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What if Baby is Uncomfortable?

Yes, I do spend a lot of time thinking and talking about baby’s sleep. So maybe I’m biased. But I think many of you would agree that the sight of a sleeping baby is one of the most peaceful sights out there. Especially when it is your own baby!

Those curled up arms, the peaceful look on their face, and the soft sound of their breathing. It’s basically the definition of “rest”.

But then your sweet baby starts to move. They begin to roll around, pivot in their bed and they start to get themselves into some very interesting sleeping positions!

Even though it can occasionally be good for a laugh or a funny picture, it can also be pretty concerning from a safety standpoint. And, if it is the middle of the night and you are glued to the monitor making sure your little one is still breathing or not stuck, it can be very frustrating!

Now when I work with families, I help them teach their little one to fall asleep independently. It is the cornerstone of getting your baby sleeping through the night.

When babies are free to move about their crib as they are falling asleep, they sometimes fall asleep in the most (seemingly) uncomfortable positions! A very common question I get from parents is this:

“What am I supposed to do if my baby falls asleep in an uncomfortable position?”

Parents don’t want to risk waking their baby by moving them back to the middle of the crib and repositioning them, but they also don’t want to leave them hunched over, half sitting in the corner of the crib either!

The answer, as with many aspects of parenting, is “it depends”.

First let’s talk safety. This always comes first. Maybe you’ve been working so hard to get your child to fall asleep independently and they FINALLY do it! But if you fear that their safety is at risk, everything else (including their sleeps) drops down on the priority list.

For example, if your baby is able to roll themselves over from back to front but cannot yet roll from front to back on their own, you will need to go in each time and flip them onto their back. Every time. Yes, this will be frustrating and exhausting. Yes, it may wake them in the process. Yes, it may become a difficult process getting them to fall back asleep again. But if your baby is laying face down on the mattress without the ability to roll over themselves, you need to roll them back over. Safety always comes first.

The good news here is that the rolling is usually a short-term issue. Babies tend to learn how to roll from front-to-back fairly quickly after they’ve learned to roll from back-to-front.

*Hint* You can actually speed up the process on this one! Spend time during the day helping your baby practice their rolling. Dedicate time to this a few times per day and this issue shouldn’t last longer than a week or two.

Another scenario where safety comes first is if your baby has gotten themselves into a position where they will get hurt (such as a leg stuck between the rails or if they have somehow fallen asleep standing up and you are afraid they could get hurt if they fall down).

Once again, you will need to go ahead and go in to free their leg, or gently lay them down so that they remain safe. Do it quickly and quietly, and try to engage with them as little as possible if they wake up.

I should note that modern cribs don’t have much potential for the “leg stuck between the rails” scenario. They’ve moved the slats closer to each other so that little limbs can’t get through the gaps, but if something like this does happen, fix it quickly and leave the room.

Now, let’s say your baby does know how to roll from his front to his back. Or he doesn’t have a limb that is at risk for injury, but he’s bunched up in the corner of the crib. There is no way he is comfortable. Should you go in the room and move him back to the middle of the crib?

No, you shouldn’t. Again, we have ruled out any risks here and baby simply looks uncomfortable.

Babies tend to find comfort in some pretty awkward looking positions, and as long as their airway isn’t being obstructed, (such as their head tilted forward, or their nose and mouth is in contact with the mattress) then it's probably best to just let them sleep.

Yes, it can be slightly concerning to see them sleeping like this half sitting, or backed into the corner of the crib, or with their knees basically under their chin, but it’s not scenario where you need to go in and reposition them.

That’s the beauty of independent sleep! If they truly are uncomfortable, when they come to the surface of sleep between sleep cycles, they will be able to roll themselves into a more comfortable position and resume sleeping!

Please remember that your baby’s safety always comes first. You can talk further with your pediatrician about safe sleep positions and make informed decisions about when you should and shouldn’t move them around in their crib.

More often than not, if they’re sleeping peacefully, they’re likely doing just fine, no matter how they have fallen asleep.

One final caution that I feel is worth mentioning here. Please avoid letting babies of any age sleep in a “positioner,” or “nest.” Many of them can force baby’s head to tilt forward and others have soft, plushy sides, both of which can obstruct breathing. The FDA has issued a warning against all manner of these products, and despite their claims, they increase, not reduce, the likelihood of SIDS.

I hope that I’ve cleared up some of your questions regarding your child’s sleeping positions.

Remember, as long as your baby is safe, you can leave them to sleep peacefully, even if they look uncomfortable!


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