For the media

Is it safe to use a nursing pillow?

By The Health News Team | November 8, 2023
Mother holding her baby on a nursing pillow

It’s one of the top gifts to give expecting parents, but when not used correctly, a nursing pillow can be one of the most dangerous. This is according to a recent warning from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which reports nearly 1,000 infants suffocate in their sleep each year in the U.S., and pillow-like infant products, including nursing pillows, are under investigation for some of these deaths.

A nursing pillow is a C-shaped foam or inflatable cushion that wraps around a nursing parent’s torso. The baby comfortably rests on the pillow to easily breastfeed without straining the parent’s neck, back or arm muscles.

“CPSC has identified deaths possibly associated with pillow-like products,” the warning reads. “The initial assessment of incidents shows deaths when children are left on or near pillows, and the child rolls over, rolls off or falls asleep.”

Sharing the safe-sleep message

Alexis Lopez, MSN, manager of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, shares this is among the many reasons she and her colleagues discuss the importance of a safe sleeping environment with all of their patients’ guardians. Whether in the hospital’s prebirth classes, in the “going home” class, or with parents of newborns when they are discharged, safe-sleeping information is always shared.

“It is very important for babies to be placed on their back every nap and every night on a firm, flat surface with a tight-fitting sheet and nothing that could interfere with their ability to breathe,” Lopez says. “This means no pillows, blankets, stuffed animals or toys should be in their sleeping space. Even so-called ‘breathable’ bumpers can pose a safety risk.”

However, babies can be swaddled in a thin, lightweight blanket or cloth, Lopez says, but only until they are able to roll. Additionally, because cuddling a sleeping infant is one of the most calming activities there is, it’s very important to always put the baby down in a safe place if a parent or caregiver is at risk of falling asleep when holding them.

The dangers of nursing pillows

According to Lopez, infants should never sleep on any type of pillow — including a nursing pillow — or in a car seat, bouncer or infant swing. “We recommend only using these devices according to manufactures’ instructions and always to transfer the infant to a safe sleeping space,” she says.

The manufacturer of a popular nursing pillow clearly states on the product’s packaging and website that improper use of the nursing pillow could result in serious injury or death. The nursing pillow, the warning also reads, is not for use on a bed, either with the baby alone or with a caregiver who may fall asleep while feeding the baby.

The company shares the following additional safe-use guidelines for the nursing pillow:

  • Never leave baby unattended.

  • Adult supervision is required.

  • Never allow baby to sleep on the product.

  • Do not allow baby to lie facedown on the product.

  • Do not use in a crib, bassinet, playpen or play yard, or near an area where a baby may sleep.

  • Always keep baby’s airway open.

  • Do not place on an elevated surface for any use other than when supporting baby on the lap.

On the road or with a caregiver

But what if your baby falls asleep somewhere other than their crib, like when in a car seat, which happens often due to the lulling sounds and vibrations of a car’s movement? Lopez says it’s vital to keep your eye on your infant — using caution when driving — and transfer them to a safe sleeping spot as soon as possible. “If their chin falls to their chest, it can close off their airway and make it difficult for them to breathe safely,” she explains.

And if a caregiver or grandparent is watching your infant for you, it’s vital to share the latest safe-sleep practices with them in advance. Sleep recommendations have changed over the years, Lopez says, so it may be different than what they did when you were an infant.

“The most important message to share is to always put the baby down in a safe place,” Lopez says. “It might be hard to skip the pretty bedding or convenience of available products, but it’s never worth the risk this could pose on your infant’s safe sleep!”

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Alexis Lopez


Alexis Lopez, MSN, is the manager of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

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