As first time parents, we are still learning; we are figuring out what is healthy for our babies, what is acceptable, comfortable, and safe. It is easy to assume that what we see in a baby goods store is safe for our little ones to use, including bedding sets.
These often come with comforters and pillows - essentials for us adults to feel comfortable - and without thinking about it, we can put these things in our babies’ cribs without realizing that we are putting them at risk for injury or even death.
There is an appropriate time to introduce your baby to a pillow or blanket, but you should know when that is and the risks associated with doing it too early.
The Dangers of Pillows and Blankets
Pillows and blankets in baby cribs, as well as other soft objects like stuffed animals, are the number one cause of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in babies under a year old.
Surprisingly, in a survey of about 19,000 parents with infants under the age of 8 months, around half were still using soft bedding in their babies’ cribs.
Thankfully, the word has gotten out about the dangers of leaving these items in a baby’s crib. Even though it still an alarmingly widespread practice, the number of infants exposed to soft bedding dropped 31% over the course of 17 years (between 1993 and 2010).
The risks associated with the use of soft bedding, including pillows and blankets, with babies are serious and even life threatening.
The biggest risk with giving your baby a pillow or blanket before she is ready is the potential for suffocation.
Newborns are not strong enough to lift their own necks and heads, or even roll over if they were to end up face down on a pillow or soft blanket. Young babies are also not strong enough to tear a blanket away from their face if they find they cannot breathe.
Giving a blanket to a young baby is not typically done out of neglect, but out of love. Parents think they need to give their babies blankets to keep them warm at night, not realizing that when dressed appropriately, they will receive the proper amount of warmth without a blanket.
Blankets can cause overheating in babies. Many parents think that their babies are cold because their arms or legs feel cool, but their actual body temperature is fine.
If you are worried that your baby is cold, feel her chest for a more accurate measurement of her body temperature.
Keep an eye out for signs of overheating, such as sweating, rapid breathing, red face, or hot chest.
Excess material, whether it is an ill-fitting sheet or a loose blanket, can put your baby at risk for strangulation. Especially once she becomes more mobile and is able to roll over.
The loose material can easily become wrapped around your baby’s neck, and being unable to free herself, her airway could be cut off.
Rules for Safe Bedding
Due to the dangers that come with the use of pillows, blankets, and other cumbersome or soft bedding, there is very little that your baby should have in her crib.
For the first year or two of her life, there are a few simple rules you can follow to ensure that your baby’s crib or sleeping arrangements are safe.
Comforters, Pillows and Bumpers
As a rule, you should never allow anything soft or fluffy to remain in your baby’s crib while she is sleeping. This includes comforters, fluffy blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals.
Each of these pose a suffocation risk to your little one.
There is also a lot of argument about crib bumpers, the soft cushions that tie across the crib slats. They are designed to keep your baby safe by not allowing her arms or legs to slip through the gaps between the rails, which can cause serious injury if she were to get stuck.
On the other hand, the bumpers themselves have been known to cause harm; there is the risk for suffocation if your baby were to end up with her face pressed against them in her sleep.
Even your choice of mattress can be hazardous for your baby. Especially if you practice co-sleeping on the same surface as your baby.
Many adult mattresses are too soft by baby standards, even when labeled as firm. The give in the mattress can lead to your baby rolling into a compromising position where her airways could become blocked.
Take great care when co-sleeping with your baby. Keep her face as the height of yours to prevent it from being smothered by the blanket.
If possible, choose to have her sleep in a co-sleeper bed, preferably one that comes with its own firm mattress and protective walls.
The only piece of bedding that should be in your baby’s crib is a fitted sheet. It is critical that it is the correct size for the mattress so there is no slack in the elastic when in place.
Before making a purchase, measure your baby’s crib mattress – remembering to take the depth into account as well as the height and width.
A sheet that is too big will sag and bunch up, creating a higher risk of suffocation. Too small and it could pop off the mattress, becoming entangled around your baby’s legs, face, or neck.
By finding the right fitted sheet, you eliminate clutter and keep your baby safe in her crib.
Sleep Sacks or Footed Pyjamas
If you live in a colder environment, or if you feel that your baby needs something to keep her warm at night, do not give in and run to grab her a blanket.
There are better alternatives for newborns and infants.
Your best options are to use a sleep sack – which is essentially a wearable sleeping bag with sleeves – or footed pyjamas. These allow your baby the freedom to move in her sleep without the extra bulk or fabric that could potentially do her harm.
When Your Child is Ready for a Pillow or Blanket
Most professionals agree that it is safe to give your baby a blanket between the ages of 12 and 18 months, and a pillow is safe around 2 years.
The age be the sole determining factor when deciding your child is ready to move forward with big kid bedding.
Watch for Motor Skills
The best way to know if your baby is ready for a pillow and blanket is to watch for signs in their motor skill development.
Your baby should be coordinated and strong enough to move her head and neck, and get herself untangled from a blanket should she become wrapped up in it.
Baby motor skills develop quickly as they move towards being a toddler. Check out the video below for some development stage basics
Many people claim that when your baby starts pulling a blanket away from her face or rolling over, it is relatively safe for her to sleep in a blanket, but this is not always the case.
A better way to tell if your baby is ready is to watch for more developed coordination in removing materials – such as blankets and clothing – from her person. Once she starts doing this, you can feel comfortable knowing she will not get wrapped up in her blanket.
To be on the safe side, you should choose a smaller blanket at first until you know how she does through the night. Do not immediately jump to a comforter or adult-sized blanket that she can get wrapped up in.
Choose the Right Pillow
When looking for a pillow for your toddler you need to be solely focused on firmness.
A pillow that is too soft can still be a suffocation hazard in toddlers and young children. A pillow that is too hard will be uncomfortable and will not allow proper spinal alignment.
Test the firmness by pressing down on the pillow and seeing how long it takes to regain shape.
Generally, a pillow with medium firmness (one that regains shape after a few seconds) is best. It should also have a low profile (more on the thin side) to avoid neck injury and suffocation.
Just as with any other fabrics you may introduce to your child, you want to try to avoid common allergens. Even as a toddler, your little one’s skin can still be very sensitive and her immune system is still forming.
Look for natural and hypoallergenic materials in her blanket, such as cotton, fleece, wool, or bamboo fibers, or non-allergenic polyfill in her pillow.
Synthetic materials may be cheaper, but they can irritate baby’s sensitive skin.
You should also steer clear of feather-filled pillows and duvets or comforters, which are known to be a source of allergic reactions even in adults. These can also contain dust, which can irritate your baby’s respiratory system.
Introducing a pillow or blanket too early to your child can put her at risk for serious injury or even death. Pay attention to her physical development as well as her age, so you know when it is suitable to make the transition from her bare crib to a bed - with a full bedding set.
Questions or comments? Let us know below.Be sure to share this link with other parents who may be wondering if their little one is ready to move on to “big kid” bedding.