Warning to parents: Nursing pillows are not for sleeping


September 14, 2016

Nursing pillows and loungers are popular, but parents beware: They are not for sleeping infants.


A very popular baby registry item these days is the nursing pillow. These crescent-shaped nursing pillows make it easier to feed babies by reducing strain on a mothers’s arms, shoulder and neck. These nursing pillows are also used for development support of infants including during tummy time and when a baby is learning to sit.  What is important to remember, however, is that these pillows should only be used while baby is feeding or awake, and NOT used to prop up a baby for sleep in the crib or bassinet.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3,500 infants die suddenly and unexpectedly in the U.S. each year. We often refer to these deaths as sudden unexpected infant deaths. Although many of these causes of death can’t be explained, most occur while the infant is sleeping in an unsafe sleeping environment.

If a baby is propped up to sleep using a nursing pillow or lounger, the baby could slide down and cause the neck to bend in a way that would block the airway. A central Pennsylvania coroner says three infants, all less than 6 months of age, have died because a popular nursing pillow was misused.

Loungers should also not be used for sleeping babies. Instead, they are meant for awake babies (as shown in the photo above).

Follow these safe sleep practices:

  • Always place your baby on his or her back for every sleep time.
  • Always use a firm sleep surface. Car seats and other sitting devices are not recommended for routine sleep.
  • The baby can sleep in the same room as the parents, but not in the same bed (room-sharing without bed-sharing).
  • Keep soft objects or loose bedding out of the crib. This includes pillows, blankets and bumper pads.
  • Do not use wedges and positioners.
  • Avoid covering the infant’s head or overheating.
  • Give your baby lots of supervised tummy time during waking hours to strengthen your baby’s arms, neck and shoulder muscles.

This post was written by Purnima Unni, the Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program Manager for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and a certified child passenger safety technician. She is a wife and mother of two girls and loves to cook, travel and watch murder mysteries. She is fluent in three languages and wishes she had a green thumb.


For additional injury prevention tips please visit the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt’s Trauma Injury Prevention Program’s page.