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When can my little one sleep with a blanket or lovey?

By Cradlewise Staff

You might be wondering if your baby is warm and secure enough while sleeping in their crib. Or if your little one needs a lovey to help them feel less “alone” at night. (Not to mention that you may also have received a pile of cute blankets as gifts that you can’t wait to start using.)

But despite those swoon-worthy nurseries popping up in your IG or Pinterest feed that feature ornate bedding and precious stuffies, the AAP’s safe sleep practices advise against putting anything in your baby’s sleep space, except for a mattress fitted with a flat sheet.

The surprising thing is that your baby *will* eventually get used to comfortably sleeping alone in their crib. So that is a big relief! (In the meantime, you can have these items serve double-duty by playing peek-a-boo and other fun games with your infant until they’re old enough to snuggle up with them in their bed.) 

Here are some guidelines that experts suggest when introducing a blanket or stuffed animal to your tot.

Safe sleep for newborns: the reality of baby blankets, pillows, and comforters

We know you cannot wait to make your baby’s bed comfortable with small blankies or loveys. But various studies suggest that blankets, stuffed toys, bumper pads, and soft bedding increase infants’ risk of strangulation. 

Babies cannot pull up a blanket or a toy if it restricts their breathing. They are also active sleepers and might move their hands and feet often. All of these factors pose choking or suffocation hazards when introducing blankets or stuffed animals into their crib. 

Did you know?
Congress passed a bill called the Safe Cribs Act in 2021. It bans the sale of crib bumpers, which pediatricians have long said are unnecessary and increase the risk of suffocation for sleeping babies. This new bill also makes it illegal in the United States to manufacture, distribute, or import crib bumpers.

When can my baby start sleeping with a blanket?

There is no definitive age when babies can start using blankets or toys in their cribs. But most medical experts believe the risk factor reduces significantly after your little one’s first birthday.

“Babies are more able to roll over, lift their heads independently, and have more strength in their limbs, reducing the risk of suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). As babies become more cognitively aware, stronger and more mobile, the risk factors reduce,” says Andrea Blindt, a registered nurse and holistic health practitioner.

Each baby is different and will grow at their own distinct rates. So if you feel that your baby’s coordination and motor skills have developed, it can be an excellent time to introduce a blanket or stuffed animal safely (anywhere between 12 to 18 months of your baby’s developmental stage).

Here are a couple of things to note when introducing a blanket or stuffed toy into your baby’s crib:

  • Use small, thin, breathable muslin blankets compared to thicker or larger ones.
  • When placing a blanket on your baby, ensure that it does not rise above their chest level. 
  • It is also advisable to check for any choking or suffocation hazards in stuffed toys before placing them in your baby’s crib. These can be from crib bumpers, toys, or soft bedding.

Blindt also advises factoring in your child’s gestational age (aka the date of conception rather than the date they were born) when deciding whether to add a blanket or toy to their crib. Premature babies might need to wait longer depending on their ability to move themselves away from potentially harmful items safely. 

How do I keep my baby warm at night without a blanket?

Worried about how your baby will feel secure and comfortable without a blanket? There are a few alternatives that you can adopt to keep your baby warm. 

Swaddling your baby with a blanket is recommended to calm down a fussy baby. It soothes and gets them to sleep. Swaddling is proven to work best for preemies as well. 

“Sleepers, sleep sacks, swaddles, and wearable blankets should be used properly, ensuring that the right size is used and that they are transitioned out of use when the baby becomes mobile. Many parents love these tools because they provide a sense of security to the baby while limiting the excess fabric that might cover the baby’s face,” Blindt says. 

You should also dress your baby depending on their sleep environment. Ideally, your baby should have one extra layer of clothing than what you would normally wear to bed. Avoid thick, quilt-like materials, which might lead to overheating. 

Did you know?
You can check for the Thermal Overall Grade (TOG) when choosing blankets or swaddle cloths for your baby. TOG is a measurement of how warm the fabric will be for your little one. Ideally, you want to aim for clothes that fall in the 0.5 to one TOG range when dressing them for bedtime.

Other ways to protect your baby while they sleep

Do not use products that claim to reduce SIDS

Steer clear of any products such as special mattresses, crib wedges, or positioners. These have not been deemed safe to use by the AAP. Your baby will be the safest sleeping on a firm and flat surface. 

At Cradlewise, we design our cribs with the utmost care, keeping in mind the safety standards and your baby’s comfort.

Lay them down on their back

The AAP strongly recommends that you always lay your baby on their back when putting them down to sleep. Ensuring your baby is on their backs helps reduce the risk of SIDS. 

Letting your baby sleep on a couch, sofa, or armchair can also be hazardous. You can let your baby stay in a different position if they are old enough to turn around in their sleep. But even then, ensure that you always put them to sleep on their backs.

Wait to introduce pillows 

Although your baby might be old enough to use a blanket, pillows might still be a risk factor. Babies and toddlers are still at risk of suffocation under pillows. So hold off on introducing pillows to your baby until they are old enough to transition from their crib into a bed, which is around 18 months to three years of age.

Another vital point to note is not letting your little one fall asleep on their nursing pillow, which increases the chances of rolling over onto their sides or bellies.

Use pacifiers

A pacifier is the only safe lovey alternative for a child less than 12 months old. Pacifiers are proven to reduce the risk of SIDS in infants while sleeping. 

The bottom line

Babies are incredibly resilient. So even though you might feel the need to put on a blanket, your little one may not need one. They will adjust to sleeping alone without any stuffed toys or blankets. 

Start introducing blankets to your baby’s crib between 12 and 18 months of age, once they develop proper motor coordination skills. Always consult with a pediatrician for your baby’s unique development timeline and needs.

Sources:

  1. Safe sleep practices. 2021. American Academy of Pediatrics. “Risk factor changes for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome after initiation of Back-to-sleep campaign
  2. Blankets and stuffed toys increase risk of SIDS. 2016. American Academy of Pediatrics. “SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment
  3. Safe cribs Act in 2021. 2021. Congress. “Safe Cribs Act
  4. Swaddling is an effective method to put a baby down to sleep. 2007. PubMed. “Swaddling: a systematic review
  5. Thermal Overall Grade (TOG) for baby clothes. 2006. Research Gate. “Thermal resistance (tog value) of clothing and bedding typically used
  6. Avoid using crib wedges and positioners. 2019. American Academy of Pediatrics. “Sleep-related infant suffocation deaths attribute to soft bedding, overlay, and wedging
  7. Follow the CPSC standards when purchasing a crib or mattress. 2011. Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Retailers required to sell only cribs that meet CPSC’s new crib standards
  8. Pacifiers reduce risk of SIDS. 2012. PubMed. “Pacifier use and SIDS: evidence for a consistently reduced risk

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