One of the questions that I get asked all of the time is: ‘my baby won’t sleep on their back – what can I do?’.
It’s so hard when you know your baby is tired but they will not settle in their sleep space on their back. And you know from all the online literature – mine included! – that a newborn baby should be sleeping up to around 18-20 hours of sleep per day, and even a 6 month old should be sleeping around 14-15 hours. But what do you do if your baby won’t lie on their back? So many of us have our babies on our chest all night because that’s where they are most comfortable and the only place they will sleep. We would do anything for our babies, but this isn’t always safe and longer-term it can be so impactful to you and your physical and mental health.
What causes a baby to not sleep on their back?
Firstly, they are not alone – this is one of my most viewed pages across my whole website which shows you how many families are going through this. Additionally, we went through this too with our second child, Rafferty and more so with our third child, Malachy. So we know how hard it is to watch our little ones in pain, but also be so sleep deprived ourselves and be caught in a place where we need to fix it but simply don’t know how to resolve it, and be too tired to make sense of all of the possible reasons.
This is why I put together this blog – a set of reasons, in a simple to follow format, that you can possibly apply to your baby. Here are these potential reasons:
1. They just want a cuddle! They are new to this world and love being close to you. My boys have all contact napped and it’s the best thing in the world. But don’t be afraid to try one nap per day independently when you and they are ready.
2. Posture isn’t right meaning they’re uncomfortable when they lie on a flat surface. We saw a craneal osteopath for Malachy which he needed because of his birth delivery (emergency forceps after a prolonged stay in the birth canal). It made such a difference to his posture – he always lay with his head looking right and upwards – but ultimately Malachy had silent reflux and so whilst he needed the craneal osteopathy treatment, it didn’t resolve him being able to sleep on his back.
So have a think about your birth delivery and if you had a C-section, an intercepted delivery or a complex birth, it may be worth contacting an osteopath. Even if it doesn’t resolve the issue fully, there will likely be posture adjustments which will help your baby’s comfort levels which is what we got for Malachy.
3. They may have reflux. I know this one better than most with all 3 of my boys having had it and it’s hard; really hard. Sometimes putting your hand firmly on their tummy when you lay them down can really help with them lying on their back contently. At the beginning of the night my wee boy can be soothed by this as the reflux isn’t as strong at this point. Later in the night, he just wouldn’t sleep on his back if he was uncomfortable and this led to him sleeping on Mummy or Daddy’s chest until the reflux symptoms reduced.
4. They aren’t full up. If you lay a baby on their back after a feed but they still aren’t full they will certainly let you know about it! With my boys, I often laid them down to encourage them to feed more because they’d just got a bit comfortable and lazy with the feed. Once they went on their back but weren’t completely full, they soon looked for more milk! This can be a little more obvious with breastfed babies when breastfeeding is still being established.
5. On that previous point, if feeding is an issue – bottle or breast – there could be a tongue tie which could be causing latching issues. All of our boys had tongue ties but we were told by health specialists that they didn’t and it was only with Malachy that we challenged that opinion and actually saw a tongue tie specialist. She immediately identified a tongue tie and his feeding improved straight away. So even if you have been told there is no tongue tie, if you have a baby who has challenges with feeding, it might be worth reaching out to a tongue tie specialist for a consultation.
6. Wind and are uncomfortable with it. This is one of the most common ones and often linked to a tongue tie too. I didn’t realise how much wind a baby should be getting up after each feed. Sometimes I would think our wee man’s tummy was lovely and soft, I’d lay him down and there is still more wind! Look out for a really squidgy tummy before lying them down and don’t worry about waking them up more by winding them – a content baby will go to sleep easier and sleep longer.
7. Habit! The initial reason for a baby not sleeping on their back may have been driven from one of the factors in the list above, but it might be that your baby has got so used to sleeping like this, they don’t want to sleep in any other way. This can be tough to resolve for parents without external help and support, but I have helped many families go from having a baby sleeping on them all night to sleeping independently in their cot all night in a gradual way with my gentle sleep training methods.
You may also be interested in: When To Ask For Help With Sleep?
Sometimes you need a little help…
Whilst newborns don’t naturally sleep long stretches at night to begin with, you can still set out really good foundations to help increase those stretches of sleep. My newborn sleep course gives you all of the key steps to implement which will give you those incredible foundations which can make things that little bit easier.
If your baby is over 4 months and not able to sleep on their back, a gentle sleep training course will help you change this in less than two weeks. You can buy our course by clicking on Buy Now below.