What are weighted blankets?
Weighted blankets are sometimes called sensory, calming, anxiety or support blankets. A weighted blanket is a heavy blanket with pockets filled with sand or beads. The weight of the blanket is said to help calm and soothe a child, and clever marketing has made parents think they are safe to use.
Weighted blankets were originally used by occupational therapists (OTs) working with children with sensory processing disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, there is a lack of scientific evidence supporting their use in therapy, and they have serious safety risks, especially when your child is sleeping. It is important not to use weighted blankets unless prescribed by an occupational therapist.
Who are weighted blankets for?
Weighted blankets are used by occupational therapists for adults and children with sensory processing disorders. Some adults claim that using a weighted blanket helps them to feel less anxious. They claim it helps them calm down quickly if they're feeling stressed. People with insomnia and other sleep disorders, feel that using a weighted blanket may be helpful for them.
Some parents may a weighted blanket helps sleep behaviours in young children. While healthy adults can choose to use a weighted blanket safely, young children can become trapped underneath its weight. Weighted blankets can make a baby's sleeping space unsafe and increase the risk of sudden infant death.
Are weighted blankets safe for my child?
There is very little research on the safety of weighted blankets or their usefulness in improving children's sleep. They do not provide a safe sleep for babies, especially babies who can roll. Many manufacturers publish positive blog posts from satisfied clients, but there is a lack of clear evidence to say they work. In fact, they are unsafe — especially if used incorrectly.
Safe-sleeping guidelines and Red Nose advise against loose bedding for children. This is especially important when they're in a cot and sleeping. This is because blankets and bedding can cover a baby's head and face, increasing the risk of overheating and suffocation. Young children may not have the strength to move and get out from under a weighted blanket.
The risks of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) is also increased when a baby is sleeping on their tummy. This increases again when they are under heavy bedding. The weighted beads that make the blanket heavy are also a choking risk if the blanket breaks.
Is it safe to use a weighted blanket during pregnancy?
There's not enough clear evidence to say if weighted blankets are safe for pregnant women. Sleeping on your side is safest and will help to ensure the blood flow to your baby is not restricted. Sleeping on either the left or right side is fine. It is important, especially from 28 weeks of pregnancy, that you go to sleep on your side and roll back onto your side if you wake up on your back.
What can I do about sleep and stress?
The following can all help your sleep:
- Speak with your GP if you can't sleep because of anxiety or stress.
- Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, and good sleep habits can make a big difference.
- Avoid using your phone or device for at least 1 hour before bed.
- Avoid stimulants such as coffee, cola drinks and chocolate , especially in the late afternoon and evening.
- Try to go to bed at the same time each night.
Resources and support
- Speak with your doctor if you are having trouble sleeping.
- Seek professional support from a child health nurse or paediatrician to get help with your child's sleeping issues.
- You can call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436. Video call service allows you to speak face-to-face with a maternal child health nurse. This is a free service, available from 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week (including public holidays).
- The Sleep Health Foundation provides advice on creating good sleep habits.
If you're feeling anxious, you can contact the following organisations who support the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents:
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636
- Gidget Foundation on 1300 851 758
- COPE — Centre for Perinatal Excellence
- PANDA — Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia; Monday to Saturday 9am - 7.30pm (AEST) on 1300 726 306
- Lifeline — For 24 hour crisis support call 13 11 14
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: July 2023