Roll, Baby, Roll: Is It Dangerous for Babies to Roll Over at Night?
It’s great that your baby can turn over, but what if it happens at night? Can this brand-new developmental skill put your baby at risk? Read on to find out.
What’s the Safest Way to Sleep?
One of the scariest parts of new parenting is worrying about your baby’s sleep habits. When your baby is first born, they can’t move themselves around too much. It’s when babies get bigger and learn the new and potentially dangerous fun of turning themselves over that parents face new anxiety. What’s the safest way for a baby to sleep?
Back to Sleep
Most new parents know that positioning your baby face-up is generally the safest sleep position for babies, especially newborns. The NIH’s Safe to Sleep campaign stresses that back sleeping can help to prevent SIDS a.k.a. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. We don’t yet know what causes SIDS. However, the “back to sleep” motto is a great one to follow, even if you have a baby rolling over at night on their own.
On a Roll
It’s normal for babies around 4 to 6 months to turn themselves over. In fact, your pediatrician may recommend “tummy time” to help your baby grow strong shoulder and neck muscles, and rolling over is a skill that comes from being a healthy (and buff) baby.
You might be asking at this point whether a baby rolling over at night is dangerous. If it happens, is your baby at risk for SIDS? Should you turn your baby back over?
It’s Okay for Older Babies
If your older baby rolls over at night, it’s not especially dangerous. Your baby’s shoulders, neck, and arms are stronger at this point. They have developed the strength to lift their head and turn it if they need to. Step by step, your baby is becoming more self-sufficient.
If you have a baby rolling over at night, you don’t have to roll them back. (You can if you really want to, of course.) If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night and needs a diaper change or feeding, you should put them back to sleep facing up. What’s important is that even if your baby rolls over at night, they should start their sleep routine on their back and learn to fall asleep in that position.
Keeping Younger Babies Safe
Face Up to Sleep
Although parents fear a baby rolling over at night might be dangerous, turning over is usually fine for babies older than 4-6 months. However, newborns definitely need to be placed on their backs every time for sleep time.
Your Grandparents May Not Always Be Right
Well-meaning relatives might advise placing the baby face-down. Don’t follow this advice. In the past, child care experts recommended that parents place babies face down in case they spit up. Obviously, this advice is no longer valid. Further research into SIDS came along possibly after your grandparents were done with caring for a newborn. SIDS may be triggered in part by breathing air with too much carbon dioxide in it. If your baby rolls over at night, they may not be strong enough to move their heads to breathe air with more oxygen. In short, it’s dangerous to put your baby on their belly.
If your caregivers or relatives are lending a hand with your newborn, it’s important to tell them you want the baby placed face up every time. Explain that it’s dangerous to have the baby placed any other way. Even if it’s just for a little nap, your baby needs to be on their back.
What About Side Sleeping?
Side sleeping might seem like a good compromise, but it’s ultimately too dangerous. Babies can move and shift, kick their legs, or turn around. If your baby rolls over at night from their side onto their face, their breathing may be obstructed. They may not have the physical strength to move their face to one side to get fresh air.
Learn to Love the Minimalist Look
The No-Floof Rule for Safe Sleeping
Even when your baby rolls over at night by themselves, you can still take important steps to keep them out of a dangerous situation. One easy way to keep your baby safer is to learn to love the minimalist look.
It’s easy to want to floof up your baby’s crib with cute decor and animals and pillows. Don’t do it. Adorable as baby crib decor can be, it’s fundamentally too dangerous to be worth it. The NIH recommends having your baby sleep in warm sleep clothing on a crib mattress with a fitted sheet. Avoid having any of the following in the crib:
- Stuffed animals
Even blankets should be avoided. Instead, dress your baby in a warm wearable blanket or warm onesie, and don’t overbundle them.
What About Crib Bumpers and Blankets?
Before improved safety standards for cribs, the slats were often wide enough for a baby to get trapped or caught, so bumpers served a helpful purpose. However, that’s no longer the case. Safety standards have made bumpers unnecessary, and the opportunities they present for your baby to get caught in them make them too dangerous.
Blankets, even loose blankets, may seem like a necessary item, but again, they present a hazard. A baby rolling over at night can find their face obstructed by the blanket. Instead, a firm, flat surface is a far better choice.
Bottom line, placing your baby face up, keeping the fluffies out of the crib, and giving them tummy time to strengthen and grow will help your baby. Even if they’re rolling over at night, you and your baby can still have a peaceful night’s sleep.