The official answer to this question is “not until 18 months to 24 months old”. But many parents would say that they have been letting their baby use a pillow from much before and there has been no problem as such.
However, we at beingtheparent.com do not recommend the use of pillows, definitely not until the child is atleast a year and a half, and would suggest that you don’t use it even afterwards. Why? Read on.
Why Are Pillows Not Recommended For Babies Under The Age Of 18 Months?
Did you know that a study estimates that between 1992 and 2010 there were nearly 700 infant deaths reported in the United States due to pillows and cushions. Needless to say that infants are babies younger than 12 months, and placing pillows or cushions in a baby’s sleep environment can actually cause fatalities. (Source1)
Suffocation during sleep is one of the primary reasons for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Pillows, blankets, stuffed toys and so on inside your baby’s crib or in your baby’s sleep environment are all extreme risk factors. Infants are too small to move their head away if their nose is blocked and they can’t breathe. The risk of SIDS is highest in the initial six months. By the time they are six months, kids can roll over, lift their head and move it. However, even then, there is still a slight risk remaining until they are atleast 18 months old and definitely strong and intuitive enough to move around in the bed and find a position that is comfortable. This is the reason we would definitely not recommend using a pillow or a blanket until they cross the age of 2, though they are still best avoided.
Why Are Pillows Not Suggested For Kids Even Above 2 Years?
We said that we would not suggest using a pillow even after the child turns two. Why? Your child does not really need it, that is why! He or she is used to sleeping on a flat surface without any pillows for the initial two years of life. While we as adults cannot think of sleeping without a pillow, your child does not yet feel the same. They are fine without a pillow, they have been doing fine for over two years now – so why unnecessary introduce something that does not really add any “comfort” in their sleeping? In fact, many parents say that even if they use a pillow, most often their children will roll themselves below the pillow and not really use it. So, there is no “need” to introduce a pillow after two. But you can if you want, especially if:
- The child is a light sleeper and for some reason keeps getting up in the night
- The child is always bothered by cold or blocked noses (raised head might make breathing easier)
- The child has chronic ear infections. In fact, doctors would advise propping up the head with several pillows in the night to help clear the Eustachian tubes
Is A Pillow Good For A Baby?
Given the dangers of suffocation and SIDS, pillows are best avoided till a child is atleast a year and a half. Even after he turns two, a child does not need a pillow to sleep comfortably – but he may want it nonetheless since everyone else is using one. One sleeps more comfortably with a pillow once the shoulders become wider than the head- and this is the reason adults like to use a pillow while sleeping.
How To Pick The Right Pillow For Your Child?
Let us first look at how NOT to pick a pillow:
- Avoid feathery pillows that can cause allergies
- Avoid pillows with micro-beads (you can feel it when you press it). In the case of the pillow ripping or splitting open, then beads may enter the child’s nose (and mouth and ears!)
- Avoid pillows that have “scented” material inside. Comfort and safety trump ambiance!
Now, here are some tips to pick the right pillow:
- Young children should start with a firm and flat pillow, older children can choose the type, size and filling
- If you are going to use a pillow in the crib, it is better to pick a smaller pillow, like a travel pillow. Many baby shops like Mothercare also stock “breathable pillows” targeted at kids below 2 who are still sleeping in the crib
- If your child has moved to a big bed, then you can definitely pick a normal sized pillow. But ensure you know what the pillow is stuffed with
- Use a normal cotton pillow cover, preferably in light colors so that you will remember to change it often as it can get soiled easily. You can also make a pillow cover out of the child’s old bed-sheet so that the child finds it familiar
Once you have the right pillow, you can start putting your child’s head on it during night times. However, there is, we repeat, no need to force him to use it. If he does not want it, let it be. If he slides off the pillow during sleep, let it be. If he is using it off and on, let it be. Please take your child’s lead in this matter. After all, it is he who is sleeping and he knows what is comfortable and what is not! Of course, like we said before, if the child has chronic cold or ear infection, then pillows might be a good idea.
More on baby sleep and rest in our section here.