‘All About Sleep’: When can my child sleep with a pillow?

By: Dr. Nicky Cohen, Clinical Psychologist

by Dunsin Adebise
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At what age is it safe to give your child a pillow to sleep?

Dr. Cohen:

That is a good question. There are no specific guidelines from Health Canada or the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) which outline when it is safe for a child to start using a pillow. Rather, these guidelines indicate that pillows and pillow-like items (e.g., bumper pads, stuffed animals) should not be used in a crib during infancy.

For example, CPS guidelines state:

  • “Starting from birth, and for the first year of life, place your baby on her back at night time and for naps. Do not use sleep positioners or rolled up blankets to keep your baby on her back. These items can cause your baby to suffocate. When she can turn over on her own, you don’t need to return her to the back position.
  • Use a firm, flat surface for sleep. Waterbeds, air mattresses, pillows, couches/sofas are not safe sleep surfaces for babies. Babies can turn onto their side or stomach and bury their face in these soft materials, not getting enough air to breathe.
  • Keep soft materials out of your baby’s sleep environment. Items that should not be in the crib include quilts, comforters, bumper pads, stuffed animals, pillows and other pillow-like items.”

Although it is clear that pillows should not be used in a crib during infancy, there are no definitive guidelines as to what age there is no longer a safety risk. Given this lack of information, I recommend that for as long as a child is in a crib, that parents not have anything soft and non-breathable in the crib including a pillow.

For more information on safe sleep practices, see Safe Sleep Guidelines for Young Children.

The information provided by Dr. Cohen is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Individuals are encouraged to speak with a physician or other health care provider if they have concerns regarding their child’s sleep and before starting any treatment plan. The information provided by Dr. Cohen is provided with the understanding that Dr. Cohen is not rendering clinical, counselling, or other professional services or advice. Such information is intended solely as a general educational aid and not for any individual problem. It is also not intended as a substitute for professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique facts.

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