You’ve probably noticed that baby cribs are, shall we say – BARE. So when can a baby start to sleep with a blanket and pillow? And what about those adorable stuffed animals and loveys that you’ve been collecting? When does the baby crib start to look less like a little jail and more like the nursery you imagined when you were scouring Pinterest for ideas? Here’s the short answer:
Parents can let their baby use a blanket at age 1, and a pillow at around 18 months.
Now let’s take a closer look at what makes for a safe sleep space for your growing baby.
Safe Sleep Environment for Babies
The safest space for your baby to sleep is in a crib that is free from any clutter. Quilts, blankets, stuffed animals, and sleep positioners are all items that you may feel tempted to introduce to the crib – but you shouldn’t. Each of these items introduces a risk to your young baby.
Although it may seem far fetched, babies can (and have) died from sleeping in cribs that were not free and clear of suffocation hazards. Things that look harmless, like crib bumpers, blankets, and pillows, all pose a risk to babies. Young babies do not have the head and neck control to get themselves out of trouble if they become tangled up or get caught in a dangerous position during the night.
Babies’ brains are also not developed enough to become aware if their sleep space suddenly becomes dangerous – for example, if their head gets smushed into a soft surface, a young baby may not wake up to register this as a danger and simply turn her head, the way an older child could do.
Babies also do not have the coordination to be able to move items that are blocking their airways. They can’t necessarily just toss that blanket that’s fallen across their face out of the way.
This is why pediatricians and sleep experts are so concerned that we create safe sleep environments for our kids. These kinds of deaths are preventable. There’s simply no reason to introduce random hazards into your baby’s crib, when they are at their most defenseless.
That being said – eventually our kids grow, and it becomes safe to introduce some cozy items into the sleeping space. Which brings us back to the initial question of when can a baby sleep with a blanket and pillow.
Again, you can let your baby use a blanket at age 1, and a pillow at 1 1/2-years-old.
Before age 1, the safest option is to have your baby in a crib free from other items. A wearable/zip-up blanket is a great option to keep your baby warm when they’re too little to safely use a blanket.
Wearable blankets come in different materials, so you can find one for the summer or winter that should work. They are cozy and work just as well as a blanket, without the risk of your baby getting tangled up.
Otherwise, the only safe item for the crib is a pacifier (which has been shown to drastically reduce the risk of SIDS).
By the age of 1, a small blanket and lovey should be fine! You don’t want a lovey that is so long that there’s any chance of it wrapping around your baby’s head or neck. But a typical lovey – those small pieces of cloth with a stuffed animal head on top – should be fine by the time your baby hits the 12-month mark.
To make sure that your one-year-old baby is ready for a lovey, you can run a simple test – once your baby falls asleep, put the lovey across their face and watch for a minute. Are they able to breathe easily, and swipe the lovey to the side? These are good indicators that the lovey shouldn’t be an issue. (Don’t use this as a test for a younger baby, however. It’s better to play it safe and wait until at least your baby’s first birthday).
Now, as for pillows…
Adults may intuitively think their baby needs a pillow. I mean, if we adults use them, wouldn’t your baby need one too? Well, no. Not really.
Adults and babies bodies’ are very different. While comfortable for an adult, a pillow can block your baby’s nose and mouth, making it impossible to breathe.
And anyway, you’ll quickly see that your baby will be able to get into a comfortable position without the use of a pillow. Putting your baby to bed on their back is the safest position, and the position recommended for baby safe sleep practices.
By 1 1/2, when it’s safe to use a pillow, you can choose to move your baby into a toddler bed, or onto a floor mattress.
This is by no means necessary! It’s just an option. I’ve left my kids in their cribs far longer – closer to age 2 1/2. Some parents keep their child in the crib past the age of 3! This is all fine, assuming your child is not trying to climb over the crib rails. With my second son, that’s when we knew we had to make the switch – falling became a hazard and we had to deal with it.
Anyway, if you’d like to switch to a toddler bed, 18 months or so is an appropriate time in most cases, and this is also an appropriate time to add a small pillow.
Note: If you have questions about your particular baby, please consult your pediatrician. There may be extenuating circumstances with, for example, a child with lower muscle tone or other physical issues. So please talk to your doctor to seek more specific guidance.
If you’d like more detailed information on baby safe sleep practices, the March of Dimes website has a good overview.
I hope this answered your question as to when a baby can safely sleep with a blanket and pillow, and gave you a bit more useful info on safe sleep practices overall.
For more helpful information, this baby sleep resource page is a good place to start. You can find information on the dreaded 4-month sleep regression, nap transitions, and find answers on when to wake a sleeping baby.
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