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When Should My Toddler Sleep With a Pillow?

When Should My Toddler Sleep With a Pillow?

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

Kind of a dumb question, but here goes:

When do you start giving a toddler a pillow in his crib? My son (19 months) has never had a pillow to sleep with, and with as wiggly as he is in bed, I doubt he’d stay on it. But he LUUUUUUVS pretending to sleep with the pillows on our bed. So I wonder if a pillow might be nice for him in his bed?

Also, what size pillow? Do they make little toddler sized pillows for cribs? Do they also make tiny little toddler pillow sized pillow cases, for my sweaty sweaty child?

Pillow Talk

The “official” recommendation from the Something Something Expert Academy of Associations of Something, is to wait until a child is two years old before letting them sleep with a pillow. However, many pediatricians don’t draw such a hard line, and will sometimes even recommend parents try a pillow if their child is, say, an especially bad bad sleeper or bothered by colds, allergies or chronic ear infections. When I Googled around for that “official” guideline I generally came across articles by an “expert” saying two years…and hundreds of comments from parents saying: Yeah, whatever, my kid’s used a pillow for ages and is JUST FINE.

I believe it’s a similar thing to making the call about letting your older baby sleep on his stomach, or take a lovey and a stuffed toy or two to bed, or covering your toddler with a blanket for the first time — does it still just strike you as unnecessarily risky? Much ado about nothing? How much tossing and turning and twisting does your child do vs. someone else’s child? Where’s the sweet spot between common sense and paranoia?

My oldest son, Noah, never slept with a pillow until we moved him to the big boy bed — definitely past his second birthday. And even then, he didn’t use it. I usually found him curled up on a far corner of his more-spacious mattress with his little butt in the air and his head directly on the sheet. After a few months the whole tucking-in thing clicked and he slept on the pillow and under the covers. He also was never a baby who cared about soft stuffed toys or blankets in his crib — the only thing he liked us to put him to bed with was a selection of board books he could entertain himself with in the morning.

My middle son, Ezra, on the other hand, sleeps with an assortment of loveys that would probably make some people cringe. He NEEDS them. He WANTS them. He will conduct roll call before bed in case I dare remove one. Right now he needs his Taggies blanket, his Taggies ball, his LeapFrog My Pal Scout (set to the “10 minutes of bedtime music!” setting), his glowing seahorse (Update on 3/1/14: watch this news report about potential safety hazards for this toy) AND yet another Taggies product, a small fleecy rectangular “puzzle.”

That he immediately flips over and uses as…you guessed it: a pillow.

Right now that suits him just fine, though I also catch him trying to “sleep” on Noah’s pillows or our pillows or his stupid blasted infernal Pillow Pet. But he doesn’t need them to sleep for real, in his crib, so I don’t feel a need to introduce anything else to the bedtime company. We’re right on the fence about a big boy bed — he’s managed to get out of his crib once now, but never attempted it again — though when we do move him, I will probably include a pillow.

HOWEVER, it probably won’t be a full-sized squishy pillow, or something with feathers that could trigger allergies. It will probably be something more like an airline pillow. Just search around for “travel pillows” and you can find nice firm options with additional covers. (Though stay away from ones with suspect filler, like “microbeads” or scented potpourri garbage. Basically anything you DON’T want your child to have in the event of the pillow ripping or splitting open.) Even a small decorative throw pillow with a basic hand-sewn cover made out of an old receiving blanket or crib sheet would work — and even be a nice combination of pillow and lovey for a kid who is having a tough time with the transition to a “real” bed.

If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected]


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • eva

    September 15, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Ikea makes a crib sized, toddler pillow…may be called LEN and that’s what we used starting when we moved our daughter from no pillow to pillow. Worked great. Now she’s almost three and sleeps on a regular (Ikea) pillow:)

  • Rachel

    September 15, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    My daughter asked to use a pillow sometime around age 2. We gave her a travel pillow from Bed Bath & Beyond. It was about $4, and you can get pillowcases for it there also.

  • Stephanie

    September 15, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Excellent question – I’m very interested in the answers! My 15 month old loves “sleeping” on our pillows, so I’ve been wondering when to get one. She is in a crib, and turns this way and that, so I doubt she’d actually use a pillow more than a second… Hmm. will look into the Ikea pillow.

  • Michele

    September 15, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Crafty Baby makes toddler pillows and other cool stuff for toddlers and preschoolers…

    (not affiliated with company- just a big fan of Jill’s products)

  • bethany actually

    September 15, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Around the age of 18 months, we were wanting to transition my daughter from needing one of us to sit in the room with her while she fell asleep to letting her fall asleep on her own, so I took her to the store and let her pick out her own pillow. I steered her towards three or four small ones to choose from, and she picked a small, flat pillow decorated to look like a ladybug, about 9 inches across and two inches thick. That became her go-to pillow/lovey for the next couple of years. Even after she moved to a toddler bed around her third birthday and had a “real” pillow, she preferred to sleep with the ladybug pillow under her head.

  • Kim

    September 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    My oldest moved into a toddler bed around 18 months (I really can’t remember…). It looked odd with her in the bed without a pillow, so I put an old throw pillow in a pillow case for her. She was so happy! She now uses that, her pillow pet and an assortment of stuffed animals. Surprised she even has room to sleep!

  • Julie

    September 15, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    My son is two days shy of 18 months. A week or two ago, he was being very restless at bedtime – in and out of the crib, in and out of the guest bed that’s in his room, wanting me to lay down with him, not wanting me to lay down. Then he took the pillow out of the guest bed, trotted over to the crib, and tried to put it over the railing into the crib. I took the hint and put it in for him, put him in the crib, and he promptly went to sleep on it. I’ve let him keep it since then, though I did swap it out for the flattest of the pillows we have. But it’s a regular adult sized pillow, just one that’s old enough that it doesn’t have much “fluff” to it any more. I’ve been considering looking for a smaller one, but he seems to be doing fine, so I’ve kept it. In our case he lays down with his head on the pillow at bedtime, I cover him up, and I sit next to him until he falls asleep. Usually when I check on him before I go to bed he’s still on the pillow, though sometimes he’s wiggled off of it.

    In my case, since he clearly wants it, sleeps better with it, and is certainly strong and mobile enough to easily work himself out of the situation if he gets wedged in beside it or under it or something, I’ve decided to follow his lead and go with it. If he hadn’t asked for it, I wouldn’t have given him one yet though.

  • Dawn

    September 16, 2010 at 10:45 am

    So I have no idea about pillows since my 2 year old still sleep sin her crib with her stuffed animals and has expressed no interest, but this column made me wonder about when you are supposed to move them to a toddler bed? I mean my daughter has made no move to try to climb out of her crib so do we still need to move her to a toddler bed since she is now 2 or can we wait?

  • Tiffanie

    September 16, 2010 at 11:54 am

    My 2.5 year old daughter asked for a pillow a month or two ago and we went to Target looking for something that would fit the bill. I couldn’t find any soft non-decorative pillows and really wanted something I could wash — both the pillow and the case. I figure, if she’s spending 13 or so hours a day laying on it, I don’t want a lot of chemicals/fumes/dyes in her face. So we came home empty-handed. I then found an old, well-loved doll pillowcase (about 9×14) and stuffed a soft fluffy blanket inside. It’s the perfect flat-ish pillow for her and I can wash it as much as I want!

  • Sharon

    September 16, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    One Step Ahead sells toddler-sized pillows and pillowcases. My almost-3 daughter loves hers, although she doesn’t really use it much (of course after begging us for her own pillow…) They even sell an “allergy relief” version.

  • Julie

    September 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    @Dawn – the official recommendation I’ve seen is that when your child is tall enough that the rail on the crib is below their chest/armpit area when they stand up, it’s time to move out of the crib. The idea being that at that point a kid could lean too far out of the crib and fall over the railing, even if they’re not inclined to try to climb out. With that in mind, I’d look at your kid’s height, activity level, and how much stuff she has in the crib that she could stand on to raise her high enough to lean over the crib, and judge accordingly.

  • eva

    September 16, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Dawn: sorry to jump in when you’re probably waiting for Amy’s advice and not some stranger’s…but WAITWAITWAIT to get a toddler bed. I would have kept my daughter in a crib for way longer if we weren’t having a second baby. We did it when I was 6 months preggers and she was two and a half years old, and it’s been a rough 3 months. My daughter just settled faster and better in a crib. She knew how to climb out, and did in the morning, but for some reason, she stayed in better at night. Since the toddler bed introduction, we have experienced many many bedtime delay tactics, she gets up sometimes 3-4 times…I’d just really recommend waiting as long as possible to get out of the crib. Then again, I know parents who have had no such issues with toddler bed transitions, maybe you’d be one of those:)

  • Betsy Negley

    September 16, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Both my girls (9 and7) moved to pillows when they went to toddler beds, around at 2 or 3. I just used regular adult sized pillows. Right now however, my 7 year old doesnt sleep on her pillow. She sleeps beside her pillow. She also doesnt use a sheet, blanket or other covering (we live in Florida). My 9 year old has her regular bed pillow, 2 throw pillows, various stuffed animals, sheet and blanket in her bed with her.

  • sls

    September 16, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    I bought my 14 month old the IKEA crib pillow when I caught her sleeping with her head on her stuffed bear…. I just felt bad! It ‘s really flat when you buy it, but I don’t recommend washing it in a front-loading machine. our is more like a bean bag or something now. Lumpy. Very sad. I have it on my IKEA list to get another one!

    Since 17 months, she’s also sleeping with a baby sized duvet, though usually on top of it. I just want her to get used to the idea of a blanket.

    I think we’ll be one of those people holding onto the crib as long as possible… at least until it is dangerous, as mentioned…she moves around SO much and I have fears of her falling off a big bed, as well as that whole creeping out of bed 3x a night problem…eep

  • shasta

    September 16, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I currently use a small throw pillow sham stuffed with a folded fleece baby blanket for my 8 month old. It’s not a real pillow, but it works for elevating her head, which she likes.

    My daughter was sick constantly from about 3 months to 6 months old. I used to let her sleep in the baby swing to help with congestion but at about 5 months, she just got too big for it to be a safe option. She was too mobile and wiggly to stay put on a sleep wedge in the crib, so we put a folded blanket under her head, and that seemed to work. I eventually put that folded blanket into a small pillow sham to keep it from unfolding.

    FYI, the sham is one of the tiny ones (16″x12″) from Pottery Barn Kids.

  • charlotte

    September 17, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Yep, at 21 months, Little Miss Kickboxer sleeps with a travel pillow (obviously in a little pillowcase) in her crib. It’s especially useful when she’s stuffy and sick because it helps angle the body just right for ease of unstuffing her nose. Gosh, and I’ll probably go to mommy jail if I admit that I bought that thing at Walmart, for $2.50. But at least the case is 100% angeldust and spun unicorn fur.

  • Kelly D

    September 18, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    The IKEA pillows are great, but a cheaper and more drool-resistant option might be a camping pillow. They’re so cheap that you could toss them out when they get gross and they’re the perfect size for toddlers/preschoolers. We had one for each kid when I taught in a childcare center.

  • Carrie

    September 20, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    I gave my daughter a pillow shortly before she turned 2. I got a small travel pillow at Walmart. It’s maybe half the size of a regular pillow. I was worried about her getting her head inside and pillow case and getting stuck in there, or something. So my favorite thing about the travel pillow is that it has a little pillowcase that zips closed! Removable, washable pillowcase without getting stuck inside! Also, we were starting to think about moving her to a Big Girl Bed, and I thought if she could learn to sleep on her pillow that would be the first step to learning to sleep in bed and not fall out.

  • Taima

    September 24, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    I don’t have kids, and I’m twenty…

    But I can’t sleep with pillows. I have a habit of sleeping face down and not really doing the whole breathing thing. (Confirmed by my best friend, boyfriend, mother…) We decided to take my pillows away.

    So to save my neck, I got some flat stuffed animals. There. Works perfect. I have a huge flatish bunny I use right now. (His name is Dodson.)

    Just a thought? I mean, obviously you’d have to follow wash instructions, but there’s no reason you can shove one in a pillow case if it gets right down to it.

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  • Sylvia

    October 4, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Common sense, If a person can’t breath (including a baby) they will move unless they are too weak and physically unable.  If the baby has enough strength to move their head from side to side and lift their head up with ease a pillow is fine.  I have raised 2 babies using a full size flat pillow since the age of 6 months old (both were very strong and able to easily move around).  They loved their pillow and slept well.  Also, neither had an ear infection in their life since their heads were elevated.  I also used baby blankets.  I did this under strict supervision until I was certain they were going to be safe.

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