- Soft bedding like blankets, pillows, and stuffed toys can raise a baby's risk of death until age 1.
- Swaddling is safe until your baby can roll over — after that, try sleep sacks or clothing layers.
- Experts also say babies should sleep in your bedroom until 6 months old, and always on their backs.
Keeping blankets out of your infant's sleeping space reduces their risk of death, according to guidance outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Once your baby has reached the age of 1, it's generally considered safe to use blankets, says Dr. Victoria Regan, a pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Read on to learn why the AAP doesn't recommend blankets for infants as part of safe sleep, along with considerations for co-sleeping parents and tips to keep your baby comfortable without a blanket.
Why isn't it safe for babies to have blankets?
Sleeping with a blanket is dangerous for infants because it can increase their risk of suffocation if the blanket shifts and blocks their airways. Blankets may also cause strangulation if they have long or loose ends that could wrap around the infant.
The AAP recommends making sure your baby's crib or bassinet is free from extra bedding that can cause suffocation and death. This includes:
- Stuffed animals or other toys
- Non-fitted sheets
- Mattress toppers
- Quilts and comforters
Another risk for infants is sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS: the unexplained death of an infant before one year of age. It's not the same as accidental suffocation, according to the American SIDS Institute.
Infants are more likely to succumb to SIDS between 2 and 3 months of age, and 90% of sudden infant deaths happen before 6 months of age. The risk of SIDS drops off once your baby is one year old — in fact, SIDS is only diagnosed up to one year of age, and unexplained deaths after this point are rare.
When potential suffocation risks are present in the baby's sleeping environment, medical experts can't always determine whether the cause of death was SIDS or accidental suffocation.
A 2019 study on unexpected infant deaths found that 14% happened as a result of suffocation, with soft bedding — specifically blankets, mattresses, and pillows — causing 69% of those deaths.
What if you co-sleep?
The AAP strongly recommends against co-sleeping, citing a higher risk of infant death. But co-sleeping isn't all that uncommon — in fact, 61% of parents engage in some form of bedsharing.
You can still practice safe sleep if you bedshare. The La Leche League's book, Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family, which introduced some of the most well-known safe co-sleeping guidelines, recommends:
- Keeping covers far from the infant's head.
- Removing heavy comforters, extra pillows, and stuffed toys from the bed.
- Removing anything long and dangling, such as cords or strings, to avoid strangulation.
Even if you only co-sleep on occasion, it's important to be aware of these guidelines for your baby's safety.
Safe co-sleeping is also far less dangerous than falling asleep with your baby on a chair or couch, which comes with a 67-fold increase in the risk of death.
How to keep your baby warm enough
It's possible to keep your baby warm enough without a blanket. In fact, babies can easily overheat with too many layers.
The increased rate of SIDS during colder months is even attributed to parents adding blankets and extra layers to their infant's sleeping arrangement, according to the NIH.
"Most parents (myself included) tend to worry that their baby is too cold and tend to over bundle their infants," Regan says. But as a general rule, babies need just one more layer of clothing than an adult does, she says.
The optimal sleeping temperature for babies is generally between 68 °F and 72 °F.
You'll also want to keep your baby's sleeping space well-ventilated. Parents can use fans set to any speed to help keep the air circulating, says Dr. Tyson Tidwell, a pediatrician at Intermountain Healthcare's Heber Valley Clinic.
The following tips could help ensure your baby doesn't get too hot or cold.
Set your thermostat
If you have effective in-home heating and cooling systems, using those to keep your room temperature comfortable may be the simplest way to keep your baby from overheating or getting too cold.
Choose different fabrics for winter and summer
You can also dress your baby to regulate temperature accordingly. In the summer, lightweight fabrics like cotton may come in handy. Meanwhile, fleece and flannel will help keep your baby warmer in the winter, Regan says.
Consider sleep wearables
Sleep clothing options that can help keep your baby warm include:
- Sleep sacks
- Wearable blankets
Lightweight sleep sacks can also act as a helpful transition to sleeping with a blanket when your baby is older — especially if they tend to move around a lot when they sleep, Tidwell says.
Additionally, wearable sleep options don't require you to know how to wrap a swaddle blanket, which can involve a learning curve.
Still, traditional swaddling remains popular with many parents. This option allows you to tailor the swaddle to the level of snugness that best supports your infant's sleep, and you probably won't need to buy a new swaddle blanket as they grow.
Other tips for baby's bed
While the AAP maintains that co-sleeping isn't a safe option, they do recommend babies sleep in their parents' room for at least the first 6 months of life.
The safest option for baby sleep is a crib or bassinet with a fitted sheet. If you're nursing and need to wake up with your baby frequently throughout the night, it can help to keep their bed close to yours.
In addition, these expert-recommended practices can help reduce an infant's risk of SIDS:
- Nursing: Even non-exclusive nursing for at least 2 months could cut the risk of SIDS in half.
- Using a pacifier: Pacifier use may help reduce the risk of SIDS. Experts have theorized that pacifiers may prevent the baby from rolling from their back into a more dangerous sleeping position.
- Avoiding smoking: Smoking poses one of the largest SIDS risks. Health experts recommend reducing or tapering off smoking during pregnancy, if possible.
- Back sleeping: Placing your baby on their back is the safest way for them to sleep in their first year of life.
The AAP's guidelines also recommend against having infants sleep routinely on an incline, such as in their car seats, strollers, or swings, Tidwell says. Babies shouldn't sleep in these seats unsupervised. If they do fall asleep in them, the best practice is to move them to a safe sleep area.
Infants face an increased risk of SIDS and accidental death in their first year of life. It's natural to worry about your baby, of course, but you can do a lot to reduce this risk by keeping blankets, bedding, and stuffed toys out of their sleeping area.
It can help to keep in mind, too, that you're doing the best you can to keep them safe.
It's normal to feel extremely tired, especially in the early days of parenting. "Never hesitate to take a moment for yourself if you are exhausted," Tidwell says. It's always OK to leave baby in their blanket-free crib if you need a five minute break.