How Pillows Endanger Babies

October 22, 2020

Should parents let their babies use a pillow? Or shouldn’t they? There have been fatal incidents involving infants whose head is elevated due to pillow use. So, what is the connection between this seemingly harmless piece of bedding and your newborn baby? Consultant Pediatrician of Columbia Asia Hospital - Petaling Jaya, Dr. Sam Zhi Heng presents the facts for parents to take note of.

“I still remember the time when I was doing my rounds at the government hospital. I found lots of parents bringing pillows to the hospital for their babies, some even for newborns. I asked my fellow medical officers during the rounds what was their opinion on this. Most of them simply mumbled. A question seemed simple but most of the doctors mumbled! So it is not surprising that parents will easily be echoing the views of others. So, let’s talk about pillows today.”
Do babies need pillows?
No, babies do not need pillows.
Why don’t babies need pillows?
Spines of newborn babies and young infants are straight, especially near the neck region. This is unlike adults or older children who have developed a normal curve at the neck region. When a baby lies down, the back and head are on a horizontal plane.

If a baby sleeps on a pillow, the head will be higher than the body and the neck region will form a curve or bend. Hence, the chin will move nearer to the chest, which can limit baby’s breathing and can even disturb the airways. In the long term, this can affect the normal growth of a baby’s spine and bones.

Many studies have shown that a pillow is one of the factors which can cause suffocation or sudden death among young infants. This occurrence is medically known as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
When do babies need pillows?
According to the recommendation made by the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies aged one year and above can sleep on firm pillows. In fact, it is better to avoid pillows until the baby is 18-months old.

Studies showed that soft toys, pillows and comforters are risk factors of SIDS as these objects can suffocate the baby.
Can a ‘functional pillow’ make your baby’s head look nicer?
In the market, many sellers will boost their products and claim that their pillows will make the shape of the baby’s head prettier. In truth, these products may not only produce such an effect. It will restrain the movement of the baby. Inversely it may cause a flat shape of the skull.

A baby’s skull bones fuse around two-years old when baby has lots of time for activities either during feeding or play time. These definitely will help the baby when the head grows.

Photo credit:
Dr. Sam Zhi Heng
Consultant Pediatrician
Columbia Asia Hospital - Petaling Jaya

MBBS (UM), M. Paeds (UM)
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