What we see in the media is usually what we apply to our real-life understanding of the world around us. Newborn baby photoshoots, advertisements involving newborn babies, toy newborn baby dolls… they all show us the picture-perfect image with an identical setting; An infant with a ribbon in a fluffy blanket hugging a teddy bear (or some other plush toy).
Most of us had some sort of stuffed animal we were attached to when we were a baby. We would hug them for comfort, play with them, even sleep with them. That stuffed animal became our real-life companion and best friend. Naturally, we want our baby to have the same experience as we did.
Unfortunately, with SIDS cases rising, we need to be a little more cautious with the things we put inside of our baby’s crib. This begs the question – when can my baby sleep with a stuffed animal? How do we know that the time is right?
Qualified pediatric nurse Gemma Caton advises that you shouldn’t have any soft toys in your baby’s cot until they’re at least one year old. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there were 3600 Sudden Infant Death Syndrome cases in 2017 in the US alone. About 900 of these were due to accidental suffocation and/or strangulation in bed. SIDS has become so common that the AAP issued recommendations for parents to follow to reduce the risk of mid-sleep suffocation.
Amongst the many recommendations out there, there are rules and guidelines also issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, such as removing soft bedding for newborns and young infants, getting a firm crib mattress, and removing all unnecessary objects from the crib. This includes stuffed animals and other toys that may pose a choking hazard. The CPSC summarizes this with the indication that “bare is best”.
Unfortunately, not all parents follow these guidelines, so mishaps (for the lack of a better term) still happen. Is there a way to bypass these rules and stay safe?
Why Softness is Danger
From the moment your child is born, their curiosity spikes and their wish to move around and explore the world increases. They will reach out with their little hands and feet in an attempt to move around.
At first, they won’t be able to do so at all. However, one random following day to come – your baby will start learning how to toss and turn. There is no guarantee you will be watching over them when this happens. It is at this moment that anything soft in their immediate surroundings becomes a danger, including stuffed animals.
You see, your baby might be strong enough to move once, but it would be a hard effort to return back to the starting position. If they happen to face flop into a soft mattress, bedding or even plush toy, there is a significant chance that something unfortunate might come as a result of this situation. This is why it is best to keep toys away from your child’s reach while they’re alone and unattended in their crib at least until they’re strong enough to know how to sit up or even stand up on their own without much difficulty.
Why Toys are Important
Stuffed toys offer a sense of companionship. As your child’s cognitive functions improve, their imagination will flourish. Toys replicating living beings, such as dolls and stuffed animal plushies, will motivate your child into practicing communication skills and learning how to be entertained even when you’re not available to play with them at the moment.
Since you don’t want to teach your child to rely on sleeping in your room and in your bed, stuffed animals come as great comfort. You can even use them as a trick to transition your baby from sleeping in your bedroom to sleeping alone in their room. Keep the stuffed animal close to you during the day, so it picks up some of your smell – which will comfort your child during the night.
However, do so only after you’ve established that your child is strong enough to be able to get up on their own if they happen to get into an odd position mid-sleep. This usually happens when your baby is one year old. The safest advice is to wait with allowing your baby to sleep with a stuffed animal until you’ve transitioned your little one from their crib to a toddler bed.
Are All Toys Bad?
The key is to avoid giving your child toys that are going to lay on their crib mattress next to them, but not to avoid all unsupervised entertainment and animation altogether.
There are many toys you can put in your crib to help stimulate and soothe your little one, such as soft light and music boxes that can be attached to crib rails or crib mobiles.
If you’re using toys such as a crib mobile, set it above the crib (out of your child’s reach) when you’re not in the room with them. Just make sure that the toys don’t have any hanging strings or ribbons your child can potentially get caught into during playtime.