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When Should I Introduce A Pillow To My Toddler?

Lying flat on a mattress for hours on end would undoubtedly leave you with a stiff, creaky neck in the morning. This might make you wonder: Would your baby sleep more comfortably with a pillow — and is it okay to give her one? 

It might seem like a plush, fluffy headrest might feel nice for your little one. But the truth is, your baby doesn’t know what she’s missing. And she’s better off that way, at least until well into toddlerhood.

Though it’s scary to think about, pillows and other soft bedding items can create the potential for suffocation or strangling and increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

In short, there’s no real reason to put a pillow in your baby’s crib — and plenty of good reasons to wait until she’s older. Here’s more about why a pad shouldn’t have a place in your baby’s sleeping spot and how to tell when she’s ready for one later on.

Your sweet child means the world to you — and when you put them to bed at night, you may find yourself wanting to wrap them in comfort.

But despite that desire, the same comfort items adults enjoy — like fluffy pillows and soft blankets galore — can be direct threats to your child’s health and safety while they’re sleeping, depending on their age.

Though this may be sad to hear, it’s essential to understand all the risks and what you can do to make your child comfortable while keeping them as safe as possible. This includes waiting until the right age to introduce certain items, such as pillows, into their sleeping environment.

We all know what a minefield parenting can be, especially when you are a brand new parent to a newborn baby; the hours of research on what is best for your baby can be endless and overwhelming! When you think you have it under control, your baby moves onto a new stage, and you’re straight back to square one. Well, I’m not sure when that stops, but it certainly isn’t at the toddler stage! I get asked a lot about transitioning toddlers from their cots into their ‘big beds, ‘ which is also a general rule when you can introduce a pillow for your toddler. We do often get asked if we sell baby pillows; the answer is a big no. Babies need to sleep on a flat, firm surface, and any soft bedding can be a choking hazard. So, when do we know when is the right time to introduce them? I’ll try my best in this post to help you figure out when it is best for your toddler!

As mentioned above, as a general rule, you can introduce a pillow when your toddler moves into their ‘big bed’; however, even at this stage, it may not be necessary. Their little bodies do not need the neck support like we do and can even put a strain on their neck if you give them the wrong pillow (we’ll get into that more soon). So if your toddler is quite happily sleeping through the night comfortably, it isn’t necessary to introduce one just yet. The ‘experts’ suggest a pillow can be submitted at any age between 1.5-3 years, which is quite an extensive age range! There are a few clues you can look out for that might suggest your toddler is ready for a pillow:

  • If they are restless at night and wake up often
  • If they prop their head up on a blanket or soft toy
  • If they put their head on a cushion or pillow when on the couch or in bed with you
  • If they start sleeping on their side or start sleeping with an arm under their head

My Baby Nursery has a wide range of baby cot nursery blankets to choose from. 

When do Do Children need to Use a Pillow?

Kids don’t need a pillow until well after their first birthday! Babies should NOT sleep with a pillow. Having a buffer in bed can be extremely dangerous for infants.

Pillows and lose blankets, comforters, stuffed toys, and crib bumpers create a suffocation risk for infants. That’s why we experts advise that babies sleep without anything in the crib (other than a fitted sheet) until they are at least a year old. Pillows can cover a baby’s face or cause a baby to overheat—another sudden infant death risk factor. 

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When Is it Safe for My Child to Have a Pillow?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends waiting to introduce pillows to your little one’s sleep routine until they reach 1 1/2 years old (18 months).

This recommendation is based on what experts know about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and its cousin, sudden unexplained death in childhood (SUDC).

SIDS is generally used for babies up to 12 months, and SUDC is used for toddlers older than one year of age. SIDS is a lot more common trusted Source than SUDC.

Although the risk of sudden unexplained death drops dramatically once your baby turns one year old, it’s still a concern in terms of what you place in the crib for a bit longer.

Toddlers up to 1 1/2 years old (or even older — not all kids develop at the same rate) may still become overwhelmed by objects in their crib and face suffocation.

So while a pillow is safe and comfortable for you, this isn’t the case for babies and young toddlers.

The recommended age for pillow introduction is around the same time children can move from sleeping in a crib to sleeping in a toddler bed with a safety rail — or even a mattress placed on the floor — but consult your pediatrician about your child’s specific readiness.

Testing and observation are essential for figuring out the optimal time to give your child a pillow during sleep.

There’s a big difference between your toddler using a pillow as a headrest and your toddler squeezing it close to their little face or positioning themselves underneath it while sleeping.

Your baby can’t sleep with a pillow until she’s a toddler. 

Babies should sleep on a firm, flat surface free of pillows, blankets and other soft bedding until at least age one and preferably age 18 months or later, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep guidelines. During her first year, the only thing your little one’s crib or bassinet needs is a simple fitted sheet.

As for when to introduce a pillow? Research hasn’t shown precisely when it’s 100 per cent safe to put a cushion or other soft object in the crib, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) notes that pillows become much less risky past the 18-month mark.

To play it safe, you’re better off waiting until she transitions to a toddler bed, which can happen between 18 months and 3 1/2 years (and the closer to 3 years old you can wait, the better). Not only does waiting longer further reduce suffocation risk, but keeping a pillow out of your toddler’s crib means she won’t be able to use the pillow as a step to try to climb out.

Remember, your baby doesn’t know what a pillow is and is perfectly content to sleep without one. So you can hold out until she shows an active interest in having one.

When the time for a pillow does come, keep it small and straightforward. Opt for a firm baby or toddler-sized pillow instead of a full-sized adult one, and stay extra fabric out of the mix by skipping the pillowcase. 

Looking for blankets for baby cot? Look no further. My Baby Nursery has you covered.

What Kind of Pillow Can I Give My Child When She’s a Toddler?

When your little one is a toddler, don’t pluck a pillow from your bed. Instead, pick a pint-sized toddler model that’s flat and firm rather than an adult-size version that’s soft and squishy.

And remember that pillows are not a must for toddlers until your little one has transitioned to a bed and has shown interest in one.

Even though it may seem like your baby can’t possibly be comfortable sleeping in her crib without a pillow, she is not only perfectly comfortable but also much safer in a bed free of pillows.

When the time comes, and she’s a toddler, she’ll get her little pillow to sleep with. And at that point, you can rest easy knowing that her new bedtime accessory won’t pose any risk to her.

The age that toddlers can safely use a pillow varies. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend letting a toddler under two years use a pad. 

When your toddler transitions out of their crib to a bed, they can safely use pillows and other bedding. Once they’re old enough to sleep in their bed, they can also have stuffed animals with them. Your toddler’s risk of SIDS or suffocation is significantly reduced after they transition to a bed. 

Safe Sleeping Tips for Toddlers

The same soft blankets and pillows adults enjoy while sleeping can be dangerous for babies and possibly early toddlerhood. Follow these safe sleeping tips to keep your child safer through the night.

Choose the Right Pillow

First things first: Find a pillow that adds comfort and is safe for your toddler. When shopping for the right pillow, avoid choosing a pillow that’s too big — this may help decrease the risk of suffocation. A firm pillow also is better for still-developing necks and spines.

If your child has allergies, make sure that the pillow’s material won’t cause any reactions. Hypoallergenic pillows can reduce that risk.

Best Pillows for Toddlers

Some pillows are better for toddlers than others. They need a small-sized, thin, firm pillow. Giving them an adult-size pad is not safe for them. 

A firm pillow is better for toddlers. There’s not a significant risk of suffocation like there is with soft cushions. Firm pillows also support your toddler’s neck. Toddler’s channels are developing and need good support for proper spinal alignment. 

Pillows with hypoallergenic and untreated material are the preferred options for toddlers. Choosing these pillows can reduce allergic reactions or rashes. 

When you decide your toddler is ready for a pillow, keep in mind that the big fluffy pillows adorning your bed are probably not the right fit! A thick pad may be uncomfortable for your child’s tiny neck and spine, which are still developing. Instead, look for a small, flat, firm pillow that cradles and supports the head without causing your toddler to strain. 

Just as different types of pillows work better for some adults than others, there might be a little trial and error to find the perfect pad for your child (so it’s not a bad idea to buy one with a generous return policy!). But no matter what kind of pillow you decide to introduce the first time, the most important thing is that you wait to introduce it until your child’s SIDS risk subsides. And then you can rest easier, too, knowing that your lovebug is sleeping safely.

When Is it Safe for Your Toddler to Use a Pillow?

The SIDS period is totally over after the first birthday, so once your baby turns 1, it’s technically safe to use pillows and blankets. However, there’s no need to rush to buy your tot a pad as soon as they blow out that one-shaped birthday candle. The truth is that most little kids sleep fine without pillows.

Pillows could pose new risks as your baby becomes a toddler. Some enterprising tots may use pads to boost themselves up and climb or fall out of the crib! So, I recommend only using a blanket in the crib after the first birthday and waiting to use a pillow until your child transitions from the crib to a bed…which may not be until they reach their third birthday…or even later.

Why Isn’t It Safe for My Baby to Sleep With a Pillow?

Putting pillows, loose bedding, or any soft, fluffy items in your baby’s crib increases the risk of SIDS. The safest sleep setup for your little one is in her crib or bassinet with a simple fitted sheet — and nothing else. 

Even though a pillow might seem cozy, a baby’s face can press up against it while she sleeps, which can increase the risk of suffocation. Snuggling against a pillow could also cause your baby to overheat — another thing that can potentially set the stage for SIDS. 

Even past her first birthday, there’s good reason to hold off on the pillow until your child moves into a toddler bed. In the crib, an active, curious toddler could try to use a pillow as a step to try to climb out — and possibly fall.

Plus, there’s a good chance that your sweetie still moves so much in her sleep that, halfway through the night, a pillow would end up down by her feet instead of up by her head.

You should treat blankets and stuffed animals just like pillows — don’t offer them until your little one is at least 18 months old. 

As for things like mobiles or crib bumpers? It’s OK to hang a mobile over your baby’s crib when she’s a newborn as long as it’s at least 16 inches from the surface of the crib so she can’t grab it. But you’ll want to get rid of it at about the 4- or 5-month mark when your baby can get on her hands and knees and could potentially reach for it.

And bumpers should never have a place in your sweetie’s sleeping spot. They can pose a suffocation or strangulation hazard before her first birthday. After that, she might try to climb on the bumper to get out of the crib — setting herself up for a nasty fall.

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Back Sleeping

The “Back to Sleep” campaign was introduced in 1994 as a collaborative effort between the National Institute of Child Health and Development and the American Academy of Pediatrics to reduce SIDS.

Both organisations recommend placing your baby on their back to go to sleep for every sleep. For safety, continue to do this until your toddler is about 12–18 months old. However, it’s OK if your toddler repositioned themselves onto their stomach or side.

And once you transition to a toddler bed or mattress on the floor, your toddler may start crawling into bed themselves — and they can put themselves to bed in whatever position they’re most comfortable.

Crib or Bed Location

Though you shouldn’t bed share with your baby, experts recommend that you have their crib in your room for the first six months to lower the risk of SIDS.

The CDC even suggests Trusted Source that room-sharing until 12 months may be ideal in terms of safety and convenience — but other experts acknowledge that it can make for a much harder transition to independent sleeping in toddlerhood.

When you do make that transition from your room to theirs, make sure that the crib is placed far from any objects with ties or strings, such as curtains or electrical cords. Other things that your toddler may pull from the crib or bed, such as frames, heavy books, or mobiles, should be set far away as well.

Bedding

In general, keep not only pillows but also all other bedding products — like blankets, sleep positioners, and stuffed animals — out of your child’s sleeping area until they’re 18 months old.

Safety Note

For infants, sleep positioners and wedges are not recommended while feeding or sleeping. These padded risers are intended to keep your baby’s head and body in one position but are not recommended by the Food and Drug AdministrationTrusted Source due to the risk of SIDS.

Dangers of Letting Your Toddler Sleep With a Pillow

If your toddler is still sleeping in a crib, they do not need a pillow. Even if they’re over 12 months old, pillows can be a hazard in a crib. Pillows can get caught in the crib walls and obstruct your toddler’s breathing. They can also use pillows as steps to climb over and fall out of their crib. Pillows are a greater risk for toddlers under the age of 2. 

The Takeaway

Pillows and blankets may seem like harmless items that can only keep your child warm and comfortable while they sleep.

However, these are items you don’t want to introduce too soon — infant deaths occur during sleep every year due to strangulation or suffocation by pillows, blankets, and other bedding material.

Following the guideline of waiting until your child is 1 1/2 years old or moving out of a crib, introducing a pillow to their sleeping arrangement will help keep them safer during sleep.

We have the best range of baby nursery blankets to keep your baby just right day and night. 

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