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Choosing the Best Pillow for Your Toddler

toddler pillow

When your toddler outgrows their crib, it’s time to look for a “big kid” bed. You’ll probably spend some time buying a new mattress and bedding, but what about a pillow? Does your child need one, and if so, what kind?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents avoid putting any soft bedding, including pillows, crib bumpers, and stuffed animals, in an infant’s sleep environment. If your child is moving into a bed, though, they’re more than old enough for a pillow—but that doesn’t mean finding one that’s the right size and fit for your toddler’s head is always an easy task.

If you’re making over your child’s bedroom to welcome them to the world of big kid sleep, here’s what you need to know about pillows for toddlers, from whether or not they’re really necessary to how you can shop for the best one for your child.

Does Your Toddler Need a Pillow?

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), parents can usually introduce a pillow to their child’s bed around 18 months of age.1 Before that, soft surfaces and overcrowding within a child’s sleep environment can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).2

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

When an infant under one year of age dies unexpectedly without a clear cause, it’s known as sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Most cases happen during sleep, so while experts don’t know exactly why it happens, an unsafe sleep environment is often assumed to have been a contributing factor.

Babies are at a higher risk of SIDS if they:3

SIDS Risk Factors for Babies

  • Sleeping on their stomachs or sides
  • Premature birth or low birth weight
  • Becoming overly warm during sleep
  • Born to a mother who smoked during pregnancy
  • Having a recent illness
  • Sharing a bed with a family member

After 18 Months

But just because you can introduce a pillow when your child is 18 months doesn’t mean you need to. Many toddlers sleep just fine without one, and if your child seems comfortable at night there’s no reason to force them to use a pillow. It may seem odd to us as adults, but remember that your child has never slept with a pillow in their life, so they don’t know they’re missing out on anything!

That said, if your two- or three-year-old is having trouble getting comfortable in their bed, complaining of aches and pains in the morning, or is frequently sleeping with their head on a rolled-up blanket or large stuffed animal, those are signs that you might want to try offering a pillow.

What About Safety?

Even though most children over two are capable of sleeping with a pillow without the risk of suffocation, that doesn’t mean you should throw just any adult-size pillow in their toddler bed. There are still safety concerns to keep in mind.

  • If a pillow is too tall or thick, it could cause neck strain for your child.
  • If a pillow is way too fluffy, it could make it more difficult for your child to breathe comfortably in bed.
  • Children with allergies may have increased symptoms when using a pillow to sleep.4 
  • Some pillows are made with unsafe materials, like small pellets, that could pose a choking hazard if the pillow were to become damaged and start leaking.

Remember that all children develop differently, so while one toddler may be able to safely use a pillow, another may not quite be ready.

Your child’s size can help determine whether they’re ready for a pillow. If they are small for their age or have weak neck muscles, it may be best to hold off for a while so a pillow doesn’t become a safety hazard.

Safe Sleep for Toddlers

In addition to making sure you’re buying a safe pillow for your toddler, there are other safety precautions you should take when moving your child from a crib to a bed:

  • Secure standing furniture to the wall with safety straps, so little climbers can’t tip taller pieces down onto themselves.
  • Check for dangling cords from window treatments or loose wires attached to electronics (both are strangulation hazards). While you’re at it, make sure your outlets have been childproofed.
  • Consider adding a removable railing to your child’s new bed if they could get hurt tumbling out at night. This may not be an issue with toddler beds, which aren’t typically high off the floor, but a standard twin bed may need some extra protection.

What to Look for When Shopping

Before you go shopping (in person or online) it helps to know what things to look for before purchasing a pillow for your toddler. Keep in mind:

  1. Material. Kids who are sensitive to environmental allergens should sleep with a hypoallergenic pillow designed to reduce or limit the amount of bacteria and mold that can grow on the pillow over time.5 You may also want to choose a pillow covered in 100 percent organic cotton since it will be free of chemicals.
  2. Filling. Many pillows are now being stuffed with eco-friendly materials like buckwheat and hemp, but those aren’t a good choice for toddlers (partially because of the potential choking hazard). Down feathers may also trigger allergies.6 Stick with pillows containing a synthetic fiber filling or memory foam.
  3. Support. Think Goldilocks here: not too firm, not too soft. You want a pillow that’s comfortable for your child to sleep on, but you should err on the side of firm, not fluffy. A pillow that flops around like your child’s favorite well-worn stuffed animal is probably too soft to provide any real support.
  4. Size. A toddler doesn’t need a standard- or queen-size pillow. Most toddler pillows are about 13 by 18 inches, which is more appropriate for smaller heads (and smaller sleeping spaces!).

The Best Pillows for Toddlers

If you need even more help buying a pillow for your child, check out the options below. They are all the correct size for toddlers and filled with kid-safe materials. A few are hypoallergenic, while others provide just the right amount of support for growing bodies. 

Toddler-Friendly Pillow Options
Brand Feature(s) Price
Biloban Toddler Low Profile Pillow ergonomic
machine washable
$14.99
Biloban Kids Toddler Pillow with Pillowcase 2 Pack hypoallergenic
chiropractor-recommended
$20.99
Biloban Toddler Pillow - Whale hypoallergenic
ergonomic for toddlers
$11.99
Biloban Organic Toddler Pillowcase 100% organic cotton $9.99
Biloban Bamboo Pillow Protector organic, hypoallergenic, 
unique custom filling
$11.99

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