Toddler Sleeps Folded in Half? When to Worry

  • Toddler

In infants and babies, sleeping positions are some of the most anxiety-inducing issues most parents face. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the unexplained death of an infant in their sleep, is a cause for concern to parents of children under 12 months.

The fact that it mostly happens during sleep and often when the infant has not mastered the art of rolling themselves over makes this phenomenon all the more problematic. However, as your child grows into toddlerhood, the risk for SIDS decreases significantly.

In children over 12 months, it is no longer known as SIDS. It is called Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC). It is comforting to note that SIDS and SUDC have largely explained the mystery.

Some of the factors that have been found to increase the risk of crib deaths include:

  • Accidental suffocation: this happens when loose bedding suffocates or strangles a child in their sleep.
  • Mothers of unborn babies smoking during pregnancy
  • Many studies have over the years shown that smoking during pregnancy is a proven cause of many anomalies and conditions. It is also a high-risk factor for SIDS.
  • Sleeping positions: some sleeping positions can obstruct the airways and suffocate a baby.
  • Babies born with low birth weight
  • Babies born of women under 20 years
  • The age of the mother at the child’s birth is a significant risk factor for SIDS and SUDC.

In 1991, a campaign dubbed, “Back to Sleep Campaign” was launched in England and Wales. In the U.S., it was launched in 1994. It was started to get parents to put their children to sleep on their backs, which is known as the supine position. The supine position is said to be the safest for a sleeping baby to be in. This campaign was an intervention for a large number of infants and toddlers who were dying from SIDS and SUDC, respectively. Since then, the cases of the two conditions have decreased by a whopping 82%.

Aside from the serious prospect of death, a wrong sleeping position can cause your child to experience insomnia, leading to behavioral problems as well as difficulty in learning and concentrating. It is, therefore, quite understandable that you are concerned about how your toddler sleeps. For starters, a toddler is a child aged between 12 and 36 months. Usually, by this time, your toddler has mastered motor coordination skills and can turn themselves to settle into comfortable positions in both the sleeping and awake states. In sleep, your toddler will put himself in whatever position he feels most comfortable in. While there are standard known positions like lying on the back, lying on the stomach, lying on the sides, or fetal position, some toddlers manage to get into some very acrobatic positions. Listed below are a few odd and somewhat cute ones.

Some Odd Toddler Sleeping Positions:

There is the bum in the air, otherwise known as the ostrich. One usually wonders how they can even breathe in this position, but they do.

  • Starfish – head, arms, and legs stretched out in 5 different directions.
  • The surfer dude – the arm and leg on the same side of the body are hanging out of the crib or bassinet.
  • The undercover operative. This one sleeps buried deep under their covers. Naturally, you worry that they will suffocate and pull down those covers. The minute you step away and turn to look back at them, the covers are back up.
  • The chilled out guy. This one sleeps on his back, both arms folded under his head. In some cases, their little legs are crossed at the ankles for added effect. This one looks like he’ll be asking for a mimosa any minute. If he does, request for ID first.
  • Folded in half. This position looks like the child collapsed forward while sitting, with their head planted between their legs, face down. Sounds uncomfortable, right? You will be surprised.

What Causes A Toddler to Sleep in Odd Positions?

Well, there is no definitive answer to this. For the most part, toddlers are just little humans. Just like us, they will, in their sleep, try to wiggle into the most comfortable position. Many times when putting them down to sleep, you may position your child in the position you prefer they sleep in. This is not necessarily your child’s preferred position. It’s instinctive for your child to roll over into what they prefer. Some reasons why they sleep in different positions are listed below:

  • They may have pain in a part of their body. In this case, they will favor that part when they lie down by avoiding it.
  • Your child may turn in their sleep towards the direction of your voice or other comforting sounds. In the same way, they may turn away from irritating sounds.
  • Toddlers sometimes mimic the position they assumed in the womb, hence the fetal sleeping position.
  • Just like in adults, some toddler sleep positions have a psychological bearing. Your child may burrow into their covers because they feel safe that way.
  • Sometimes, babies sleep squashed up against the crib rails. This may look uncomfortable, but it could be because they feel safer that way. You see, a solid mass against their body feels like you are close to them.

In light of accidental suffocation and strangulation, sleeping on their backs is the safest toddler position. Bedding would not easily obscure their breathing. If something does fall on them, in that position, their hands are free to push it away instinctively.

Is Folding In Half Safe?

The answer to this question is dependent on a few factors. Some toddlers are wont to slump over while in sitting position to fold over. Do not panic. You may not feel like leaving them in that position for any duration of time, which is understandable. You might want to observe them for some time while they are in that position. Here are some things that you should look out for.

Ensure that their airways are not blocked by listening to the depth, length, and sound of their breathing. If their breathing is regular, and each is less than 10 seconds apart, they are fine. If, however, the breathing becomes labored and each breath is 10 seconds away from the next, straighten them out on their back. If any of these observations persist, call your doctor.

Check whether there is loose bedding where their heads fall. Clear or tightly tuck it all in. Remember, a lot of SIDS mortalities were directly attributable to babies suffocating on their clothing or bedding while in their cribs. On the same note, please take away any objects around them, such as stuffed animals, once they fall asleep.

Listen out for any sounds of discomfort that your baby may make. Adjust their sleeping position accordingly. However, you mostly don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to this position.
If all the above are clear and you are still worried, either sit close or take a baby monitor with you and check it a lot more than you usually would. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, except if it changes the baby’s breathing patterns.

Handling a Folded Over Sleeper

Don’t panic! Please remember that this is not an isolated case. Lots of babies prefer to sleep this way.

Remember that what looks uncomfortable to you may not be uncomfortable for the baby. A baby has spent months in a strange position before birth, and their little bones are way more flexible than ours. They really won’t break their spine doubled over like that.

Some babies would slump asleep in this exact position if they were playing in the sitting position then got tired. Please ensure the toys they were playing with are kept away so that they don’t become a breathing hazard.

As stated earlier, keep an eye on their respiration. If it all checks out, let the baby as they will. For some children, they tire of it in a few minutes and turn themselves over into a different position.

We reassure you, it is normal for babies to sleep in this and other seemingly strange styles. However, observe every new sleeping style to rule out injury and keep away hazards. Most importantly, we acknowledge you as the parent know your child best. Besides, nature inculcated in you a pretty good intuition when it comes to your child. If, for any reason, you do not feel right about any sleeping position, do not hesitate to have a sleep expert or other health professional look at it. Good luck with your sleeping time!