After 1 year, your toddler can turn herself to avoid having her airway blocked by a pillow.

Toddler Pillow Safety

by Sharon Perkins

You might think your poor little toddler looks so uncomfortable in his bed without a pillow that you can't wait to slip one under his head. You know you can't give pillows to babies, but when does the pillow prohibition end? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until your child is 12 months or older before putting a pillow in his crib or bed. Don't just give him any old pillow, though; some pillows have hidden health hazards, possibly including some of the cute novelty pillows your toddler is begging for.


A new pillow should be one of the first things on your allergy radar if your little guy wakes up a wheezing, sniffling, sneezing, runny-nosed mess with a swollen face, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of the materials in pillows, including down feathers or foam, can cause allergic reactions. Dust mites can also find a new home in down pillows, causing allergy or asthma symptoms. If you have a tendency to keep old pillows in the closet forever, throw them out rather than giving one to your toddler or to your visiting in-laws; pillows older than five years can also cause allergic symptoms, according to McKinley Health Center of the University of Illinois.


Though you might not expect pillows -- which your toddler holds against his face all night -- to be laden with chemicals with unpronounceable names, some are. Scary-sounding and potentially toxic chemicals such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers were used as a flame-retardant in foam furniture and pillows up to 2005, when they were banned in the United States, according to the Environmental Working Group. This is another reason not to save old pillows; throw them out and buy your toddler a brand-new one.

Size and Type

When you look at your toddler's cute little head and skinny little neck, it's obvious that he doesn't need a very big pillow. A small, toddler-sized pillow will do just fine. Some toddlers become obsessed with pillows that project light onto the ceiling, that sing or talk to them, or one covered with cartoon characters. If you do use a character pillow, make sure it has no loose strings or cords that could wrap around your child's neck. Many novelty pillows have small pieces hidden inside, which your little Einstein might manage to pry out. Pass up pillows with eyes, noses, ears or other protruding parts that your little one might be tempted to try as a midnight snack.


Don't run out and buy a pillow on your kiddo's first birthday if he has developmental issues or poor muscle control; he might not be ready for it. Common sense enters into choosing the right time to give your toddler a pillow. If your little one can't lift his head and turn his face away from a pillow, he's not ready for one. Talk to his doctor about when he might be ready to safely use one.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.

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