5 Potential Dangers of a Toddler Pillow (and How to Avoid Them)
Is your little one ready for a toddler pillow? If so, learn what dangers to avoid, which pillow to buy and how to keep your little sleeper safe.
Your little monkey is moving from a crib to a big kid bed (sniff, sniff), and you've decided it's time to introduce a pillow. But not just any pillow is suitable for this job. You'll need to purchase a toddler pillow, which is smaller, thinner and firmer and, therefore safer, than a standard adult pillow.
Elizabeth Pantley, the author of "The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers," recommends testing the resiliency of a pillow to determine its safety. "Place it on a flat surface and push it down firmly in the middle," she advises. "The quicker the pillow regains its shape, the firmer it is. If it hardly moves at all, it's too soft a pillow for your child."
Most pediatricians recommend waiting to introduce a pillow to a toddler's bed until a child is around 2 years old -- unless there are other health-related factors involved, notes pediatric sleep consultant Julie Kennedy, a licensed mental health counselor. "If your child is smaller or suffers from allergies, your doctor may recommend waiting even longer to introduce a pillow," she says. However, even after your child is 2, you'll want to look out for potential hazards to ensure your little one is safe and sound.
Here are 5 pillow types to avoid and the dangers they pose:
- A Pillow That's Too Soft or Fluffy
Very soft and fluffy pillows present a danger for suffocation, says Pantley. "Stick to a thin, flat, stiff pillow and avoid fluffy goose down or feather pillows," she advises. A great firm option is the Relax Right Toddler Memory Foam Pillow.
- A Pillow That's Too Big
A standard adult-sized pillow is too large for a small child and not only increases the risk of suffocation but can also cause neck or back strain, says Kennedy. "Look for something with dimensions of about 12 inches by 16 inches." The Land of Nod Natural Harmony Toddler Pillow fits the bill.
- A Pillow With Unsafe Fillers
Pass on any pillow filled with small items that could be choking hazards should the pillow be ripped or damaged. For example, avoid those with fills like pellets or grains (buckwheat or millet hulls), recommends Kennedy. Instead, look for polyester or natural fiber filling. Try the Naturepedic Organic Cotton/Kapok Pillow, which uses a blend of organic cotton.
- A Pillow That Contributes to Allergies
Pillows made of chemically treated materials or feathers can often aggravate allergies. If your little one suffers from allergies -- or if you do -- Pantley recommends picking a hypoallergenic pillow and covering it tightly with a hypoallergenic case, as well. Try Little Sleepy Heads Soft Hypoallergenic Toddler Pillow.
- A Pillow With Loose or Dense Fabric
Never put a full-size pillowcase on a toddler pillow, as the excess fabric can pose a suffocation risk. Purchase a special toddler pillowcase that fits your child's pillow snugly. Likewise, you'll want to avoid materials that are very heavy, opting instead for lightweight, breathable fabrics. A great option is the My First Memory Foam Toddler Pillow & Case.
Once you decide on a pillow, you'll need to teach to your child how to use it. "The best position is under the neck and head -- not under the shoulders, which can roll, compress the lungs and curve the spine," explains Kennedy.
Not all children will take immediately to using the pillow like an adult would. "While a good pillow can be just as important as a good mattress in ensuring your child has a restful night's sleep, it's common for children to adopt their pillows as their nighttime lovies. A pillow can be for cuddling as much as comfort," says Pantley.
Andrea Dashiell is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Seattle Times, ParentMap, DailyCandy Kids, Seattle Magazine and Parents.