by Dan Rindler, GCFP
“Back to Sleep” is a phrase every new parent has heard countless times, to describe what is considered the safest positioning for a sleeping baby. In terms of floor-time, “tummy-time” is the word heard most often. But aren’t there more options? Of course! There are at least1 two more possibilities for lying down – side-lying on the left or right -which are almost never mentioned. Instead of exploring “side-time”, parents of a baby who is rejecting tummy-time will often be advised to use a chair or bumbo seat to avoid developing a flat spot on the back of baby’s head. I’m glad to share that there’s a much better way.
Side-Time and Tummy-Time
Babies who are rejecting tummy time will almost always accept being rolled to side-lying more readily than lying prone. They may fuss somewhat at first (and you should respond accordingly when they do) but after a short time of getting used to it, many tummy-time refusers will lie happily on their side. It’s a wonderful option for any baby who needs to vary their position from lying mostly on the back of their head.
Benefits of “Side-Time”
Imagine yourself lying on your back for just a moment. How much effort would it take to transition to a new position? Now imagine yourself lying on your side, and ask yourself the same question. Can you feel that even in your imagination it’s clear you’d be much more ready to roll from your side than from your back? On your side, you have a more narrow base of support, and it’s much easier to tip your weight forward or back into rolling. For this reason, a baby on her side may feel she has more possibilities – she may not stay in one position for as long as when she is on her back. This is a good thing! Babies are constantly learning about their bodies and selves through movement. Babies who feel no possibility for movement will have a very different sense of both their bodies and “agency” — their ability to affect themselves and their environment. As your baby gets used to being on the side, he or she will become aware of having more choices for changing position than when on the back or tummy.
Flat Spots and Side Time
Have you noticed a flat spot on the back of your baby’s head? A recent study found that 47% of babies had some degree of flattening of the skull (known as plagiocephaly) by the age of about two months.2 This happens largely from the head resting in the same position during sleep and many waking hours as well. When you introduce side-time to your baby, you help him break the habit of resting on that same habitual spot that his head always seems to gravitate to. Unlike during much of tummy-time, where the head is lifted, he will bear weight on different areas of the skull, helping that flat area to round out over time.
How to Help Your Baby Find Comfort in Side-Time
- Lay your baby on their back on an uncluttered area on the rug, floor pad, etc.
- Have some face-to-face time, making sounds, making faces.
- Hold your baby’s leg and gently bend it knee toward chest or out to the side
- Bring baby’s bent leg across their body to roll them slowly and gently to their side.
- If your baby doesn’t turn her head immediately, you can wait and give her time to turn her head, or start over and move slower.
- Find a comfortable spot to put down your baby’s leg – sometimes in front of the leg on the floor helps babies balance on their side longer.
- Gently press down on your baby’s body to help her settle into the floor.
You should always consult your doctor before trying any new approach with your baby. For more support, you can contact a Child’Space Practitioner for a class or private session. [email protected]
- See my upcoming article, “Your Baby is not a Cube” for even more ideas about positioning your baby on the floor.
- “Pediatrics” August 2013 Issue