Back to Sleep

2,327 infants died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in 2006.

A sleeping male baby with his arm extended

A sleeping male baby with his arm extended (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the “Back to Sleep” campaign, launched in 1994, now 25% of infants sleep on their stomach.

It used to be 85%.

As a result, the rate of SIDS deaths has been cut in half, from 1.4 babies per live birth in 1988, to .55 babies in 2006.

While the cause is still unknown, we do know some of the SIDS risk factors:

  • Sleeping on the stomach
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Very young mother
  • Mother smokes during pregnancy
  • Mold
  • No breastfeeding
  • Excess soft bedding, including bumper pads and stuffed animals
  • Co-sleeping with parents or siblings
  • Premature

Boys are at greater risk, but there does not appear to be a genetic link.

Why Would You Not Put Your Baby to Sleep On Its Back?

Though the education campaign has been intense and the results dramatic, apparently 25% of parents still think there’s nothing wrong with putting a baby down to sleep on its stomach.

I can think of lots of reasons for this.

“I put all my babies down on their stomachs and they turned out fine.”

I call this the “Everyone’s doing it” argument.

Sure, I raised two boys and they did not stop breathing in the middle of the night. Of course, I put them down on their stomachs.

I remember talking to a neighbor when I was pregnant with my first son.

She was pregnant with her second child. She casually lit up a cigarette one day while we were talking.

She must have noticed my look, because I carefully didn’t say anything.

“I smoked through my whole first pregnancy and my baby was fine,” she told me defensively.

Yes, I’m sure. But, his odds were not good.

And that’s the thing about risky behaviors. Not everyone is affected.

  • Not everyone who doesn’t wear a seat belt is going to be in a fatal crash.
  • Not everyone on a cell phone while they are driving is going to run into someone.
  • Not everyone who smokes is going to get lung cancer.
  • Not everyone who kites checks is going to get caught.

But, your odds aren’t good.

And, when a baby’s life is at risk, do you want to bet against the odds?

Then, there’s the “You can’t really trust scientists. Besides, they change their minds all the time. Why should I listen this time?” argument.

They do. Every time scientists get new information they add that into what they knew before and see if it changes anything.

And, they don’t even always agree. Getting a panel of scientists to agree on recommendations for all parents and health care providers is not a trivial process.

It means most of them agree that this is serious enough to change a practice that is natural and eternal, putting a baby down to sleep.

What Made Anyone Think That Sleeping Position Was Related to SIDS?

A 1985 report revealed that SIDS is rare in Hong Kong, where parents follow the common Chinese practice of putting babies down to sleep on their backs.

Subsequent research showing that babies who sleep on their backs rouse more easily seemed to reinforce the relationship with SIDS.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that babies be put down on their backs in 1992. The educational campaign, “Back to Sleep,” began in 1994.

This was long after my babies were babies, so grandparents might not have heard of it.

Are There Any Bad Effects?


You don’t read about this much in the education campaigns to alert parents and grandparents to the dangers of putting a baby down to sleep on its stomach.

What happens is babies no longer have that time when they wake up, before you go get them out of their cribs, to lift their heads up and look around.

So, they don’t develop the neck muscles that used to build naturally.

To counter this, parents are advised to give their babies “Tummy Time.”

Put the baby down on a blanket on the floor every day for 20 minutes or so.

Get down on the floor and talk to them.

They will naturally try to raise their heads to look at you.

My grandchildren hated it. They cried when I put them down on their tummies because they didn’t have strong neck muscles and it was uncomfortable.

One grandmother told me her granddaughter never learned to crawl.

She was so uncomfortable on her stomach that she just waited until she was a little older and started walking.

Is It Worth It?

Half the rate of SIDS deaths since the 1992 recommendation that babies be put down on their backs to sleep.

I’d say it’s worth it.


Do you remember stories about parents charged with murder when their baby died of SIDS?

Did you already know that babies are supposed to be put down to sleep on their backs?

Did you know what the other risk factors are for SIDS?

To you and learning what it takes to keep your grandbabies safe.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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