The recommendation that babies sleep only on their backs has significantly reduced the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), but always lying in the supine position may contribute to delays in early motor development.
A recent study reported in the Journal of Pediatrics found that babies who have not experienced face-down time demonstrate a slight delay in gross motor milestones such as rolling, sitting, and crawling. Sleeping only on their backs, babies have limited opportunities to learn and practice skills that require antigravity extension. The good news is that by 15 months developmental issues are all caught up.
An earlier study found that there is also a greater risk of suffocation among babies who sleep only on their backs. When placed face-down on a soft surface, infants will naturally turn their heads to one side to escape the mild asphyxia caused by re-breathing the limited air around their face. But if babies always sleep on their backs they may not learn this important life-saving reflex.
To improve motor skill development and the ability to avoid suffocation, it is suggested that babies be placed face-down, while awake, for brief training periods, but always under close supervision. The studies stressed the importance of never leaving babies alone on their stomachs or allowing them to sleep in this position and that all care providers, including babysitters and relatives should be given these critical instructions. The risks of SIDS and suffocation far outweigh the slight delay in skills development.
SOURCE: Journal of Pediatrics, December 2006.
I have had to experience first hand the devastation that occurs in families when SIDS has struck their home. I encourage you to heed the advice in this article and work with your child until they have the strength to protect themselves if they some how end up on their stomach. Also, make sure the babysitters know the development of your child and whether he can sleep on his stomach safely. Join us for more life-saving advice from this month’s expert authors at Benzinger On Health.