As a new parent, you’re probably no stranger to fretting: Is baby eating enough? Is he getting enough sleep? Is he warm enough at night? But before you reach for those adorable baby blankets that seem oh-so-perfect for tucking baby in at night, learn when it’s safe—and when it’s not—for baby to sleep with a blanket. Here’s what you need to know.
Are blankets safe for baby?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping the crib free of blankets, pillows, toys and other items until baby is 12 months old, as these can create a suffocation hazard and increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Once baby turns 1, the AAP recognizes SIDS is no longer a threat, says pediatric sleep consultant Angelique Millette, so feel free to tuck baby in with a blanket then.
Keep in mind, though, that toddlers tend to move around a lot when they sleep and can’t reposition covers until they’re closer to 18 to 24 months of age, according to Dream Team Baby sleep consultants Kira Ryan and Leah Johnson. Even then, choose a blanket that isn’t too large or bulky. “We’ve seen more ‘adventurous’ toddlers bunch up comforters and use them as a step for climbing out of the crib,” they say. It’s also safe to assume that whatever blanket you use will find its way into your child’s mouth, especially if he or she is teething, so make sure the blanket is easy to wash and doesn’t have tassels or shed.
How to keep baby warm without a blanket
As adults, we love snuggling up with a warm blanket on a chilly night—so how do you keep baby warm if blankets aren’t allowed? The reality is lot of parents tend to keep the nursery too warm. Baby sleeps best when the temperature is cool and consistent—ideally between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. To avoid drafts, pick a crib location that isn’t in the direct path of air-conditioning or heating vents or too close to a window.
Sleep sacks, onesies, wearable blankets and swaddling, when done correctly, are safe solutions to keeping baby comfy throughout the night, the AAP says. Swaddling involves wrapping baby snugly in a blanket (think: burrito) before putting her to sleep to mimic that close, cozy feeling she had in the womb. It’s important to keep baby’s hips loose as you swaddle to prevent possible injury. For a complete how-to, check out our step-by-step swaddling instructions.
"When your child is doing more independent moving and can roll over, swaddling should be stopped," says Carrie M. Brown, MD, a pediatrician at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas. The AAP recommends that parents stop swaddling by 2 months of age, before baby starts to roll over—or if you continue past month two, to place baby on his back and monitor so he doesn’t accidentally roll over.
By 4 months of age, swaddling should be completely phased out: Baby is well adjusted to life outside the womb and doesn’t crave the constriction of the swaddle. At this point, it’s also important to give baby the freedom to move around the crib, which helps baby build gross motor skills—skills baby will need when it’s time to crawl and walk.
What to do about baby’s beloved ‘blankie’
Many babies, especially as they approach their first birthday, adopt a lovey—also known as a security, comfort or transitional object. It's actually a good sign, says Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Children’s Medical Group, P.C. in Atlanta, Georgia. It shows that baby is finding a way to soothe herself when she's anxious or away from you. So embrace the blankie—but keep it out of the crib until baby is 12 months or older.
To extend the life of that cherished lovey, see if you can find another blanket just like it and rotate the two so they wear equally. Wash them regularly so baby doesn't get too attached to the smell of an unwashed blanket (ick).
Updated August 2016
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