Are baby pillows safe?

Marketed as an aid to prevent 'flat head' syndrome, there has been an upsurge in companies selling baby pillows that are suitable from birth, but the Lullaby Trust recommends parents only use them after 12 months

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What is a baby pillow?

Pillows for newborns and young babies, most are sold as a tool that will help prevent plagiocephaly or ‘flat head’ syndrome.  They are also sold as safe-to-use in cribs and cots, from birth to around 12 months. 

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What age can I use a baby pillow from?

Health professionals at the NHS and safe sleep experts at the Lullaby Trust say you should not use any pillows (including baby pillows) before your little one’s a year old.

Why can’t I use a pillow with my newborn?

It’s for safety reasons; the NHS website says baby pillows may pose a risk of suffocation.  Instead, the NHS recommends “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.”

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What does the Lullaby Trust say about baby pillows?

The Lullaby Trust (formerly known as the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths – FSID) agrees with the NHS and say pillows should not be used before a baby is a year old.

That’s because, according to the trust, pillows increase the risk of SIDS by 50% (read more about safe sleeping and SIDS). This is what the Trust’s Kate Holmes tells MadeForMums:

“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.  

“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.”

What should I do if I am worried about flat head syndrome?

When MFM mentioned that lots of parents are interested in using baby pillows to prevent flat head – and that many companies are marketing them in the main as an aid to assist the syndrome, Lullaby Trust said this:

“We do receive calls from many parents asking if they can use pillows as they are worried about their baby getting flat head syndrome. 

“We 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.”

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Why are there baby pillows?

We’ve chatted to a couple of companies on the topic and their line tends to be the same: that baby pillows can be used from birth to prevent flat head syndrome.

One of the bigger companies, Theraline, told us this:

Theraline has carefully and cleverly manufactured a comfortable baby pillow designed perfectly to fit baby’s delicate head and help avoid flat head syndrome.  

“Unlike other baby pillows it’s anatomically shaped and perforated using high-tech fabric so it supports baby’s head evenly and effectively.

“It doesn’t come with a cover which could compromise breathability, but allows air to pass easily through, so that if baby rolls over or presses their face into the pillow, they can still breathe freely.

“It also ensures that an even temperature is maintained at all times around baby’s head.

“And because foam-based products shouldn’t be used alongside babies, Theraline’s Baby Pillow is the first of its kind not to use memory foam.

“This award winning product is entirely safe and comfortable to use from 0-12 months.”

What our mums say about using baby pillows

There’s lots of chat on our forum about flat head syndrome and baby pillows – particularly from new mums who have noticed it (often on one side) on younger babies just a few weeks old, asking for assurance.

“My little one has a flat side of his head… and I worry about it,” says Kia.

“I got the doctor to check at his 6-week check and she measured his head and said it was fine and my friend says of course it will be flat when he lies on his back all the time. Health visitor has said not to worry.”

And akaladyk said this: “My friend swears by these [baby pillows] after her first daughter got flat head….

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What can I do to prevent flat head syndrome?

It’s worth remembering that flat head syndrome is a surprisingly common condition that affects 16 in every 1,000 babies.  According to the Lullaby Trust parents can reduce flat head syndrome by:

  • Limiting your baby’s time on their back when they are awake
  • Other tips from paediatric physiotherapist Rachel Harrington are:
  • Lay your baby down in a different way, especially if she seems to prefer to hold her head on one side
  • Change the way your baby lies in her cot each week, this encourages your baby to look around, rather then keep her head in a single position
  • When you’re out and about, alternate between the pram and carrier to change your baby’s position
  • Give your baby plenty of tummy time
  • Babies like to look around them, so it’s a good idea to change things round in the room or place lights so they’re tempted to look in different directions
  • Make sure if you’re breastfeeding to swap sides regularly so your baby gets used to using different muscles. Increase tummy time
  • Cuddle!
  • Don’t be tempted to let your baby stay too long in her bouncer or car seat as this can encourage other growth and development problems and prolonged car seat use as hard materials will press on the head
  • Don’t panic! Repositioning should be the initial treatment and very often the problem goes away on its own. If you’re concerned, speak to your GP

If your baby’s flat head is severe, the Trust recommends seeking advice from a health professional.

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Read more on flat head syndrome and safe sleeping…

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