My baby won’t sleep on their back. Here’s why…

15 Feb 2022

Did you know I do a weekly Q&A on my Instagram page? If not, come and follow me and you can throw me a question each Friday night from 8pm UK time. One of the questions that does come up regularly in the Q&A 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. There are some really commons reasons why they don’t settle on their backs:

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 our youngest Malachy which he needed because of his birth delivery (emergency forceps after a prolonged stay in the birth canal). 

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 won’t sleep on his back if he is uncomfortable and this leads to him sleeping on Mummy or Daddy’s chest.

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! Also, it could be related to a tongue tie and if there are any breastfeeding, bottle feeding or general latching issues, it might be worth reaching out to a tongue tie specialist for a consultation.

5. 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 think our wee man’s tummy is lovely and soft, I lay him down and there is still more! 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. 

6. Habit! The initial reason might be from 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.

Sometimes you need a little help…

If you are struggling with sleep, sometimes it’s important to go back to basics and remind yourself of the principles of how good sleep happens. If there is more of an underlying issue, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, whether that be with sleep, reflux, osteopathy, chiropractic or something else. If you are all struggling with sleep, and feel you just need some help, book a free initial consultation with one of the team today to discuss further.

I am the first male baby and toddler sleep consultant in the UK and Ireland and I specialise in gentle sleep training. I work with families on a one-to-one basis to design bespoke sleep training programmes that work around their lifestyle and little ones needs. I also have a series of age specific online courses starting from £29 that you can follow at your own pace. Come over and follow me on Instagram for lots of tips and strategies for better sleep.