When Stevie McCauley was desperate for her infant son, Parker, to sleep, friends and family came to the rescue with suggestions.
“Two that came up all the time were a glove filled with rice on him to feel like my hand was there, and a sleep sack called the Nested Bean that had weighted spots,” McCauley told TODAY Parents.
McCauley said a trusted relative even purchased a weighted sleep aid for her to use for Parker, but something felt off. She just couldn't use it.
“I was so desperate to sleep, but my gut wouldn’t let me use one,” McCauley explained. “The idea of weight on his chest or weight keeping him from moving, or if he rolled and then the weight was too much for him to roll back … I couldn’t.”
Desperation for sleep is relatable for many new parents.
“As a parent who clearly remembers the fatigue from their child's sleep regression, it is very easy to get into a ‘try anything and everything’ mindset to help your infant sleep,” said Joseph Julian, a Kansas City, Missouri, physician who specializes in both internal medicine and pediatrics.
“However, as well-intentioned as many of these items may be, the safest thing for an infant is to be placed on his or her back to sleep, dressed in thin layers,with swaddling if appropriate, and kept in an environment clear of pillows and stuffed animals.”
Christine Hartford, assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, agreed, stating that studies regarding the safety and efficacy of weighted blankets in children are limited.
“At this point in time, I do not recommend the use of weighted blankets in infants at any time,” the board certified pediatrician said referencing the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends against the use of bedding in infants.
“I think there is the potential for danger just as there is with any blanket, pillow or use of soft bedding in an infant.”
One of the largest underlying concerns with the use of weighted blankets in infants is sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.
“Blankets can obstruct the face and potentially lead to suffocation and SIDS,” Hartford explained. “Overheating has also been identified as increasing the risk of SIDS. Without specific data proving the safety of weighted blankets, the safety of the use in infants cannot be assumed and should be avoided.”
Hartford cites the singular published study conducted in the use of weighted blankets for infants. In it, newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome were studied under a weighted blanket for only 30-minute time intervals, and were fully monitored with heart rate and respiratory monitors. While there were no adverse effects noted, Hartford explained this cannot be used to determine safety.
“This by no means can be extrapolated to everyday in-home use,” Hartford stated.
Instead, she suggested that parents delineate what the specific problem is and what they are trying to achieve with the blanket.
“Is it a problem with falling asleep, a problem staying asleep, both, or something else altogether?," Hartford said. "I recommend talking with the infant’s pediatrician for advice regarding the infant’s specific difficulties.”