Written by: Mallorie Stallings
Reviewed by: Sherrie Neustein
Updated March 26, 2021
As a new parent, you've likely heard that placing blankets and other soft objects in your baby's crib is unsafe. Whether at naptime or at night, any objects in the crib with your baby pose a suffocation risk and may increase the chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Unfortunately, the advice to keep your baby blanket-free can pose a difficult dilemma on cold nights. How should you keep your baby warm safely? And when can your baby sleep with a blanket?
Is It Safe for My Baby to Sleep with a Blanket?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies should not sleep with a blanket or any other soft objects (1) in the crib. Blankets, non-fitted sheets, comforters, bumpers, quilts, sheepskin, pillows, cushions, adult mattresses, toys, and any other soft objects in the crib are a major risk for infants (2) as they can trap your baby, block their airway, and increase the risk of SIDS.
Using a blanket with your baby can also lead to overheating, which is another risk factor for SIDS. Sleep experts recommend dressing your baby in no more than one additional layer compared with what you yourself would feel comfortable wearing in the baby's bedroom.
The baby's crib should have only a snug, fitted sheet on a mattress correctly sized for the crib and no other bedding. Do not place anything under the fitted sheet.
Is It Safer to Swaddle My Baby for Sleep?
Many parents are told to swaddle their newborns for sleeping. Although swaddling is safer than using a blanket (3), if a baby is swaddled at an older age than what is recommended, there is still a danger the swaddled baby will roll onto their stomach and be trapped face-down. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies always sleep face-up. Swaddling can also lead to overheating if it is combined with dressing the baby in several layers.
If you do choose to swaddle your baby, always place them on their back and leave room in the swaddle for their hips and knees to move. You should stop swaddling your baby before they start trying to roll over, which happens around the 3-month mark (4) at the earliest.
How Can I Keep My Baby Warm Without a Blanket?
You can maintain a comfortable temperature for your baby using sleep-specific baby clothing such as onesies and sleep sacks made from breathable materials. Never use clothing that could cover the baby’s face or head such as a hood, scarf, mask, cowl neck, hat, or headband, as this increases the risk of SIDS. Once your baby starts rolling over, if you are using a swaddle blanket, you must switch to a sleep sack that allows for easy movement.
Set your baby's bedroom thermostat to a temperature that you find comfortable. In warmer months, you may need to use a fan, air conditioning, or a safely open window so that your baby doesn't become too warm. Babies typically need one clothing layer more than adults would comfortably need, and it’s important not to over-layer them.
When Can Babies Sleep with Blankets and Other Soft Bedding?
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not list an age at which babies can safely start using blankets, but most bedding-related deaths occur in infants under 12 months old (5).
Although the risk of SIDS is highest in a baby's first six months, blankets pose the greatest risk to babies between 5 and 11 months old. These older infants are able to move more, but they might not have the motor skills to untangle themselves from their bedding.
For most children, the risk of suffocation and entrapment gradually lessens after their first birthday. Depending on your baby's individual development stage, you can start to introduce blankets, sheets, or safe comfort objects, such as stuffed animals, once they have the dexterity and reflexes to clear these objects away from their face and they are older than 12 months of age.
What's the Best Blanket for My Baby?
When choosing a blanket for your toddler, stay away from blankets with ties or other potential hazards. Start with a small, lightweight blanket made from breathable materials.
Some parents prefer to continue using an age-appropriate sleep sack for their toddler, especially if the toddler has a habit of continually kicking off their blankets.
What Are Some Other Safe Baby Sleep Tips?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has outlined a list of safe sleeping practices that can further help reduce the risk of SIDS:
- Always put babies under one year of age to sleep flat on their back, even for naps
- Share a room but not a bed with your infant for the first six months, and ideally a year
- Provide your baby with a firm mattress (6) that fits snugly in the crib with no gaps
- Use a crib, bassinet, or portable crib that is less than 10 years old and meets the standards outlined by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (7). Be wary of product recalls, second-hand cribs, cribs with drop sides, and broken cribs (8)
- Don't smoke and don't allow people to smoke around your baby
- Offer your baby a pacifier (9) for sleeping once they are comfortable breastfeeding
- Don't allow your baby to sleep in car seats, strollers, or anywhere except their own bed
- Keep pillows, plastic bags, toys, and all other objects away from your baby's sleep area
- Be cautious when buying products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS, and only use these products if they meet safety guidelines
- Avoid using bumper pads, wedges, positioners, and other objects in the crib
- Take care to keep cords, curtains, and other loose objects away from the crib
- Don't sleep in the same bed as your baby
The number of deaths from SIDS has decreased significantly since the 1990s (10) thanks to increased awareness of safe baby sleep practices. The best way to prevent accidents when your baby is asleep is to make sure that everyone who takes care of your baby is following these practices. Don't hesitate to talk to your pediatrician if you're unsure whether your baby is ready to start sleeping with a blanket, or if you have any other concerns.
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- https://safetosleep.nichd.nih.gov/safesleepbasics/faq Accessed on March 9, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31206068/ Accessed on March 9, 2021.
- https://www.cpsc.gov/Newsroom/News-Releases/2011/Safer-Cribs-for-Babies-Available-Starting-TodayRetailers-required-to-sell-only-cribs-that-meet-CPSCs-new-crib-standards Accessed on March 9, 2021.
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