When Can a Baby Sleep With a Blanket and Pillow?

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When we had our first baby, I remember getting his crib ready and wondering when can a baby sleep with a blanket and a pillow. Despite the doctors telling me at every appointment to let him sleep without pillows or blankets, I couldn’t help thinking about how much more comfortable he would be with a little extra bedding. 

But, of course, safety is a priority when it comes to our kids, so let’s look at when it’s safe to introduce pillows and blankets to their bed.

Why Can’t My Baby Sleep With a Pillow or a Blanket?

Before reaching the age of one, babies still haven’t developed enough muscle strength or coordination needed to handle crib items the way an older toddler would. Their brain cells are too underdeveloped to wake them up when they have a dangerous situation—such as having their face smashed right into a soft pillow or the blanket covering their head. 

Their feeble bodies can’t synchronize themselves to unwrap tangled loose sheets or remove their heads from uncomfortable positions. A pillow can block a young infant’s nose and mouth, leading to suffocation.

What Is the Appropriate Age to Introduce Pillows and Blankets to Your Baby?

As with many things regarding your baby, it’s advisable to talk to your doctor before making the decision. Our doctor’s recommendation was to wait until the baby is 12 months, which was quite accurate for our son as he seemed ready at this age. But having seen the journey with my current toddler, I’m beginning to learn that every experience is different. 

Some babies are ready at 12 months, while others might need a little more time. With our daughter, we waited until after 18 months, and others even wait until two years old before they introduce blankets and pillows.

My daughter is quite an active sleeper. When she’s asleep, she rolls and rocks around her crib throughout the night. We had this awesome sleeping bag with feet that kept her warm all night and didn’t restrict her movements, so this seemed like a safer option.

By the time a baby is one, their mobility and brain development should be enough to protect them when they have fallen asleep. However, there isn’t any reason to be in a rush to introduce the objects to the crib, since your baby is already used to sleeping without them.

By one and a half years, it’s generally safe for you to begin the pillow journey for your baby if you think they’re interested. It’s usually the age at which you are comfortable with moving your child from a crib to a toddler bed or even a mattress on the floor. You can add a pillow and blanket at the same time, to make the transition more exciting.

Choosing the Right Pillow for Your Toddler

If you’ve decided your toddler is ready for a pillow, it’s time to select the right one. I know they’re rarely used, but please don’t just pick out a pillow from your guest room. A fluffy adult-sized pillow is definitely not an appropriate option for starters.

You need to look for a slim, small-sized, and firm pillow. Luckily in this day and age, there are such toddler specific pillows on the market that you can shop for directly. They are ergonomically designed for toddlers to suit their developing spines and necks. 

Some little ones often have sensitive skin, and a hypoallergenic pillow would be the ideal choice for them. Make sure to wash it regularly in order to rinse out the allergens. Luckily, these small pillows fit quite easily in washing machines.

Unlike what we expect, kids might not just kick it off on a high note with the pillow we choose. No matter how many expert opinions you read on when can a baby sleep with a pillow, your toddler might just not want it. 

I remember our firstborn pushing his pillow off his bed every night when we had just begun introducing bedding to him. I really went a little crazy on this one, but my husband reminded me that sometimes it’s best to just let the sleeping toddler lie (the way he wants to). With time, he began to warm up to the pillow experience and accepted it as a part of his bed. 

So if after ticking off all the pillow rules we listed here, your toddler still isn’t receptive, don’t freak out, just give them time. 

Picking Out the Appropriate Blanket for Your Toddler

Now your little one has ticked off all the recommendations for when can a baby sleep with a blanket, what’s next?

Generally, larger blankets have a higher risk of suffocation and strangulation. This is irrespective of your toddler being above one year old. So again, it’s best to go for a toddler-sized blanket.

The blanket’s fabric is one important consideration, and natural materials are best for toddler blankets:

  • Muslin fabric is comfortable to breathe through, and this is a better option as opposed to thick polyester quilted coverlets. It’s durable and usually gets softer with every wash.
  • Cotton is my personal favorite; it’s breathable, and to top it off, it allows room for the baby to lose heat when their body needs to cool down. Cotton blankets are easy to clean and don’t irritate the skin.
  • Cellular cotton blankets make the ideal choice. The baby remains warm, with enough airflow at the same time. If the blanket covers their face, it has air holes that will allow for them to breathe.
  • Sheepskin and fleece blankets are highly discouraged since they can lead to your baby overheating.

Weighted blankets that are used with older children aren’t safe for your infant or toddler, so hold that horse if you were considering doing a hand me down from your older kids.

Even as your child grows older, avoid blankets that have elongated ribbons or strings on the edge. Such accessories, no matter how visually pleasing to a kid, are not safe for bedtime blankets since they pose the risk of choking by wrapping around the neck.

For active sleepers like my little angel, I have come to discover that a sleep sack or footed pajamas are a better option than a blanket until she’s older. You should also consider these if your child often rocks and rolls around their bed at night, as they can kick the blanket off and wake up cold during the night.

baby sleeping in crib

Tips for Safe Sleeping

Here are our top tips for keeping your little one safe while sleeping. 

Keeping Pillows and Blankets off the Crib Also Includes Bumpers

No matter how cute they may appear while matching your nursery decor, crib bumpers pose as high a risk of suffocation. Furthermore, older children may use them as a climber to escape the crib.

Use Extra Layers

If you haven’t begun using blankets yet, during bedtime and naps, add a layer of clothing to your little one. However, don’t overdo it—just one more layer than you would wear yourself to bed. 

To check whether your baby is too hot or cold, check if their cheeks are flushed or the nape of the neck feels sweaty or cold. If you have used extra clothes, it’s safe to keep the sleeping area cool to prevent the baby from overheating.

Stop Swaddling 

Once you notice your baby has enough muscle strength to roll over or pull themselves up, it’s time to stop swaddling. It’s even safer just to curtail swaddling at two or three months, irrespective of whether they have begun moving. You’ll need to stop eventually, as they’ll need their hands when they roll onto their front.

Sleep Location

Whether you’re using a blanket or not, it’s never safe for your baby to fall asleep on an armchair or couch.

I can attest that falling asleep on the couch after a breastfeeding session is a recurrent situation; however, as soon as I’m up I move the baby to her crib. Letting the baby sleep on a swing unsupervised or in a reclined chair or car seat overnight is definitely a dangerous move to make.

It’s important to appreciate that bedding safety is just a segment of all the overall safe sleeping precautions you should take with your baby.

Tucking Your Baby the Right Way

If you feel your baby is ready for a blanket, tucking them the wrong way might lead you to think your decision was untimely. The basic guideline when settling a baby is ensuring that the blanket does not impede the baby in any way. 

Place your baby’s feet at the bottom of the bed to minimize the risk caused by them wriggling underneath the covers. Tuck the blanket under the mattress, and under the baby’s arms and across the chest.

Alternative Options for Keeping Your Infant Warm

If you happen to have extremely cold winters, ensuring your infant is warm but not too hot can be a daunting task. Especially because the first option that comes to mind is layering the clothes and enough feels like too little while anything more is too much. 

Remember that a season cannot dictate when can a baby sleep with a blanket and pillow.

At this point, an efficient heating system is the most worthwhile investment, particularly one that would heat the entire house.

There are several affordable options for heating bedrooms, such as panel heaters, oil heaters, and electric heaters, which is what we personally used. Keep all safety precautions in mind while using heaters and pick one with a thermostat so you can alter the temperature. Having a programmable timer goes a long way in not only maintaining the desired room temperature but also reducing those heating bills.

The ideal room temperature for your baby to sleep in is between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool is always better than warm, as you can add extra layers and being cold is better than overheating. 

Time for Bed

When we had our first baby I remember longing for a time that he could actually sleep through the whole night. Baby blankets and pillows appeared so inviting to me as an idea to get him to sleep longer, especially because of the winter cold. However, understanding the dangers they would pose to my baby led me to learn even better ways to keep my baby warm until he was of age. 

Refer to the recommendations we have given here when deciding when a baby can sleep with a blanket and pillow. On a personal level, consider how mobile they are, and checking in with your little one’s doctor won’t hurt either.

Since you’re the person putting your child to sleep each night, be aware that their safety is in your hands. Therefore make sure that you are undoubtedly comfortable with the decision to add a blanket or pillow. Think it through with every aspect of their growth in mind and then make the decision.

Cristin is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice, and the loving mother of two wonderful children. In her free time, she can often be found in a yoga studio or catching up on her favorite shows.