When Can Baby Sleep with a Blanket?

Having an empty crib decreases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But when can babies start sleeping with blankets?

Wondering when your baby can sleep with a blanket? In general, sticking to the safe sleep guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) means that parents should avoid letting their babies sleep with any type of loose blankets during the first year of life. Having any soft or loose item in an infant’s crib increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, there are other options, such as swaddles and sleep sacks, that may be helpful to keep your little one warm and cozy. Find out more about safe sleep, and learn when babies can start sleeping with blankets.

SIDS and Blankets: What’s the Connection?

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexpected death of an infant. Experts don’t know exactly what causes SIDS, according to Rachel Moon, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics's SIDS Task Force. But many think it stems from an “immature arousal center” that prevents babies from waking up if they can’t breathe properly.

About 3,400 infants die from SIDS each year, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), although that number has dropped since the Safe to Sleep (formerly Back to Sleep) campaign launched in 1994. This campaign encourages parents to put babies to sleep in their backs, which has been shown to reduce the chances of SIDS. Another common risk factor for SIDS: putting a blanket, pillow, stuffed animal, or other object in the crib with your baby.

According to 2016 recommendations from American Academy of Pediatrics's SIDS Task Force, “Soft objects, such as pillows and pillow-like toys, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, and loose bedding, such as blankets and nonfitted sheets, can obstruct an infant’s nose and mouth. An obstructed airway can pose a risk of suffocation, entrapment, or SIDS.” In other words, your baby could accidentally press his nose and mouth into the blanket during the night, which could lead to suffocation.

An important thing to note: the AAP recommendations don’t apply to swaddling. Indeed, a Belgian study found that swaddling may reduce SIDS risk by allowing babies to startle more easily. Make sure you don’t swaddle your infant too tight, though, since they still need to kick and squirm, says Steven A. Shapiro, D.O., chair of the Pediatrics Department at Abington–Jefferson Health.

baby sleeping in pink swaddle

When Can Baby Sleep with a Blanket?

You can use a receiving blanket to swaddle your baby right away. But because of the risk of SIDS, you shouldn't use any soft objects or loose bedding while he's sleeping until he's at least one year old. At this time, your baby's motor skills are sharp enough to be able to roll over and push objects away from his face if they're affecting his breathing.

Coincidentally, a year is about the time that many babies start getting super-attached to certain “blankies,” which may help them cope with separation anxiety from saying good-bye or goodnight to you.

How Do I Keep Baby Warm?

Are you worried that your little one will be chilly without a blanket? Simply use pajamas with feet or a sleep sack on cold nights. These wearable items won’t cover your little one’s face and risk suffocation.

Updated by Nicole Harris
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