Weighted blankets have become a popular gift item. Fans say they reduce stress, increase serotonin, soothe anxiety, and stimulate the sense of touch. Marketers claim they’re good for ADHD and autism in kids.
It doesn’t stop with weighted blankets, either. Weighted sleep sacks, swaddle blankets, sleepers, and stuffed animals are popular, too. Products claim that they calm children, make them feel secure, and help them sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics takes a different view.
In a letter to the chairs of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the F15 Committee on Consumer Products, the AAP asked for development of a safety standard for weighted infant sleep products — and an end to efforts to develop voluntary standards.
“Sleep-related infant deaths, after an initial decrease following implementation of the Back to Sleep campaign in the 1990s, have not declined in the last 10 years. Approximately 3,400 infants each year experience sleep-related death — and many of these deaths in otherwise health infants are preventable,” the letter pointed out. “It is recommended that weighted blankets, weighted sleepers, weighted swaddles, or other weighted objects not be placed on or near the sleeping infant.”
What’s the danger?
Adults who enjoy a weighted blanket may have trouble imagining where the danger of weighted products might lie. The AAP points out that there is evidence that weighted products reduce the oxygen levels in infants’ blood.
Another concern is that, as the letter puts it, “impaired arousal may contribute to risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), so a product that decreases arousal may increase the risk of SIDS.”
Most importantly, the AAP points out that there is as yet no strong research about the safety of these products. Without evidence that weighted products are not harmful, they can’t be considered safe. And yet parents expect that items sold for babies will have been proven safe before they are sold, and that they will have met government safety standards.
In the case of weighted products for babies, there are currently no government safety standards at all.
“If a product is sold on store shelves,” says the AAP, “families expect that it has been tested thoroughly and meets mandatory safety requirements. This, however, is not the case. Potentially dangerous and novel products continue to be sold, and concerns may not be raised until harmful consequences to child health are documented.”
Making the decision
Until there is more research on the subject, it’s wise to avoid using weighted sleep aids with infants. Babies should sleep on their backs on a firm mattress without pillows, bumpers, blankets, or loose items of any kind.
Older children may enjoy weighted blankets or toys. One recent study found some benefits for kids diagnosed with ADHD, though most studies have not seen positive results. Even studies that found no benefits in sleep patterns or behavior, however, sometimes note that kids reported liking the weighted products and finding them comforting.
It’s important to keep in mind that weighted products should not weigh more than 10% of an individual’s body weight. Weighted blankets often tip the scales at 15 to 20 pounds — which may be safe for an adult, but not for a child.
If you have questions about whether to use weighted products for your baby, ask your pediatrician.