but moreso for the first 6 months. However, babies develop at different rates. I was told in Lamaze that if you find your baby can roll over, lifts their head and he/she ends up on their stomach sometimes through the night, then you shouldn't worry too much about their sleeping position.
The thing about back sleeping is that babies won't overheat. That's the theory, anyways. Perhaps some babies get too cold, especially when they are denied blankets and pillows and covers. It also may give them a sense of vulnerability that turns into fear. Notice that babies curl up and snuggle into you or some other surface for comfort.
In the end, the important thing is that everyone gets a good nights rest. So, if he's comfortable on his stomach and he is able to move around and end up on his stomach throughout the night, then let him.
 

Emily92

PF Regular
Mar 20, 2014
40
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When my daughter was an infant, she refused to sleep on her back too and would wake up the moment I lay her down on her back. Our pediatrician suggested and approved a wedge, which I placed on her while she was asleep. My little one needed quite a bit of strength to be able to wiggle out of it and hence, more often than not, she ended up sleeping on her back.