At What Age Can I Give My Baby a Pillow?

Can I give my baby a pillow?It may seem like you are depriving your baby of a better sleep by not giving them a pillow. So at what age is it alright for them to sleep with a pillow in their crib, and what sort of pillow is best to give them at first.

When Can I Give My Baby a Pillow? Answer: After 2 Years

The baby product industry is enormous, and they will always come out with new things for you to buy for baby. Some of them are truly helpful, lifesavers even, and some of them are excessive, unnecessary, and occasionally dangerous. If you really think about a baby pillow, you will see that it falls into this second category.

Why We May Think Babies Need A Pillow

Babies don’t really need a pillow, and are usually just fine without one. The reason that we think a baby might want a pillow is because it is the norm for everyone to sleep with a pillow, and a bed just doesn’t look complete without one. It’s hard not to transfer our own wants and needs onto the baby, but you have to remember that they don’t need most of the stuff that we do.Also, there are dangers in even the simplest things, so you have to be vigilant in your protection of your baby, and always scrutinize new additions for safety.

Baby Pillows And Safety Concerns

You may think that because you enjoy sleeping with a pillow, your baby will too. But there is a suffocation hazard to giving them a pillow, and it’s actually not very naturally for them to have their head held up like that while they sleep. Babies can roll around a lot when they sleep, and if the pillow ends up on top of their head, they may not have the motor skills to knock it off. That’s why it’s best to leave things empty in their crib.

Is It Comfortable?

You may be wondering if your baby is comfortable without a pillow, after all some of us can’t sleep without one or several pillow propping our heads up. Some of us even use a pillow to snuggle with, or to support our lower backs by placing between the knees. Seeing your baby lie in their crib pillow less can make you feel like you are depriving them of true comfort.

But rest assured that your baby is very comfortable, especially if the mattress in the crib is soft and supportive. It’s only because you’ve slept with a pillow for so long that you associate it with a proper night’s rest. But in reality, your baby is actually sleeping more in tune with nature, with a properly aligned spinal column, and a properly supported head. Most conventional pillows put the neck in a rather unnatural position, so these are not recommended.

What About Special Infant Pillows

Of course, no one is saying you should put an adult-sized pillow into a baby’s crib, so what about the smaller-sized, specially made for baby pillows that are sold in the infant and baby section of stores, or online. These may claim to be able to address the suffocation hazards, and to explain why they think they are suitable for use by children under 2, but why risk it. Since there isn’t a health hazard to your child sleeping sans pillow, why change it up?

Alternatives to Pillows

If your child is fussy and doesn’t seem to want to go to sleep while lying flat, you can give them the same sort of elevation they’d get from a pillow by placing a pillow or a towel underneath the mattress of their crib. That will perhaps make them more comfortable, but won’t be something they could roll over onto, or pull onto their head.

After 2 Years

From two years your child will have developed enough to be able to avoid the possibility of suffocation, and will also be bugging you for a pillow because they’ll be entering the terrible twos. They’ll see that everyone else in the household is sleeping with a pillow and they’ll probably throw a tantrum if they don’t get their own.

It can be a nice bonding moment to give them their first pillow, and if you can work it out so that they associate their pillow with nap time, you’ll feel like SuperMom. This is a nice side effect of holding off on giving your baby a pillow until they’re 2 or older.

Add Your Own Answer to Can I Give My Baby a Pillow? Below

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo B. July 22, 2013 at 5:17 am

Actually, by one year, a child is no more likely to suffocate on a pillow, or anything else in their crib, than an adult. The respiratory center in the brain is mature, and will wake them if their CO2 level goes above acceptable levels. If the child cannot clear the obstruction, it will cry, alerting their parent/caregiver to come remove it. Even under a pillow, unless being pushed own onto their face by an object fallen into the crib, or manually, a child’s cry can be easily heard.

Obviously if the child does not have the need of a pillow, or a parent does not have the ability to awaken to a cry from their child (no monitor, sleep meds, etc), then it’s not appropriate to use a pillow.

My son has had an adult bed pillow in his crib since he was 9 months old due to reflux. Eventually elevating the head of the bed doesn’t help because they constantly move and the head becomes the side, or the foot. He is able to get some elevation when he feels its more comfortable. This was actually suggested by our Pediatric GI specialist. When I expressed concern of suffocation, he provided me with information about how 70% of full-term babies are BORN with mature respiratory centers. By 6 months, all but the smallest preemies are mature. The one year mark was chosen for education of sleeping risks because 99% of babies are mature by that age. Unfortunately, there is no test yet of who is mature at birth and who is not. But they are working on it apparently, since those babies would actually be at risk, and the parents could be informed. He said he expected in ten years it would be mandatory, just like the hearing test.


Dr. McK January 2, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Jo B. July 22, 2013 at 5:17 am

******Actually, by one year, a child is no more likely to suffocate on a pillow, or anything else in their crib, than an adult. The respiratory center in the brain is mature, and will wake them if their CO2 level goes above acceptable levels. If the child cannot clear the obstruction, it will cry, alerting their parent/caregiver to come remove it. Even under a pillow, unless being pushed own onto their face by an object fallen into the crib, or manually, a child’s cry can be easily heard.*******

Jo, your response is well written, but I can not agree with a single word of it. If I hadn’t seen the real world numbers after 12+ years of research on SIDS and pediatric mortality rates, then I have certainly gained the insight from my patients working as a Peds physician!

Data has proven that SIDS is still an issue (until a child is about 24 months.) I have personally seen the results of SIDS in children all the way up to 22 months, with no other medical condition or reasonable action present to have caused death. The portions of the brain responsible for breathing, heart rate and other automatic function are mature at or around 12-20 months in MOST children. However, there are several rather unassuming things that may cause a delay in the maturation of these functions. I am not sure where your Peds G.I doc extrapolated his information from, but it incorrect for too many reasons to go into here…but suffice it to say that there is no magical and arbitrary age for ALL development.

Also, children sleep deeper than adults, by spending more time in the 3rd and 4th functions of their sleep cycle than we do…so it is easier for a child to get to a “Too groggy” stage while under a pillow or heavy blanket and not be able to get out of the life threatening situation. It happens, and it shouldn’t happen to a single child and yet up to 100 children over the age of 18 months die of SIDS every year. The CDC recently released a report stating that the HIGHEST risk of SIDS occurs during the ages of 9-18 months and data certainly supports that.

So why the hurry with heavy blankets and pillows? Even if 1 child dies from bed time safety related issues, why would anyone take the risk? It really comes down to the numbers, a cost-benefit ratio if you will. There are NO risks for the average child sleeping without pillows or blankets, but there ARE noted risk for the contrary.


Chelsea Moore June 30, 2014 at 4:17 am

I found this article because I was curious why my son has been sticking his monkey under his head when he’s in his crib. He’ll be 9 months this coming Wednesday. He’s been able to pull things off his head since he was 4 months old, and any time he’s ever become stuck he’s cried out to me (I’m a very light sleeper and wake up every time he moves). Tonight I became increasingly curious about his habit and when he seemed to be uncomfortable (trying every possible position and constantly whining) I intervened. I folded up a firm-ish blanket into a rectangle and placed it under his head. He had been fussing for about half an hour but the second his head hit the “pillow” he passed out and hasn’t been awake since. That was over an hour ago.

Personally I believe every baby is different. While some babies may be perfectly comfortable without a pillow, others may find they like them. SIDS is still a rare occurance, and a lot of times when parents are doing everything “right” a baby can still pass away in their sleep. I feel that as long as you’re doing what you feel is truly best for your child and you know deep inside that your child can handle something you’re doing the right thing. There will always be a risk no matter how a baby or child is sleeping, but I feel a pillow should be the least of a parents worries. Especially if said pillow is light and easy to move. I’ve had a pillow on my head many times and I’ve never felt even close to being suffocated. A simple turn of the head is all it takes to breathe properly under a pillow, and most babies have that very simple ability. If your baby (5+mo) isn’t able to turn their head to the right or left when their airway is blocked to any degree I would be more concerned with their development than I would be about SIDS.


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