Is it Safe for a Toddler to Use a Pillow?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 07, 2023
4 min read

There are many precautions and safe sleeping practices for newborns, infants, and toddlers. These precautions are meant to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Taking pillows, blankets, and other toys out of babies' cribs reduced SIDS cases by 80%.

As your child grows, their sleeping arrangements will change. After the first year, your child’s risk of SIDS is reduced greatly. At this time, you can start introducing new sleeping arrangements. 

In the toddler stage, your child will move around more than before. To keep them safe while they sleep, you’ll need to make multiple changes to their cribs, sleepwear, and bedding. Every child is different. You'll have to consider your child’s development between the ages of 1 and 2 years before you add pillows to their bed. 

The age that toddlers can safely use a pillow varies. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend letting a toddler under the age of 2 years use a pillow. 

When your toddler transitions out of their crib to a bed they can then safely use pillows and other bedding. Once they’re old enough to sleep in their bed, they can also have stuffed animals with them. Your toddler’s risk of SIDS or suffocation is greatly reduced after they transition to a bed. 

Some pillows are better for toddlers than others. Giving them an adult-size pillow is not safe for them. They need a small-sized, thin, firm pillow. 

A firm pillow is better for toddlers. There’s not a big risk of suffocation like there is with soft pillows. Firm pillows also support your toddler’s neck. Toddler’s necks are developing and need good support for proper spinal alignment. 

Pillows with hypoallergenic and untreated material are the preferred options for toddlers. Choosing these pillows can reduce allergic reactions or rashes. 

If your toddler is still sleeping in a crib, they do not need a pillow. Even if they’re over 12 months old, pillows can be a hazard in a crib. Pillows can get caught in the crib walls and obstruct your toddler’s breathing. They can also use pillows as steps to climb over and fall out of their crib. Pillows are a greater risk for toddlers under the age of 2. 

Setting up safe sleeping practices is the best way to protect your child while they sleep. If your toddler is under 2 years old and is still sleeping in a crib, then you should keep it clear of pillows, toys, blankets, and other suffocation dangers. This will change when they get older and transition to a child’s bed.

Do not let your toddler sleep in bed with you. There are too many risks. Infants sleeping in bed with parents can lead to SIDS, unintentional injury, and suffocation. If you want your toddler to sleep in the same room as you, use a bedside sleeper. 

Follow these tips to keep your toddler safe with their pillow. Learn when and how pillows can be safe for toddlers. 

Wait until they are 24 months old. The recommended age for using a pillow is now 2 years old. Before then, there’s a danger of suffocation due to the extra material in the bed. Your child's own development will be a large factor in determining when they can use a pillow.

Upgrade their bed. This may contradict waiting until your toddler is 24 months old. If your toddler is moving around and they upgrade to a bigger child-size bed, then you can add pillows and bedding. 

Choose the right pillow. A small, firm pillow is ideal for toddlers. Finding pillows that support their neck will help with their development. You can put a breathable pillowcase on the pillow that fits with their bedroom theme and is easily washable. 

Let them decide when they use a pillow. Once you notice your child using blankets or stuffed animals to prop up their head, they might be ready for a pillow. You can put the right-sized pillow on their bed and let them naturally choose to use it. This may take time for them to get used to. 

There has been some confusion in the past on the right time to give your toddler a pillow. Follow the American Association of Pediatrics' recommendation and wait until your child is at least 2 years old.