Baby pillows are marketed to prevent ‘flat head’ syndrome—or plagiocephaly—but safety experts advise parents only use them after baby’s first birthday. Here’s why.
According to the NHS and safe sleep organisation the Lullaby Trust, pillows in a baby’s cot or crib pose a suffocation risk. If you want to elevate your baby’s upper half—to alleviate silent reflux, for example, the NHS suggests “sheets and layers of blankets tucked in firmly below your baby’s shoulder level or a baby sleeping bag are safe for your baby to sleep in.” The Lullaby Trust states that pillows up the threat of SIDS by 50%–
“In order to have a safer sleep, babies only need a firm, flat, waterproof mattress in a good condition and firmly tucked-in sheets or blankets,” explains Trust’s Kate Holmes. “Any extras such as toys or quilts, pillows or cot bumpers can increase the risk of an accident.
“Pillows can lead to potential suffocation and limit the amount of heat babies can release, which can lead to overheating – a risk factor associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
“Generally, it is considered safe to use pillows after the age of 12 months.”
Even though flat head syndrome is actually quite common, occurring in 16 of every 1,000 babies, many parents still worry about the asymmetry lingering into older childhood.
The Lullaby Trust explains that when they receive queries from such concerned parents regarding using pillows ‘designed’ to alleviate the condition, they “tell parents that it is quite normal for babies to develop a slightly flat head when they sleep on their back, and in the vast majority of cases it resolves itself within a few weeks or months.”
Paediatric physiotherapist Rachel Harrington suggests the following tips to also help prevent your little one developing ‘flat head’:
- Try putting your baby down on a different side for naps and night sleep.
- Limit baby’s time on his back during waking hours—alternate between carrier, pram and cuddling!
- Work in tummy time into the daily routine.
- Avoid letting your baby sit too long in her bouncer or car seat.
- If you’re still concerned, try not to panic; remember that flat head syndrome tends to disappear as baby grows— and if you feel it really is severe, seek advice from your health practitioner.