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When to Give Your Child a Pillow

Smiling female child laying down in bed with head resting on a pillow

When you think about the things you need to sleep well, a pillow is on the top of your list. For this reason, waiting for the right time to give your child their own pillow can be tough, but it is well worth it!  It is important not to give them their own pillow too early:

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Consumer Product Safety Commission have found it unsafe for infants under the age of one year to sleep with any type of pillows, loose blankets, crib bumpers or stuffed animals. 

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After their first birthday, the temptation comes around to start adding items for extra comfort into your baby’s crib, like blankets and pillows, but still hold off! Their crib is a confined space and increases the chances for suffocation from soft items. This is why experts urge parents to stick with the safest option of using wearable blankets, and avoid loose blankets and pillows until they complete the transition from their crib to a bed

The appropriate time to move your baby out of a crib or install the toddler rail onto their convertible crib will depend on the age and readiness of your individual child. Each child develops and matures at their own rate. Most kids will be ready to handle this new level of freedom and follow a few simple sleep rules by their third birthday. If your child still sleeps happily in their crib past their third birthday, that’s okay too! 

Prioritize Safety

If you do decide to introduce a pillow in the later toddler and preschool years, while your child is still in a crib, wait until your child is two years old. It is important to understand the risks associated with giving your toddler a pillow while they are still in a crib. For example, pillows have become caught in the crib walls, or slats and can obstruct their breathing. At some point your child may experiment with using their pillow as a step to climb over and fall out of, or escape from their crib. 

Do They Need a Pillow?

Lots of toddlers will sleep quite well on the same firm and flat surface that worked for them as an infant, and they don’t need a pillow. Two and three year old children tend to move around a lot in their sleep, shifting position from the head to the foot, or to the sides of the mattress throughout the night. They may not stay put on a pillow even if you give them one. 

Medical experts recommend waiting until your child settles into a side or back sleeping position, because tummy sleepers using a pillow will have their neck extended backwards. If you consider that children grow in their sleep, proper spinal alignment is a top consideration around giving your child a pillow to sleep with. 

Additionally, if you see your child bunching up blankets, or propping their head up on a stuffed animal, this can be an indication that they may benefit from a pillow. 

Pillow Size and Materials

Giving them an adult-size pillow is not safe. Your child’s first pillow will be small in size, thin, and firm. We’re talking thin: 2.5 centimeters thick or less is chiropractor Nik Dukovac’s recommendation and they advise that you, “make up a thin pillow by folding a small soft towel into a pillow case that won’t measure more than 2.5cm thick.” Pillows sold on the market specific to toddlers are around 14×19 inches in size and up to four inches thick with no weight applied. 

In general, keep all your tot’s bedding and sleep clothing made of as close to 100% natural fibers as possible to help them sleep best without getting too hot, or too cold. Extend the life of your toddler’s pillow by using a waterproof protective covers and double up the pillow cases. Choose envelope style toddler pillow cases to ensure they stay put. Avoid pillows with lots of small pieces of material inside, like shredded memory foam, to avoid a potential choking hazard if the material comes out. 

Lastly, if you haven’t reached out to your pediatrician for advice on using pillows, that’s a great place to start. They will take into account your individual child’s level of development to make sure they’re ready for this change. They may even be able to recommend a good toddler pillow they like, which can save you time and money. 

Sleep Consultant Annastasia Hermle
Sleep Consultant Annastasia Hermle
Annastasia Hermle is a certified sleep consultant living with her husband and son near Sacramento, CA. She has her bachelor’s in Communication Studies. After seeing her own family transformed by the amazing positive effects of working with a certified sleep consultant, she knew she could compassionately support other families with a plan to fit their individual needs. She enjoys spending time with her family, being outdoors, reading, creating art, and playing music.

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