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Baby, toddlers, and pillows: When to introduce a pillow

Written By | Jan 21, 2014

SILVER SPRING, Md, January 20, 2014 – Ask most parents  what goes in a crib, and they can tell you the recommendation of the American Association of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control is that nothing goes in a crib with the baby – no bumpers, no stuffed animals, no blanket – in order to reduce the risk of SIDS.

However, at some point children outgrow those restrictions. Babies become toddlers, beds become mounded with stuffed sleeping companions, and children are tucked into bed under piles of blankets.

But how old should a child be before introducing a favorite stuffed animal, a fluffy blanket on a cold night or a pillow?

While doctors, hospitals, and online parenting resources talk plenty about what not to give your infant, information about when it is safe to introduce the banned items is not easy to find.

Pillows can be a major suffocation hazard if introduced too early. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were nearly 700 infant deaths reported due to pillows or cushions being used with a sleeping baby between 1992 and 2010.

So, what is the answer to the question, “when can I give my child a pillow?” While the AAP does not have a specific recommendation, the CPSC says 18 months.

Many children do just fine without a pillow in the bed, so do not feel that you must introduce a pillow just because your child reaches a particular age.  If your child seems comfortable with his head on the mattress wait a little longer.

The best reason to introduce a pillow is to improve your child’s comfort, and they can make a difference for children who are restless sleepers. However, there are other signs that your child might be ready for a pillow. If he balls ups his covers or places a stuffed animal under his head, it is probably time to introduce a pillow.

When the time comes, there are some things you should look for to ensure that the new pillow is well suited to your child and will not be a safety hazard. First, make sure your child is in an appropriately sized bed for the pillow. If your child is still in a small crib, you might want to consider making the move to a toddler or twin bed. Next, when shopping for a pillow, look for a small firm, flat pillow. These offer the cushioning of a pillow but are safer than big fluffy pillows that your little one may sink into.

Feather pillows should be avoided at this age because they are too soft, allowing a young child to sink too far into them. The feather filling can also trigger allergies. Polyester fill or hypoallergenic foam pillows are usually recommended for first pillows.

There are even toddler pillows that have smaller dimensions and are thinner than a standard pillow. While it may seem silly to purchase a pillow that your child will outgrow, consider that the smaller dimensions remove a lot of the excess fabric that can be a suffocation hazard.

If you opt for a standard sized pillow, do not put more than one pillow in the bed with a child, even if the child is sleeping in a double bed. Always avoid oversized pillows like queen, king, and European pillows since the extra large size of these pose an enhanced suffocation risk due to the disproportionate size when compared to the head of a toddler.

Introducing a pillow can be an exciting event for a child. Just like the move from crib to bed, the first pillow is a sign of growing up. Take the proper precautions and do not rush this milestone before your child is ready, and you both will be sleeping soundly.

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Brighid Moret

Brighid is a freelance writer, mother and reader. She holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Find her on Twitter @BrighidMoret, or follow @BigReadsLittleH for the latest children's book reviews.