Healthy babies placed to sleep on the back are less likely to choke on vomit than tummy or side sleeping infants. In fact, sleeping baby on the back actually provides airway protection.
1. When a baby is sleeping on the back, the upper respiratory airways are positioned above the oesophagus (food pipe:the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach). Babies protect their airways by swallowing. Regurgitated milk from the oesophagus lies at the lowest level and can be easily swallowed. It is difficult for the fluid to work against gravity and be pushed up and into the respiratory tract. Hence, the risk of choking is reduced when baby is sleeping on the back.
2. When a baby sleeps on the tummy, the oesophagus sits above the baby’s upper airways. Babies sleep more deeply on their tummy and swallow less frequently. If a baby regurgitates or vomits milk or fluid, these substances will pool at the opening of the airways and are more likely to be inhaled into the baby’s airway and lungs.
3. When a baby sleeps on the side, there is still an increased risk of him or her breathing in fluid into his or her airway and lungs. Hence choking is less likely when a baby sleeps on the back. In fact, babies swallow and clear fluids better when lying on their back.
Last modified: 17/4/22