Most of us grown-ups would have a hard time dozing off without a comfy pillow under our heads. But what about kids?

When do children need to use a pillow?

Kids don’t need a pillow until well after their first birthday! In fact, babies should NOT sleep with a pillow. Having a pillow in bed can be extremely dangerous for infants. And that includes so-called head shaping pillows. Not only do these pillows demonstrate zero benefit for flat head, the Food and Drug Administration has declared that the use of head shaping pillows can create an unsafe sleep environment for infants—and may contribute to the risk of suffocation and death.

Pillows—as well as loose blankets, comforters, stuffed toys, and recently-banned crib bumpers—create a suffocation risk for infants. That’s why we experts advise that babies sleep without anything in the crib (other than a fitted crib sheet) until they are at least a year old. Pillows can cover a baby’s face or cause a baby to overheat—another sudden infant death risk factor

When is it safe for your child use a pillow?

The SIDS period is totally over after the first birthday, so once your baby turns 1, it’s technically safe to use pillows and blankets. However, there’s no need to rush to buy your tot a pillow as soon as they blow out that one-shaped birthday candle. The truth is that most little kids sleep fine without pillows.

Pillows could pose new risks as your baby becomes a toddler. Some enterprising tots may use pillows to boost themselves up and climb or fall out of the crib! So, I recommend only using a blanket in the crib after the first birthday and waiting to use a pillow until your child transitions from the crib to a bed...which may not be until they reach their third birthday…or even later.

What’s the best pillow for kids?

When you do decide your toddler is ready for a pillow, keep in mind that the big fluffy pillows adorning your own bed are probably not be the right fit! A thick pillow may be uncomfortable for your child’s little neck and spine, which are still developing. Instead, look for a small, flat, firm pillow that cradles and supports the head without causing your toddler to strain. 

Just as different types of pillows work better for some adults than others, there might be a little trial and error to find the perfect pillow for your child (so it’s not a bad idea to buy one with a generous return policy!). But no matter what kind of pillow you decide to introduce the first time, the most important thing is that you wait to introduce it until your child’s SIDS risk totally subsides. And then you can rest easier, too, knowing that your lovebug is sleeping safely.

More on baby and toddler safety: 

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.