Getting a baby to sleep more than a few hours at a stretch each night is a major goal for most new parents. And when your infant is restless, and no one is sleeping, you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do to help your baby sleep better.
Some sleep experts point to weighted blankets as a way to improve sleep for older children and adults. But covering a baby with a blanket at bedtime is not safe, which leaves some parents wondering if a weighted sleep sack is a safe alternative.
Learn more about your options, and the safety factors at hand, below.
Before we take a deep dive into weighted sleep sacks, it’s important to point out that sleeping with blankets, including weighted blankets, is not safe for babies for at least the first year.
According to the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), soft objects such as quilts, blankets, or loose bedding can obstruct an infant’s nose and mouth and put them at risk of suffocation, entrapment, and strangulation.
With that in mind, parents should never put a baby to bed with a blanket, quilt, loose bedding, or other items that could cause harm.
What the research says
Weighted blankets are used with older children and in very select settings for babies. A small study with continuously monitored neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) babies found that a weighted blanket may help those with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
However, it’s essential to note that the babies in this study were monitored in a NICU around the clock, so parents should not assume a weighted blanket is safe for home use.
Another study looked at the effectiveness of weighted blankets for sleep in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Participants ranged in age from 5 to 16 years old. In addition to a diagnosis of autism, they also had severe sleep problems.
After a 2-week period of sleeping with different blankets, researchers discovered that the use of a weighted blanket did not help children with ASD sleep longer, fall asleep faster, or wake less often during the night.
However, they did find that both kids and parents favored the weighted blanket, with parents rating their child’s sleep as better when using a weighted blanket. They also reported that their children were calmer when using a weighted blanket.
Again, it’s important to note that this study looked at sleep for older children.
While there may be some perceived benefits to using a weighted blanket, there isn’t adequate evidence to show they dramatically improve sleep. Coupled with the risks to younger babies, you shouldn’t use a weighted blanket for your child under the age of 2.
If loose blankets are out, how do parents keep their baby warm? One option, say some experts, are sleep sacks. According to the AAP, sleep sacks are a much safer choice than blankets.
Katherine Williamson, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at Mission Hospital Mission Viejo and president of the Orange County chapter of the AAP, says parents will often use a sleep sack to help keep their baby cozy and warm.
“Many sleep sacks zip easily over an infant’s clothing, which keeps their arms free, while the sack part over their torso, legs, and feet helps to keep them warm and from moving around too much during nap time or at night,” she explains.
So, if traditional sleep sacks are considered safe by the AAP, you might be wondering if weighted sleep sacks are also safe to use when putting baby to bed, especially if you want them to sleep better.
Gina Posner, MD, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, says that while a weighted sleep sack may help baby sleep better, the problem is whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks.
“My primary concern about weighted sleep sacks is that they may inhibit breathing in infants,” Posner says. She also has concerns about weighted sleep sacks if the baby can flip over. “If a baby manages to flip over and then, because of the weight, they are unable to flip back, I worry about them suffocating,” Posner says.
Daniel Ganjian, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says one reason why a baby may sometimes sleep better while wearing a weighted sleep sack is that it feels like they’re in the womb again, allowing a newborn to experience a simulated “fourth-trimester of pregnancy.”
Finally, overheating is thought to contribute to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), so all of the experts worry that these weighted sleep sacks may contribute to overheating.
Most importantly, Williamson says before buying a weighted sleep sack for your baby, make sure to contact your pediatrician. “They can help to determine if the weighted sleep sack might be able to aid your baby’s sleep,” she explains.
When it comes to weighted blankets, Williamson says they’re generally considered safe for children over 2 years old. “Kids who are younger are too small to untangle themselves from a blanket and are at risk for suffocation,” she explains.
If you’re considering a weighted blanket for your child who is over the age of 2 years old, Williamson says to make sure the child does not have asthma or sleep apnea and choose the correct size and weight of the blanket.
Also, before purchasing a weighted blanket for your child, contact your pediatrician.
Several organizations including the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, educate parents on best sleep practices. To keep your baby safe while they sleep, follow these tips and recommendations for sleep safety and good sleep practices.
- Keep crib clear of objects that may pose a suffocation hazard. Loose bedding, blankets, quilts, soft toys, stuffed animals, and toys should never be placed in a crib while baby is sleeping. This also includes pillows and bumper pads.
- Place baby on their back to fall asleep. This includes all sleep times, such as naps and bedtime.
- Do not allow baby to fall asleep on a couch or armchair. This includes falling asleep on a caregiver who is using a couch or armchair.
- Place crib in parents’ bedroom until baby’s first birthday. You can move their sleep space close to the bed to make feeding easier.
- Have baby sleep in their own space. Baby can room-share with parents, but the AAP does not encourage bed-sharing for sleep. Use a firm sleep surface for baby to sleep on.
- Dress baby appropriately for bed. Dress your baby for sleep in no more than one layer than an adult would need in the same environment.
A weighted sleep sack may help your baby sleep better at night, but you need to determine if any risks outweigh the benefits. And remember, you should never put a baby under the age of 1 year old to sleep with a blanket.
If you have questions or before you buy a weighted sleep sack, talk to your child’s pediatrician to make sure they are on board.