Is it true that babies don’t really need a pillow? Or maybe pillows are good in certain situations? What about a pillow with a hole? If we don’t use pillows from the beginning, when is the best time to start?
You can find extremely contradictory information while searching the internet… On the one hand, it is well known that putting pillows in a baby’s crib is not recommended… But on the other hand, there are lots of products available on the market – from wedge pillows to ordinary flat pillows, v-shaped pillows, butterfly pillows, and those intended for children suffering from flat head syndrome.
So how to approach the topic WISELY? After all, if these products sell well (and they do), can they really be that bad? And if so, what harm can they do?
1. SAFETY FIRST
I guess there’s not a parent who doesn’t take the safety of their child very seriously… It shows with the careful considerations we make when shopping for our babies. Skincare products must be safe for delicate skin, toys must be made of safe materials, and the car seat must meet the strictest safety standards… But when it comes to pillows..??? How can a baby lie down without a pillow???
Scientists agree that putting pillows and other soft objects in a baby’s crib increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Due to the fact that babies don’t yet have full control over their bodies, a pillow could block their air passages, making it difficult or even impossible to breathe. A pillow can also contribute to overheating, while in slightly older children, it can increase the risk of accidents – including falling out of the crib… (the pillow can be turned into a pretty cool step for the first climb, right? 😉)
2. COMFORT SECOND
Many adults cannot imagine sleeping without a pillow. After all, cuddling with it is soooo comfortable. So why shouldn’t your baby experience this comfort too, instead of having to sleep on a hard mattress?
Putting a pillow under little babies’ heads does not improve their comfort at all.
Children learning how to function under the force of gravity with an immature nervous system cannot control their bodies in precise and coordinated movements. This can make a pillow an obstacle blocking their movement. What seems to be so simple for us adults (how can turning your head from one side to the other while sleeping be difficult, right?), can be so complicated for babies that they might give up trying at all. Consequently, they may turn their heads to only one side, which can contribute to flat head syndrome.
In order for babies to turn their heads freely from side to side, complete freedom of movement is necessary. If moving is made difficult because of an obstacle, babies will quickly give up trying.
A WEDGE PILLOW?
This is a common question. Scientific research doesn’t confirm benefits for the use of wedge pillows even in children with a tendency to spit up. A wedge pillow may prevent the food from spilling out of the mouth, but the problem often remains – the pillow doesn’t reduce the reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus, which is the source of discomfort.
Let’s discuss flat head syndrome.
There are many different pillows created especially for children with flat head issues. But… we should remember that using this type of product for sleeping, without making sure it really is a good solution for the baby’s condition, can be risky. So, the decision to use such a pillow should always be consulted with a specialist.
The goal behind these specialized pillows is right: to ensure equal weight distribution of the head. But it is worth remembering that flat head syndrome is more often a consequence of favoring one side, body asymmetry, wryneck, problems with vision, and more. When the solution is only symptomatic, it won’t bring the expected results. In order for it to work most effectively, it is important to deal with the original problem first.
Appropriate positioning, aiming to reduce the pressure on the head when the child is awake (like by frequently lying the baby on the tummy for playtime) can bring really good results.
Read more about FLAT HEAD SYNDROME
A BUTTERFLY PILLOW?
Butterfly pillows are most often recommended for transporting children in car seats to protect the baby’s head from shakes and bounces. Indeed, limiting the shaking is very important to minimize the risk of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), but I certainly would NOT use them when the child is sleeping unsupervised.
When transporting babies, it is good to protect them from excessive shakes, so walking along a bumpy road or riding a stroller down the stairs is not the best idea…
If not now, then WHEN?
I would say… the LATER the BETTER. Using a pillow is not recommended for the first two years of a baby’s life. A good moment to introduce a pillow is when the child moves out of the crib.
– Pillows are not needed or advisable for infants and young children.
– The safest sleeping place is an empty crib – without any pillows, covers, blankets, stuffed animals, bedding bumpers, or other soft items.
– A mattress for the child should be firm, flat, and airy.
– When you decide to sleep in the same bed with your baby, you should follow basic safety rules and remove all accessories that could possibly hinder breathing. Sometimes, it’s better to give up sleeping in the same bed, especially when you feel exhausted and there is a chance that your alertness is limited.
– Wedge pillows are not a good solution, even for children with a tendency to spit up.
– The safest sleeping position for infants (at least until they know how to change positions on their own 🙂) is lying on the back, on a medium-hard, flat, and airy mattress.
Your baby may not need a pillow, but your baby surely needs your active attention. Check out my e-book on fun playtime activities with your baby to get some easy and fun ideas!
E-book: A COLLECTION OF IDEAS FOR THE MOST FUN PLAYTIME WITH YOUR CHILD
- Byard, R.W. & Beal, S.M. (1997). “V-shaped Pillows and Unsafe Infant Sleeping.” Journal of Paediatrics & Child Health, 33(2), pg. 171-3.
- Bugeja, L., Dwyer, J. & McIntyre, S-J. (2011). Sleep-related Infant Deaths and the Role of Cosleeping: A Case Series Study in Victoria Australia. Melbourne: Coroners Court of Victoria.
- Yeh, E.S., Rochette, L.M., McKenzie, L.B. & Smith, G.A. (2011). “Injuries Associated With Cribs, Playpens, and Bassinets Among Young Children in the US, 1990-2008.” Pediatrics, 127 (3), pg. 479-486.
- Chowdhury, R.T. (2011). Nursery Product-Related Injuries and Deaths Among Children Under Age Five. Bethesda: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. (2007) Cots. Safety Alert Brochure.