What to do if baby looks uncomfortable

What to do if baby looks uncomfortable

Have you ever wondered what to do if baby looks uncomfortable in their sleep? Will they get a crick in their neck? Can they really navigate putting their hands through the bars? What about when they put their bum in the air while they’re scrunched into a corner?

I could be biased, but to me, the sight of a sleeping baby is the most peaceful, comforting image I can imagine. The sheer peacefulness of it all. The softness of those fluffy pajamas, the nearly inaudible sound of their breath. Even the way they hold their arms by their sides (or above their head or stretched out like a zombie walking). That perfect stillness just looks like the very definition of, well, “rest.”

At least it does in pictures, and when your newborn is in deep sleep.

But then they start moving

Once your little one has started rolling over and learned how to navigate their cot, you may have noticed a change in this stillness. Once they can move, they tend to get themselves into some laughably uncomfortable-looking sleep positions.

It’s true. Babies can get themselves into sleeping positions that would make a contortionist gasp in horror. What’s more, they don’t do it just to shock and amaze an audience. They literally sleep like that!

Even though it can occasionally be good for a laugh, it can also be pretty concerning from a parenting and safety point of view. If it’s the middle of the night and you’re checking the monitor to see that your baby has managed to fall asleep propped up on their toes and their forehead AGAIN. And it’s the third time they’ve done this in under an hour. It can be really frustrating as well.

So, what are you supposed to do?

One of the cornerstones for getting little ones sleeping through the night involves teaching them independent sleep skills. And one of the most common questions I get asked as we’re doing this is, “What am I supposed to do in a situation when my baby looks like they’re uncomfortable?

You don’t want to wake your baby up by moving them back to the middle of the cot and repositioning them, so they look like they’re more comfortable. But you also don’t want to leave you child bunched up in the corner of the cot looking like they’ve tied themselves in a knot.

The answer, as with all things parenting-related, isn’t a simple yes or no.

“It depends”, is closer to the truth. Let’s break it down into priorities.

Safety first

The age of your baby also comes into play here; what is safe for an eleven month old is quite different to that of a four month old. When it comes to safety, everything else has to be shuffled down in the list of priorities and “sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do”.

Can baby roll?

If your baby has learned how to roll from back to front but hasn’t yet mastered the whole front to back thing. Then, I’m sorry to say, you ARE going to have to keep an eye on the baby monitor. You will have to go in EVERY TIME they flip themselves over and help them back onto their back.

EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. At least until they’ve figured out how to roll over on their own.

Will intervening delay independent sleep?

Will rolling them back over delay their ability to develop their independent sleep skills? Will they wake up cranky and fussy before going back to sleep?

Well, yes, probably.

But if baby is face down on the mattress and can’t yet flip themselves over, you’re best to intervene for safety’s sake. No matter the fallout.

It’s short term

The good news is that lack-of-rolling-skill is usually a short-term issue. Babies tend to learn how to roll from front-to-back pretty quickly after they’ve learned the back-to-front maneuver. You don’t need to worry about months of late night adjustments.

To speed things up, include daytime practice. Spend time practicing the roll-over, and you should see them get the hang of it within a week or two.

What about that limb?

If baby has gotten themselves into a position where they have a limb sticking out of the cot, assess the situation. Again, think safety. Do they have age and good movement on their side to rectify the situation without you? If so, don’t rush in, give them 5-10 minutes to see if they can learn to pull that limb back in. If they are awake and struggling, then go and assist (assess it and go in more quickly if needed).

However, if you believe that your child’s limb could potentially get stuck or twisted when they try to move, that’s when you’ll just have to bite the bullet and step in. In this instance, do it quickly and quietly. Try to engage with them as little as possible.

Note that most cots don’t have as much potential for this kind of occurrence these days. They’ve moved the slats closer to each other so that little limbs can’t get as easily stuck through the gaps. But if something like this does happen, fix it quickly and quietly, and leave the room.

What if just LOOKS uncomfortable?

Let’s say your baby has learned to flip from front to back, and he or she doesn’t have a limb in risk of injury. But in this case, your child has pushed themselves up against the side of their cot, and just looks really uncomfortable.

Should you still go in and move them back to the middle of the cot?

In this case, probably not.

Babies tend to find comfort in some pretty awkward looking positions. As long as their airway isn’t obstructed, (i.e. head tilted forward, nose and mouth in contact with the mattress) then it’s probably best to just let them sleep.

I know it can be a little concerning to see them with their knees practically tucked under their chin. But if they’re uncomfortable, they’ll most likely wake up and rearrange themselves. There’s not usually a need for a parent to reposition them.

Safety first, always!

Remember, safety first, always! However, you can always talk to Plunket, your GP, or pediatrician about safe sleep positions. That way you can make informed decisions about when you should and shouldn’t move your child around in their cot.

More often than not, if they’re sleeping peacefully, they’re doing just fine, no matter how goofy they look in the process.

And one final note,

Please avoid letting babies of any age sleep in a “positioner,” or “nest.” Many of these structures can force baby’s head to tilt forward. Others have soft, plushy sides. Both these things can obstruct breathing. The US FDA has issued a warning against all manner of these products, and despite their claims, they increase, not reduce, the likelihood of SIDS. The same applies here in NZ.

In summary, if safety isn’t an issue, let them sleep. And go ahead and take that candid snap for their 21st Birthday. And if you aren’t already following me on Instagram or Facebook, please do. Your support means the world to me.