Like many new parents, you may fret about sleep struggles when your baby was born. You wish his or her naps would stretch longer and even dream about the day he’d finally start sleeping through the night. But your top concern is sleep safety and protecting him or her from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old.
You can follow the Canadian Paediatric Society’s safe sleep guidelines as best you could: putting him or to sleep flat on his back (never his tummy) and keeping the bed free of suffocation and entanglement hazards like toddler pillows, crib bumpers, stuffies and blankets. But once he reach a year old and is no longer considered to be at risk for SIDS, you will definitely ease off a bit.
Soon your baby will cuddle with his old swaddle blankets instead of being wrapped up in them, and a rotating cast of favourite stuffies will join him in his crib each night. When your baby is 25 months old, you will be forced to transition your little climber into a toddler bed, and it is not long before he or she create a makeshift pillow for himself: He’d tuck a stuffie or beloved blankie under his or her head on his own. Would it be safe, you may ask, to introduce a real toddler pillow?
It turns out, the answer isn’t clear-cut. Neither the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) nor the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) has an official recommendation on when to allow your child to start using a toddler pillow; their safe sleep guidelines cover children only from birth to one year.
“The easier question to answer is, when is it not safe?” says Michael Dickinson, a paediatrician and CPS spokesman in Miramichi, NB. “In kids less than a year of age, we worry about toddler pillows and other items in the crib being a risk factor for SIDS. We would never recommend toddler pillows for kids in the first year of life.”
Lori Feldman-Winter, a practising paediatrician in Camden, New Jersey, and a former member of the AAP’s Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, says that researchers don’t know exactly why infants suffocate by toddler pillows, just that they do. “We presume it is due to the immaturity of the brain and an infant’s inability to free the airway from being obstructed,” she explains. By age one, both the child’s brain and mobility should be developed enough to help protect them when they’re sleeping. But she still thinks there’s no rush to add a toddler pillow to your kid’s bed. “You have a child who’s used to sleeping with no toddler pillows or other objects in a crib, so why would we introduce something else?” she says.
Feldman-Winter recommends that the safest time to introduce a toddler pillow into your toddler’s sleep routine is when they transition out of their crib, which she says could happen any time after they turn one. If they’re still sleeping in a crib, she worries that a toddler pillow could get caught in a crib’s slats and potentially obstruct a child’s movement or airway. Once a kid is sleeping in an open bed, whether that’s a toddler bed or even just a mattress on the floor, Feldman-Winter considers it safe to add pillows, comforters and typical bedding.