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When Baby Prefers Tummy Sleeping

Written by Jeanne Ohm, D.C.   
Wednesday, 01 March 2006 00:00
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What is your recommendation about infant sleep position? We have a two month old (our third) who is having a really hard time staying asleep on her back. She seems to be happier on her tummy and seems to have no trouble lifting and turning her head when face down. I know about the medical establishment's recommendation about back sleeping to reduce the risk of SIDS but wondered if there was more to the story?

When our six children were young, it was still the recommendation to put children on their bellies to sleep. Being Doctors of Chiropractic, my husband and I chose not to. Basically, what we saw in our practice was that our patients who were stomach sleepers had chronic neck problems and even when they began chiropractic care, they did not hold their cervical (neck) adjustments well. From a biomechanical perspective it did not seem right to put our children on their stomachs either. We chose to have them sleep with us, primarily on their sides.

It is true that the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that children sleep on their backs to reduce the incidence of SIDS. Since this “Back to Sleep” program was initiated, the incidence of SIDS has been shown to decrease.

When Baby Prefers Tummy SleepingBeing a Doctor of Chiropractic I am always concerned with “cause”. When I heard about this “Back to Sleep” campaign and its results, I looked at the biomechanics. Why would back sleeping reduce the incidence of SIDS? From a biomechanical perspective it was clear to see that when a baby is placed on his or her back, there is no stress to the baby’s neck or lower cranium. However, when a baby is placed on his or her belly for sleep, the head and neck will be in constant rotation to one side or the other. This rotation along with the pressure and weight of the head holding it in rotation causes continuous irritation to the cervical spinal cord and nerves. This area in the neck is also the area where the respiratory centers are. This continued irritation during sleeping hours may adversely affect that area of the spinal cord and therefore adversely affect proper breathing function. SIDS is defined as a condition where a baby just stops breathing. Although a cause has not yet been defined, most studies relating to SIDS have explored and discovered a malfunction of the respiratory system in the infant.