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Infant Pillows - Pros and Cons

Updated on February 8, 2012

Infant Pillows

During the nine months you waited to meet your newborn, you’ve read, shopped, gathered advice, and researched nearly everything baby-related so you could educate yourself and be prepared for your baby’s arrival. No doubt this preparation included shopping for baby bedding. There are so many choices of co-sleepers, cribs, bassinettes, sleep positioners, pillows, and blankets that you may feel completely overwhelmed by the selection. On top of all that, of course you have well-founded fears of SIDS and concerns about safe sleeping. Let’s face it: Sleep is a huge part of any parent’s world, centering mostly around the question when will I get some? At least the question about whether infant pillows can be part of a safe night’s sleep is easier to answer.

Safe Sleep

Thanks to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s “Back to Sleep” campaign, most parents and caregivers are well aware of the benefits of putting an infant to sleep on his back for naps and nighttime sleeping. Sudden infant death syndrome rates have decreased since “Back to Sleep” has made the public aware that sleeping on his back is best for your baby.

Safe sleep isn’t just about how your baby sleeps, but also where he sleeps. Safe sleep means a safe sleep surface: a firm mattress with no bumper pads, pillows, quilts, or other fluffy, soft products that could suffocate your baby. While advertisements for baby bedding tend to include these items, the trend seems to be to include a disclaimer reminding the consumer that the American Academy of Pediatricians and the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Alliance recommend that full term, healthy infants sleep on their backs with no pillow, just a light blanket, pulled up only to the chest and tucked tightly around the mattress.

Sleep Positioners

So, are infant pillows completely out? Well, it depends. There are infant pillows designed specifically to keep your baby on his back. These pillows, or sleep positioners, are made of firm foam, not of light batting, and most are wedge-shaped (think chucks that keep a car from rolling). They snuggle around the baby’s trunk, from about mid-chest to top of the thigh, far away from baby’s face. Once an infant can roll, however, these positioners are not of much use.

There are also reflux pillows designed to raise baby’s head. Again, think wedge, only this time under the sheet. These pillows allow for easier breathing and digestion, and may be very useful if your baby has reflux, since the discomfort of reflux can interfere with a baby’s sleep.

Finally, there are pillows available that function like nests. Designed to keep a co-sleeping baby safe and give him his own space, these pillows have firm sides that taper down to become flush with the thin bottom lining of the pillow, allowing your baby to co-sleep and yet not be sleeping directly in an adult bed.

Follow the Guidelines

Babies needs differ, and while parents’ decisions should always be guided by what is safe, infant pillows are not an across the board “no.” Those cute, fluffy, duck- and kitten-shaped pillows that are so decorative should be reserved for just that: decoration. Get the fluffy, soft things that may suffocate your baby out of his sleeping space. If you decide to use a pillow or sleep positioner, be sure you’ve done your homework by reading the manufacturers’ labels and warnings and that you use it accordingly. Finally, make sure you’re familiar with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and American Academy of Pediatricians recommendations, found at these websites:


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