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When Can a Baby Sleep With a Stuffed Animal? A Sleep Specialist Weighs In

As a part of a bedtime ritual or elevated to a transitional object, a mellow, imaginative toy can lead a kid to slumber.

A baby’s stuffed animal is their best friend, but it’s also a suffocation risk. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics keeping stuffed animals, blankets, and any other soft objects away from where a baby sleeps until they are 12 months old; these objects can lead to sudden infants death syndrome (SIDS), suffocation, and strangulation. But many experts find this recommendation to be too cautious. So when can babies use blankets, and when can a baby sleep with stuffed animals?

When Can Babies Use Blankets?

Per the AAP, you should wait until a child is at least a year old. Some pediatricians give the okay at six months of age. However, blankets pose the greatest risk to babies between the ages of 5 and 11 months because they have the motor skills to wiggle and move around in their crib, but not necessarily enough to untangle themselves if the blanket were suffocating them.

The good news is, your baby doesn’t need a blanket. If you dress them in one more layer of clothing than you would feel comfortable wearing in their room, your little one should be set. In fact, a blanket can actually cause a baby to overheat, increasing their risk of SIDS. If you’re worried that your baby is too chilly, footie pajamas are a safer alternative to a blanket.

When you do give your child a blanket, opt for a fabric that’s easier to breathe through rather than something heavy like a quilt. Avoid blankets with dangly bits such as loose strings or ribbons.

When Can a Baby Sleep With a Stuffed Animal?

Baby crib toys have no business being in a crib at all during the first few months of a child’s life. That’s because the risk of sudden unexpected infant death syndrome (SIDS) for babies increases when crib toys or stuffed animals are present in a baby’s sleeping area. However, around 3 months of age, the rate of SIDS deaths nosedives, and stuffed animals can tentatively join the slumber party. (Keep in mind though that the AAP still recommends holding off until the baby is a year old.)

There’s a good reason for stuffies to get an invitation. These “transitional objects” help kids soothe themselves back to sleep. “Typically our recommendation is some kind of plush toy or a blanket,” says Daniel Lewin, PhD, a pediatric psychologist and sleep specialist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. “Essentially, a toy that a child could engage in pretend-play with rather than a toy that is intrinsically more exciting, like a Hot Wheels car.”

That said, Dr. Lewin notes that sometimes kids prefer non-fluffy items. “We will sometimes see kids who are more obsessed with LEGO pieces or something not as cuddly,” he notes. “Having that in bed with them so they can manipulate it is fine.” However, do not let children sleep with any toys that are small enough to pose a choking hazard.

How to Use a Transitional Object to Promote Sleep

  • Make sure the transitional object is something that allows them to use their imagination.
  • Help a child choose an object that soothes them rather getting them wound up.
  • Keep the object associated with sleep by keeping it in the bed during the daytime.
  • If an object can’t be associated with sleep, make bringing it to bed part of a bedtime ritual that helps signal to a child it’s time to sleep.

Parents shouldn’t worry too much about keeping a kid from taking stuffed animals or toys to bed, as long as the toys promote calm, imaginative play. Lewin stresses that there’s nothing wrong with post-lights-out activity as long as the play is about winding down to sleep rather than winding up. “Research has shown they’re up doing things before sleeping and even during the night. More than parents expect,” he says.

There are some additional rules about the toys carted to bed, however. For instance, it’s helpful for the toy to not be part of the regular daytime toy population, regardless of what it is. If a toy is too loud or active for a bedtime snuggle, then you can use it as part of a bedtime ritual. The baby can bring it to bed, then hand it over to their parents when they leave the room. If you allow your child to pick a toy to bring to bed, then that choice should happen in a standardized way, along with teeth brushing and story time, to move the kid to bed and the adult out of the room.