Why should you sleep your baby on their back?

Here at Red Nose, one of our key safe sleeping recommendations has been to place baby on their back to sleep from birth. It’s a recommendation that has largely contributed to an 80 percent reduction in SIDS deaths since the 1980s.


Research has found that placing your baby to sleep on their back greatly reduces the risk of sudden and unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), which includes SIDS. This is because healthy babies placed on their back to sleep are less likely to choke on vomit than tummy sleeping infants.

In fact, Red Nose’s National Health Promotion Officer Loren Rushton explains, placing your baby to sleep on their back will provide them with airway protection.

“When a baby is sleeping on the back, the upper respiratory airways are positioned above the oesophagus, which is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach,” she says.

“Babies protect their airways by swallowing. When they are on their back and regurgitated milk from the oesophagus pools at the back of the throat and can be easily swallowed.”

“It is actually difficult for the fluid to work against gravity and be pushed up and into the respiratory tract when babies are lying on their back. Hence, the risk of choking is reduced when baby is sleeping on the back.”

Ms Rushton says it is a misconception that a baby can choke on vomit while sleeping on their back.

“When a baby sleeps on the tummy, the oesophagus sits above the baby’s upper airways. 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,” she says.

“Babies also sleep more deeply on their tummy and swallow less frequently.”

Follow our evidence-based safe sleeping steps to reduce your risk:

  1. Sleep your baby on their back: not on their tummy or side.
  2. Keep your baby’s head and face uncovered: Covering a baby’s face or head with clothing such as a hat increases the risk of sudden infant death
  3. Keep your baby smoke free before and after birth: Help to quit smoking is available from your doctor, midwife or by contacting Quitline
  4. Have a safe sleeping environment night and day: Make sure the mattress is firm, clean and flat, in a safe cot that meets industry standards. Make sure there are no blankets, toys, pillows, or bumpers in the cot.
  5. Sleep your baby in your room: The safest place to sleep your baby for the first 12 months is in a safe cot next to your bed.
  6. Breastfeed your baby where possible.

Check out our website for more great safe sleeping tips.

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