If you have recently welcomed a newborn into the family then you’ve probably noticed that parenting comes with a lot of do’s and don’ts, and it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the truth from old wives’ tales.
But one area where you can’t take any chances is around you baby’s sleep, because certain things can increase the risks of SIDS and suffocation.
Babies typically like to sleep on your chest because they find you and your heartbeat calming, safe and comforting as they transition from life in the womb to the big outside world.
The question of whether sleeping on your chest is safe comes down to one factor and that’s you.
If you are awake it should be fine, but never let yourself fall asleep while your little one is resting on you, as this could increase the chances of SIDS.
Is It Safe For A Newborn To Sleep On My Chest?
The short answer is yes, it’s typically safe for a newborn to sleep on your chest, but it is critical that you are awake at all times.
Sadly each year there are around 3,400 sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID) in the United States alone.
These stats were for infants under 1 years of age with no immediately obvious cause of death, and the three commonly reported types of SUID include: sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); unknown cause; and accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.
Experts believe the chances of SIDS increase when sharing a bed with your baby.
So for this reason the AAP recommend parents sleep in the same room – but NOT in the same bed as their child – for at least the first six months.
The crucial thing here is that if a parent of guardian falls asleep while a baby is on their chest, the child could roll off and become suffocated or strangled underneath the adult’s body.
This is why the rule of thumb is yes, it is indeed safe for a baby to sleep on your chest, but you yourself must be awake.
Why Do Babies Like Sleeping On Your Chest?
To understand why your baby likes sleeping on your chest it helps to look at things from their point of view.
1. Similar Environment To The Womb
Your little one has just spent the last 9 months in mommy’s tummy where it’s warm, safe and comfortable.
Then all of a sudden they are born and thrusted into the outside world, and the difference between the two environments is like night and day
By lying on an adult’s chest, a baby can hear your heartbeat up close, experience physical contact (even if you are both wearing clothes), feel you breath and hear you speak.
These are all things they got accustomed to before birth, so it’s no wonder that being able to experience these things again is such as safe and calming feeling for a newborn baby.
2. Physically More Comfortable
When your baby needs to burp it can feeling uncomfortable, particularly if they are lying down.
Being in an inclined position on your chest, especially after a feed, is often therefore more comfortable than being placed directly in their crib, so this is another reason why a baby might find mom or dad’s chest a comfortable place to sleep/
3. They Associate This Position With Sleep
Another reason comes down to where your baby has been sleeping since birth.
If your newborn baby is used to sleeping on you, there’s a good chance they associate the feeling of being on your chest with sleeping, and this is yet another reason why they may like this position.
SIDS Risks Of Baby Sleeping On Your Chest
As we covered above, experts believe the risk of SIDS increases if you nod off while your baby sleeps on your chest.
For this reason you should only let a baby sleep on you if you yourself are fully awake.
Falling asleep with your baby lying on your chest is dangerous as it might lead to suffocation, so it’s best not to take any chances.
Benefits Of Baby Sleeping On Your Chest
As we saw above, sleeping on an adult’s chest let’s your baby experience certain things they became used to in the womb.
It’s no wonder therefore that this sleeping position can help a baby feel calmer and less stressed.
But the benefits are not limited to only your baby.
Letting your baby sleep on your chest (while you’re awake) can also help and relax and calm mom, and it can be a wonderful way to bond with your child.
This is because it helps release prolactin and stimulates oxytocin, which increases milk supply and can help combat a sudden fall in your milk production.
How Long Can A Newborn Sleep On Your Chest?
If you and your baby are safely enjoying the benefits of sleeping on your chest, you might be wondering how long the process can go on for.
In terms of each individual session, there’s no real limit to the length of time, provided you are awake throughout.
So your baby could have a full, long nap on your chest if that’s what you wish.
You might even find that they sleep better when on your chest compared to when in their bassinet.
However, once your baby is a little older you may find that they actually prefer or sleep better when they are not on your chest, because your movement might be distracting or they may simply find their crib more comfortable.
Can A Newborn Sleep On Your Chest All Night?
If your baby sleeps well in this position and it’s helping overcome any resistance to napping, you may be tempted to let them sleep on your chest all night.
But is this safe?
The answer is typically no, unless you are planning on being awake all night, which is unlikely.
But as we mentioned above, falling asleep with your baby on your chest can be very dangerous, becasue it may increase the risk of SIDS or suffocation.
So to be on the safe side you should not put yourself in a position where you could fall asleep at night with your little one on top of you, because the risk simply isn’t worth taking.
By all means let your baby sleep on top of you when you’re awake, but the moment you start feeling tired, transfer your child to their crib or bassinet before you doze off yourself.
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