Helping Babies Avoid SIDS - Woodmam

The side and stomach are the best positions for calming unhappy babies. They’re as soothing as cookies and warm milk for them. However, all experts agree that after babies are calmed and they are put to bed, they should only sleep on their backs.

In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that babies never sleep on their stomachs. Research showed that infants who were put down in that position had an increased risk of dying from crib death, or what’s known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In a giant victory for families, we were able to lower the death rate from SIDS from six thousand babies a year to three thousand five hundred, just by keeping sleeping babies off their stomachs.

In March 2000, the AAP issued its latest advice on protecting babies from SIDS. They stated that SIDS was rare under one month of age, peaking between two and four months. They also noted that babies with the highest risk of SIDS were those who slept on their stomachs, slept on a soft substance, had moms who smoked, were overheated, had no prenatal care, had teenage mothers, or were born prematurely. They went on to recommend that babies always be put to sleep on their backs and said that side-sleeping was not recommended because it was also associated with a higher risk of SIDS (probably due to babies accidentally rolling onto their stomachs during sleep).

Furthermore, to prevent SIDS, the AAP recommends that you don’t smoke during pregnancy and eliminate all smoking from your house; don’t take alcohol or sedative drugs, especially when you bed-share; never sleep with your baby on a sofa or waterbed; keep soft objects out of his bed (toys, pillows, sheepskins, loose blankets, comforters); and don’t let your baby get hot and sweaty to the touch.

Once Upon a Time: How Parents Have Used the Side/Stomach Position in Other Times and Cultures

Among the Inuit (Alaskan natives), a very deep hood is used as a baby bag and serves as an extension of the womb. The newborn lives in a heated climate, completely buried inside the mother’s clothing, and curled up like a half-moon.

Béatrice Fontanel and Claire d’Harcourt, Babies Celebrated

In most traditional cultures around the world, babies hang out—literally. Their mothers, sisters, aunts, and neighbors carry them in baskets and sheets on their fronts, backs, hips, and shoulders for up to twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Few parents across the globe place their infants on their backs, but when they do, they usually put them on a curved surface, not a flat one. The arc of a small blanket suspended from a tree or tripod puts a baby back into the familiar and reassuring rounded fetal position, which allows him to sleep more restfully.

The Lapp people of Greenland carry their babies curled up in cradles that hang on one side of a reindeer (counterbalanced on the animal’s other side by a heavy sack of flour).

The !Kung San people of the Kalahari Desert carry their infants in leather slings all day long. They keep them in a semi-sitting position, because they believe that posture encourages a baby’s development.

In parts of Indonesia, loving mothers never let their babies stretch out completely; in their culture that is the feared position of the dead. Infants are compactly bundled in a seated position and suspended from the ceiling to sleep like little floating Buddhas. (Even new mothers must sleep sitting up for forty days after the delivery to evade evil spirits who are attracted to people weakened by illness or injury.)

The Efé tribe of pygmies in Zaire hate putting their babies down—even for a moment. They keep their tiny tots happy by holding them upright or curled up in their arms all day long, and even while they are sleeping. However, since it’s such a big effort for one person to do all this carrying, the Efé believe in teamwork. For the first several months, tribal members pass newborns back and forth among up to twenty people, an average of eight times an hour!

Even when women in different cultures take their infants out of their arms, they hang them over their laps or chests, which allows their babies’ soft tummies to remain in constant contact with their mother’s warm, comforting skin.

Go with the Winning Side: How to Use Position to Help Soothe Your Baby

Here’s how you can treat your baby to the calming pleasure of being on his side or stomach. First, wrap your baby in a cozy swaddle, then try one of these positions used by countless experienced parents:

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