When should parents introduce pillows to their babies?

In one of the recent videos shared by actor-vlogger Debina Bonnerjee, she revealed that her doctor advised her to use an elevated pillow for the baby for the first three months to prevent reflux. “When the baby has a reflux, as sometimes after drinking milk it comes out from the baby’s mouth, it won’t go back to the nose and there won’t be any choking,” she said, sharing the reason. As such, several new parents are often left wondering if they should use an elevation for their baby as they sleep to protect them from gastroesophageal reflux (GER).

We reached out to experts and they unanimously discouraged the use of pillows for babies. “Babies do not require pillows to sleep,” Dr Vrushali Bichkar, Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospital, Lullanagar, Pune said, adding that sleeping with a pillow in their cot might be hazardous for infants. “All your baby needs to sleep soundly is a solid crib mattress and a fitted sheet (and a waterproof mattress pad if you like).”

Many parents also tend to use a pillow for their babies to prevent flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly), which causes their heads to flatten on one side over time. However, Dr Consul said that flat head syndrome, common in preterm babies, tends to go away at 6 months all on its own. “You may assist alleviate this issue at home by sleeping with your baby’s head tilted to the other side and encouraging them to stare in both directions during the day,” Dr Bichkar advised.

This leads us to our next question – when should parents introduce pillows to their babies for sleeping? Parents should not introduce pillows or other soft bedding items into their baby’s sleeping environment until the baby is at least two years old, Dr Kanchan S Channawar, Senior Pediatrician and Pediatric Intensivist, Kamineni Hospitals, Hyderabad said. Dr Bichkar concurred and added, “The child is no longer sleeping in a crib at this age, and they can completely move and flip over without assistance. This proposal is based on what specialists know about SIDS and its relative, sudden unexplained death in infancy (SUDC).”

She added that toddlers as young as one and a half years old (or even older — not all children develop at the same pace) may become overwhelmed by things in their crib and suffocate. “While a cushion is safe and comfy for you, it is not safe and comfortable for newborns and early toddlers,” Dr Bichkar said.

And, when you finally allow your baby to sleep with a pillow, it’s essential you pay attention to the kind of pillow fit for them. “It’s important to choose a pillow that is appropriate for the child’s size and age. A pillow that is too thick or too fluffy can elevate the baby’s head too much and cause breathing difficulties. It’s best to select a thin, firm pillow that is specifically designed for young children,” Dr Channawar said.

Adding, Dr Bichkar said that for your newborn, it is recommended to use a flat and firm pillow; however, for an older child, you can use a cushion comparable to the one you’re already using. “If your kid is old enough for a cushion but still naps in his crib, you might choose a smaller and more compact pillow that fits exactly,” she said.

Concluding, the expert asked to use pure cotton coverings for your baby’s pillows since they are soft and comfy for your infant. “Use lighter-coloured coverings so that you may replace them frequently or as soon as they become soiled.”