Baby blankets are one of the most commonly gifted items for newborns, and for good reason—they're super soft, beautiful and have multiple uses.
And while baby blankets are great for keeping your baby warm in their carseat, when laying down during tummy time, and when snuggling during feedings, you may be surprised to learn that baby blankets are not safe for your baby to use during sleep for the first year of life due to the risk of suffocation and/or strangulation.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), *nothing* should be placed in your baby's sleep space (crib or bassinet) in the first 12 months, which includes blankets, stuffed animals, crib bumpers, and pillows.
The one exception to this guideline is a tight-fitting swaddle blanket or sleep sack. But if your baby frequently breaks out of a swaddle blanket, this can also become a sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) risk. I recommend using a velcro swaddle suit instead if your baby has a tendency to break out of a standard swaddle blanket during naps and throughout the night.
Swaddles are also a great way to keep your baby warm and snug, eliminating the need for a blanket for warmth. Many parents worry that if they don't give their baby a blanket their little one might feel cold throughout the night, but as long as the temperature in your baby's room is between 68º F and 72º F and they are dressed appropriately (short- or long-sleeved footed onesie), you shouldn't have to worry about them being cold.
When is it safe for my baby to sleep with a blanket?
While there isn't a specific age that guarantees your baby will be safe with a blanket during sleep, the risk of SIDS decreases significantly at age 1—and so introducing a small blanket and/or lovey at this stage is typically safe.
However, out of an abundance of caution, I typically recommend that parents wait until their child is 18 months old to introduce a blanket.
I find that this is also a good time to transition your child out of a sleep sack, and so introducing a blanket can help them stay warm during sleep periods.
What size should the baby blanket be?
My recommendation is for your baby's blanket to be no more than half the length of your child. It's also best to use blankets that are made from light and breathable materials, such as cotton or merino wool. Ensure the blanket your baby is using isn't too heavy—weighted blankets are not safe for your baby and are generally not recommended until your child is 4 years old or older.
Baby blankets can help with self-soothing.
One of the benefits of using a blanket with your baby once they are old enough is that it can serve as a security item for your baby and help them feel safe, especially once they are near 18 months—often the peak of separation anxiety.
Children typically need something tactical to help them self-soothe as they get older and start to struggle with being separated from parents or caregivers. Blankets can become a familiar item that they use and love for years.
Avoid putting a baby blanket over your baby's stroller.
One more safety tip when using blankets is to ensure that you never place a blanket over your child's stroller to try and block the sun. This is because heat can easily get trapped underneath the blanket and cause the temperature to instantly rise to an unsafe level. It can also prevent fresh oxygen from flowing to your baby. Instead of using a blanket, use the built-in stroller shade, a sun hat, or an item like the Snoozeshade that has breathable mesh.
The bottom line: While it may be tempting to use the beautiful blankets you received early on when your newborn sleeps, it is important that you take these safety precautions seriously in order to reduce the risk of SIDS throughout your baby's first year of life. Blankets can still be used for play and tummy time—just not for sleep periods until your little one is the appropriate age.