What Is Rebreathing In Babies? (Can Rebreathing Cause SIDS?)

When a baby is sleeping on their stomach, the carbon dioxide exhaled is trapped between their nose and mouth, resulting in rebreathing it. In such conditions, the fresh oxygen supply diminishes. Rebreathing is also a significant cause of SIDS. To prevent rebreathing, ensure the baby sleeps on their back until they turn a year old. When it comes to sleeping, ensure the mattress is firm and doesn’t have blankets, loose sheets, pillows, or other things that could obstruct breathing. Avoid sharing a bed at all costs, but you could share a room by keeping the baby’s crib in the same room until they turn one.

When you welcome your little one into this world, there’re various things you concern yourself about, including their sleeping habits and environment.

Experienced parents suggest that babies shouldn’t be sleeping on their backs, but you’ll see that sleeping face down is even more dangerous for your little one.

Rebreathing is a common phenomenon; if you’re unaware of this, you could potentially lose your baby.

What is the rebreathing theory?

As an infant, your little one will sleep about 17 hours a day, which comprises most of the day. Though they might wake up pretty often, feed, and then fall asleep quickly, this state continues for a couple of months.

Since sleeping is just a massive part of their routine, it’s safe to say that parents are mostly concerned with how to make the sleeping environment comfortable for their little ones.

Making the bed extra soft with pillows and blankets is the worst thing you could do, as these are hazardous and could end up choking or suffocating your baby.

If your baby is sleeping on an extra soft mattress, that could also be suffocating.

But most important is the sleeping position of your little one. There’s a reason why doctors recommend babies should be sleeping on their backs.

It’s because sleeping on their side or stomach increases the possibility of the infant rebreathing their own exhaled breath. This is known as rebreathing in babies.

Infants don’t learn to turn and will sleep in one position you lay them down. But when they transition from being an infant to a toddler, one of the key developmental things they learn to do is how to turn.

If you don’t pay attention, they might be sleeping on their stomach with their face down. When they’re breathing in this position, the CO2 exhaled becomes trapped around their nose and mouth.

This, in turn, causes your little one to breathe in more CO2 than the percent oxygen, and their supply of fresh oxygen is limited and blocked.

Is rebreathing dangerous?

A toddler can easily turn to their side or stomach and sleep in that position without realizing what they’re doing.

Unlike adults, babies don’t recognize that sleeping this way can prove to be dangerous.

Stomach sleeping increases rebreathing, and if it’s coupled with a really soft mattress, soft toys, pillows, or blankets, it quickly becomes a death trap.

An infant baby is laying on his tummy while both parents are sitting nearby

This is one of the significant causes of SIDS, where a baby sleeping on their stomach will be breathing stale air, unable to get fresh oxygen. They’re lucky if their brain recognizes that it’s not getting enough oxygen, making them cry to wake up.

If that doesn’t happen and somehow the brain doesn’t pick up this signal, carbon dioxide levels will rise, resulting in sudden infant death.

The American Academy of Pediatrics even launched a “Back to Sleep” campaign which recommends parents keep ensuring their baby is sleeping on their back until they turn a year old.

After 12 months of age, it’s also difficult for parents to ensure their little one is sleeping on their back, but also babies become stronger, realizing they’re sleeping wrong or might need to turn their heads to breathe.

Will my baby get a flat head by constantly sleeping on their back?

Parents might also not be too happy about sleeping on the back campaign as it worries them about the flat head syndrome.

When babies sleep on one side for too long, especially on their back, their heads could be flattened by repeatedly sleeping in the same position. Their skulls are softer and might reshape easily at that age.

But you can ensure this doesn’t happen by keeping an eye on your baby and changing their position when awake. Give them the much-needed tummy time when they’re awake.

Can rebreathing in babies cause SIDS?

Sudden infant death syndrome is very common among babies in their first year.

It’s not surprising that rebreathing and SIDS are interconnected because when a baby isn’t getting oxygen, it’s in a dangerous situation.

Mom is checking on her sleeping newborn to ensure the baby sleeping on her back, to prevent SIDS

Sleeping on the stomach does increase the risk of SIDS, but so do other factors. But sleeping the right way is one thing that is entirely under parents’ control, and they can ensure their little munchkin is sleeping the right way to prevent any mishap.

  1. Place your baby on a firm mattress and keep the crib free of blankets, pillows, and toys.
  2. The sheet covering the mattress should be fitted and not loose.
  3. Don’t use bumper pads inside the crib, as they can cause suffocation.
  4. Until your little one turns a year old, you should share your room instead of the bed. The sleeping requirements are met, and you can keep an eye on them.
  5. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS.
  6. Don’t overdress your baby or cover them with thick blankets. Instead, dress them lightly and keep the room temperature moderate.
  7. When your baby falls asleep, shift them to their crib. Don’t let them continue sleeping wherever they have fallen asleep.

Avoid sharing the bed with your infant if you want to prevent rebreathing.

A study finds that babies who slept in cribs had 3.1 desaturation events per night, while bed-sharing babies had 6.8.

In bed-sharing babies, many of these periods of low oxygen availability were associated with warmer body temperatures.

It also found that 70% of the rebreathing events occurred when the infant’s head was accidentally covered with blankets. This is bound to happen when an adult turns pulling the blanket with themselves, unaware of how it affects their baby.


How do I know if the baby is rebreathing?

Sometimes when a baby is rebreathing, and parents are unaware of it, the baby might start crying and wake up as the brain signals not receiving enough oxygen.

Other times this might not happen, so the only way to know is by keeping an eye on your baby. Ensure they’re sleeping in the right position on their back and their environment is clutter-free.

When should I worry about my baby’s breathing?

If you find your baby skipping breathing for more than 10 seconds, then it’s problematic. Newborns usually have irregular breathing, so don’t worry if their inhales and exhales differ. You need to worry if the pause between breaths is more than 10 seconds.

What are the risk factors for SIDS?

Some babies have a higher risk of SIDS if:

– The mother smokes, drinks, or uses drugs during the pregnancy
– Poor prenatal care
– Babies born prematurely or at a low birth rate
– A family history of SIDS
– Mother is younger than 20 years of age
– Smoking around baby
– Getting overheated
– Sleeping on a soft surface
– Surrounded by blankets, toys, pillows
– Sharing bed with parents while sleeping

What are common signs of respiratory distress in a newborn?

– Fast and shallow breathing
– Grunting
– Flaring nostrils with each breath
– Bluish tone to a baby’s skin and lips
– Pulling inward of the muscles between the ribs when breathing
– Sweating

How can I increase my baby’s oxygen level?

Ensure your baby is sleeping in the correct position and doesn’t have things around them that can interfere with their breathing.

But if you find your baby struggling to breathe, do take them to the emergency room, as they might need supplemental oxygen to elevate their oxygen level.


  • https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/sleep/can-a-baby-sleep-too-much/
  • https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx
  • https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/positional-plagiocephaly.html
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As a writer for 1happykiddo, Saumya wants to help new parents and older siblings help raise the newest member added to the family. Her parenting tips come from her experience of being 15 years older than her youngest sibling. When not writing, you can find her reading novels, traveling, and cooking nutritious meals.

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