When Can Your 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?

Blankets are soft and comfortable, so you might be tempted to put one in your baby's crib. Or maybe you're itching to decorate their sleeping space with homemade quilts and patterned comforters. But did you know this is a very unsafe sleep practice?

Having any soft or loose item in the crib, such as a blanket, increases a baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and accidental suffocation, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

So when can babies start sleeping with a blanket? And how do you keep them warm in the meantime? Keep reading to find out more about this safe sleep guidance.

Why Is It Dangerous for Babies to Sleep With a Blanket?

When a baby sleeps with a blanket, it can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—or 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 AAP'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 on 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.

Blankets and SIDS: What's the Link?

Sleeping with a blanket or other loose items in the crib can increase a baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and accidental suffocation.

According to recommendations from AAP'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 their nose and mouth into a blanket during the night, which could lead to suffocation and SIDS. Babies simply don't have the strength to move their head and neck if something is obstructing their breathing.

Sleeping with a blanket also raises the risk of entrapment and strangulation. For all of these reasons, the AAP and other experts say a baby shouldn't sleep with a blanket in their crib.

An important thing to note: these recommendations don’t apply to swaddling. Many experts recommend swaddling because it soothes babies and promotes better sleep. Just make sure you don’t swaddle your infant too tight, 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 My 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 in the crib until after their first birthday.

Indeed, the AAP recommends waiting until your baby is at least 1 year old before letting them sleep with a blanket. "Research has not shown us when it’s 100% safe to have these objects in the crib; however, most experts agree that these objects pose little risk to healthy babies after 12 months of age," says the organization.

Note that some experts suggest waiting until your baby turns 18 months old before introducing a blanket, especially if they were born prematurely. Always talk to your child's health care provider for more information about when babies can sleep with a blanket

Age for Sleeping With a Blanket

Babies can start sleeping with blankets when they're at least 1 year old, according to guidance from the AAP.

Once your baby is older than 1 year, their motor skills are sharp enough that they can roll over and push objects away from their face if they're having trouble 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.

When introducing a blanket, start with lightweight, breathable options that aren't heavy or bulky; thicker comforters and quilts can come when they're older. And remember that this guidance applies for bedtime and naptime.

Keeping Your Baby Warm Without a Blanket

Are you worried that your little one will be chilly without a blanket? Here are some tips for keeping them warm:

  • Dress your baby in layers, but be careful not to over-bundle them, since this can also increase the risk of SIDS. The general rule is dressing your baby in one more layer than you'd wear in the same situation.
  • Rely on swaddles or sleep sacks during cold nights. These wearable items won’t cover your little one’s face and risk suffocation. You should stop swaddling when your baby shows signs of trying to roll over.
  • Make sure the nursery is set to the appropriate temperature (68 to 72 degrees F).

Also remember to take steps to prevent SIDS. Your baby should be placed to sleep on their back with nothing in the crib except a fitted sheet. The sleep surface should be firm and flat. Sleep in the same room as your baby for the first several months, but don't share a bed; co-sleeping can also increase the risk for SIDS.

Updated by Nicole Harris
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