Baby Sleep: the Rule I break with my Baby

This entry is part 7 of 33 in the series Baby Days

Have you heard the rule about babies sleeping on their backs? That they should ALWAYS be put down to sleep on their backs? Here's why we break that rule.

I am a rule-breaking mom. I freely admit it.  And I have my reasons for breaking certain specific “rules” regarding parenting.  I don’t go around willy-nilly rebellious.  No, these transgressions of the “rules” are well-thought out and defiant, “I am not going to do what you say” mama tantrums. And I am completely fine with the judgment that may come as a result of my rule-breaking.

When I take my kids to the doctor, our healthcare provider has a questionnaire I have to fill out (every.single.time.). But the “correct”answers to the questions aren’t hard to figure out.  They are all on the far right column of the page.  So, the nurse can quickly scan it and determine if I am a rule-breaking mom or not. When my kids are babies, the questions have to do with

feeding (breast or formula) – they tell me breast is best by putting it in the right column;

and environmental concerns (Is your kid around smoke or anyone who smokes?) – the correct answer is “no”  (Have you childproofed your entire house?) The correct answer is “yes” – but my answer is always “no;”

and sleeping (Do you always put your baby down to sleep on his back?) – the correct answer “yes”

And up until our third baby, I always had the right answer to this question.  Until when he should have been sleeping for most of the day, he couldn’t string together more than 15 minutes of sleep at a time.  SERIOUSLY!

The whys and wherefores of his restlessness were of paramount concern to me and my husband (as I will go into detail about in a minute). So we started to try everything we could think of to help him to sleep.

We tried a rocking contraption – nope.

We tried a little nest for him that we warmed up when he was not in it (because it was COLD this winter in our house) – nope.

We tried a little vibrating contraption – nope.

And we tried having him sleep on me – DING! DING! DING!

He would sleep on me with his head on my shoulder and his tummy laying down my chest – for hours!

But this was simply not feasible as a long-term sleeping solution.

I started taking naps with him wherein I would lay next to him and just as I was about to drift off…he would wake with a start (he has a pretty hefty dose of Moro reflex) and I would end up laying on my back with him in his favorite position, happily snoozing away while I caught the tiniest of zzzs.

Then one day, the house was quiet (his big sisters were at their grandparents house) and we were giving our little man some tummy time love, when he laid his head to the side and promptly went to sleep.  And he slept.  And he slept.  And he slept. It was his first official nap!  We had found the solution to our problem – he is a natural tummy sleeper – but I wasn’t quite ready to break the “back to sleep” rule.  So I kept him at my side of the bed on the floor (on a pallet) for a while until I could make sure he was truly sleeping well while maintaining proper breathing.  I also did some research about this “rule.”

And then we made the leap.  I talked to my husband (the more paranoid parent) and asked him if he would be ok with putting him in his crib on his tummy. And though he had some reservations, he knew that our little man was only going to sleep well if he was on his tummy.

He is now 3 1/2 months old.  He sleeps through most nights.  He takes two long naps and one or two short naps a day.  He is starting to roll over. He is growing. He is FINE!

And now I am officially a rule-breaking mama!  But I don’t mind the label.  And here’s why:


The big reason that the “back to sleep” campaign started in the US back in the 90s was to prevent SIDS.  And the theory behind the rule is that babies who sleep on their stomachs in a crib are susceptible to toxins in the mattress that are only low down close to the mattress.  Since babies head is so close to the mattress with less air around his head, he is in more danger of being harmed by these toxins and of death.  But here’s the problem:

There is NO SCIENCE to PROVE it.

As I read, I came across a lot of theories and a lot of studies (usually in support of a particular product or method).  But I didn’t come across a single definitive “here’s what causes SIDS and here’s how you prevent it” article that had science to back it up.

BUT there is science going on in my home every day. I am constantly observing my kids.  Seeing what makes them tick, what makes them angry, what makes them scared.  What exact set of circumstances will lead them to sleep 99% of the time.  Like my first baby, G.  She started sleeping really well on her back from the get-go.  And about 3 months in she started rolling on to her side. She is a side-sleeper to this day.  And my second baby, W.  She took a little bit longer to get into the groove of sleeping through the night, but only by about a week and a half.  She sleeps on her back, very well, even now.  And now AG, my third, he sleeps like, well, like a baby…on his tummy and HATES to be laid down to sleep on his back.

So, I am not saying definitively that all those people who think “back to sleep” is the way to go are wrong. But I am saying that I don’t think it is the ONLY way to go, as they would have you think. What works for each of my kids has been different.  And I want the best for them and would never do anything to willingly and knowingly harm them.  So, I am willing to break the rule with this baby because our observations of him have proven it works.


I believe sleep is the most important thing I can help my baby learn how to do.  Babies do LOTS of growing while they are sleeping, LOTS!  And the ability to get a good night’s sleep for kids makes such a HUGE impact on their waking hours.  When my babies don’t get the rest they need, I can tell. Heck, probably you could tell – the crankiness is not very well hidden on less sleep.

We subscribe to the Baby Wise system of teaching our babies to sleep. We did it, at first, upon the recommendation of many of our parent friends.  But now we do it because it WORKS to help kids to learn to put themselves to sleep.  Even with Baby Wise, every baby is different and some kids take longer to sleep through the night.  But our little ones have all slept through the night by the 10th week (I am defining sleeping through the night at 5 or more hours during normal nighttime hours) and very quickly thereafter, they sleep for 7, 9, and then 12 hours at night.

And I am not going to lie to you and tell you it is all about the benefits of sleep for my kids.  Because, honestly, my husband and I are better parents when we have gotten a normal night of rest.  And our entire family likes each other more when we have gotten our proper doses of sleep.

PARENTING for me is about TRUST

I cannot parent from a place of fear. For my kid’s sake as well as my own well-being.  Choosing to do things the “right way” just because of all the bad things that could happen to my kids is parenting from fear.  Trying to prevent the worst thing that could ever happen to my baby – SIDS – when I don’t know what really causes it, and just grasping for preventative measures is parenting from fear.  Instead, I have to trust that my baby will be OK because God is control of his life.  I have to do what I think is best for him and trust that God, in His sovereignty, is taking care of the rest.

That is not to say that I am neglectful of important precautions when it comes to my baby’s sleep.  We swaddle him and keep all other blankets and objects out of his crib.  We also have a baby monitor placed at the level of the mattress, so we can really see him, throughout the night.  We check on him regularly as he is sleeping.

But, when it comes down to it, I have to trust God with my baby’s life, make good decisions to care for him, and move forward in faith.

Because of these three things, I sleep very well at night even though I am a rule-breaking mama.  I can’t be the only one who breaks some of the rules in view of the needs of her baby.

Is there a “rule” you break for the benefit of your little one?  I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below letting me know about your rebellion. 

Have you heard the rule about babies sleeping on their backs? That they should ALWAYS be put down to sleep on their backs? Here's why we break that rule.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Jo

    This is my story! We have a 3 year who slept on her back no problem. We had a very challenging time with our 2nd child who just would not sleep! It affected many adverse dynamics in our family (relational, emotional mental and physical health) When he was 7 weeks old, my mom came over for a 10pm to midnight shift of crying to give us a break. She put him to sleep on his tummy! He slept for hours! The first time ever.
    I’m having so much guilt and fear. I still try to put him to sleep on his back, but it just won’t happen! As soon as I flip him over, he soothes himself to sleep and will sleep for hours.
    The ‘back to sleep’ is a rule I also need to break. I feel like I am breaking it because I am desperate.
    But then I need to work on my anxiety.
    Thank you for this post.
    I’m taking the quote, “I cannot parent from a place of fear.” This is something I need to work on.

    1. Leah Hudson

      After I published this post, I heard from a lot of other moms who broke the back to sleep rule. They have thriving little ones and a little bit of sleep! I am so thankful you are doing the best for YOUR baby! And I will pray for your anxiety to lessen. Blessings to you, mama!!

  2. Christine

    I’ve allowed my little one to tummy sleep since bringing him home from the hospital. And he sleeps just fine. But I’ve had several mom friends question it. And I admit it has made me feel guilty. But reading this article has assured me that my faith and trust must be in God! Ahh thank you so much for this reassurance!!!

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