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Like many new parents, my husband and I worried about sudden infant death syndrome when our daughter, Rosalind, was a newborn. We followed the Canadian Paediatric Society recommendations about not using blankets for babies or keeping stuffies in the crib—they can become suffocation and entanglement hazards—and swaddled instead. We never used pillows or crib bumpers either. But as soon as she could Houdini her arms out of the swaddle (I think this was around the two-month mark, though exact dates are fuzzy given the sleep-deprivation), we moved on to a sleep sack—an increasingly popular option when traditional blankets are considered no-nos.
The recommendation not to use loose blankets or any soft items in the crib is really only for the first 12 months of life, says sleep medicine physician Joanna MacLean, who is also a paediatric respirologist and the medical director of the Stollery Children’s Hospital sleep lab in Edmonton. After the first year, blankets, when used in a safe way, pose less risk than when your baby is younger. This means one of the many adorable baby blankets we received as shower gifts would now be a good choice for our 18-month-old daughter, while a queen-sized down duvet would not. “Make sure it’s a small blanket, and not something that can get wrapped around the baby’s neck,” recommends MacLean.
As babies grow into toddlers, they may also get more attached to comfort objects or stuffed animals. After the age of 12 months, having a favourite stuffie in the crib is also less risky, says MacLean. “Choose an appropriate size, like a small stuffie that doesn’t have little parts that can come off.” Don’t overload the crib—you’ll end up having to pack an entire zoo of beloved stuffies whenever your child is sleeping away from home.
While it’s safe to use a blanket to tuck in a toddler, it can be tricky to get a one- or two-year-old to actually stay under that blanket. “Little people roll around a lot in their cribs,” says MacLean. “Most won’t actually keep a blanket on.”
Emma Climie, a Calgary mom to 22-month-old Zachary, says sleep sacks remain the best option to keep her squirmy boy warm at night. “He rolls around his entire crib, almost doing laps. We need something that stays on.” Climie and her husband hope to transition Zachary to a toddler bed, with blankets, before baby No. 2 arrives this spring. They have started using a light blanket over him, in addition to the sleep sack. “Now he doesn’t seem to move as much, because he likes having the blanket on him,” Climie says.
Pam Edwards, a sleep consultant in Grande Prairie, Alta., who has two kids of her own, is a big proponent of using sleep sacks beyond 12 months. Her three-year-old son, Arlo, still wears one. “Most kids don’t learn how to pull the blankets onto themselves until they’re three or four,” Edwards says. “A sleep sack prevents you from having to go back in multiple times each night to tuck them back in.” As a bonus, sleep sacks can also restrict mobility just enough to discourage toddlers from climbing out of their cribs, she says.
Now that I know using blankets in our toddler’s crib is expert-approved, I’m tempted to make the switch—my daughter’s toes are nearing the end of her newest sleep sack, and I shudder at shelling out $50 for a new one. Actually, let’s make that $100: We always need an extra one for the inevitable late-night diaper explosion. (There are cheaper versions, but after two broken zippers—one while my daughter was trapped inside the sack—I’ll pay a bit more for better quality.) However, the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage is important to consider, too. These pricey sleep sacks are working well for us, and no parent wants to mess with a successful bedtime routine. Whatever helps Rosalind sleep soundly results in more shut-eye for my husband and me, so perhaps it’s money well spent.
Most sleep sacks—also sold as bunting bags or wearable blankets—come in zero- to six- or six- to 18-month sizes. Look for a seasonally appropriate fabric: Some have a “tog” number on the tag, which indicates the warmth. A 1.0 tog is a spring and fall weight (for room temperatures of 20 to 23C), and a 2.5 tog is for winter (or room temperatures of 16 to 20C).