You’d think it was some kind of miracle cure.
Having your baby sleep on an incline can supposedly help with everything from colic, to reflux, to common colds!
There is growing evidence these days that shows that may not be the case. However, many doctors and pediatricians still prescribe a slightly inclined sleeping position in certain cases.
How can you safely elevate a crib mattress at home? How can you elevate baby’s head while sleeping safely and properly?
There are two main ways to do this, plus a few other options and alternatives.
First, you can use a towel or rolled up blanket under the crib mattress. You’ll need to measure first. Prop the head of the crib up about 3 to 6 inches for the proper incline, and be absolutely 100% sure that no loose blankets or material is sticking out! That’s a SIDS hazard.
Two, you can buy a crib wedge and place it under the mattress. It will give you the right amount of incline and fit perfectly so the mattress shouldn’t budge or be unstable at all.
Let’s take a closer look at these options and whether using an inclined sleeping position or crib wedge is safe. Before making any major changes to baby’s crib set up, you should consult a doctor.
(You can get a gentle and safe 12-degree incline for baby by using a basic foam wedge on Amazon. It’s the perfect elevation for reflux, nasal congestion, and colic if you want to try elevating.
Click the link to check it out!)
Why, when, and how much should you elevate a crib mattress?
The idea behind sleeping in an inclined or elevated position is essentially to promote fluid drainage away from the head and face area.
It’s kind of like when you hurt your foot or leg and need to keep it elevated to prevent too much swelling and better circulation.
For babies, the same advice is often used. Some doctors will recommend that babies sleep on a slight incline to help with:
- A stuffy nose from a cold
- Other congestion
- Reflux (Mayo Clinic recommends this, at least for adults)
- Or even an ear infection
The most commonly recommended angle for babies sleeping on an incline seems to be between 15-30 degrees.
(A little bit less is fine and can also help.)
But there is one thing I want to mention before we move forward on how to elevate a crib.
It’s important to note that there is contradictory evidence out there on this.
There are lots of recommendations these days against any kind of inclined sleep product including rock and plays and sleep wedges.
I would talk to your own doctor or pediatrician before you try to do this at home.
Some doctors still do prescribe inclined sleeping to help with certain conditions in certain cases.
So if you’re sure you should be doing this, here’s exactly how to safely elevate a crib at home.
Method 1: Pillow or rolled up towel or blanket under the crib mattress
This is probably the cheapest way to get this done.
Here’s how to do it:
Step one: Mark off the height
Remove the mattress from the crib. Using a tape measure or ruler, mark a spot around 5-6 inches from the bottom of the bed support.
This will be your guide for how high to elevate the bed, and should give you an incline angle of between 15-30 degrees.
I’ve seen lots of people get the math wrong on this, with one site saying you need to elevate the head of the crib 30 INCHES. That’s nuts.
Don’t do anything more than 6 inches otherwise the angle will be too steep.
Step two: Place rolled up blankets, towels, or a few pillows under the mattress
You want the base of the mattress to rest firmly at the new height you’ve marked off.
It is very, very, very important that no loose material is sticking out of the side and into the actual sleeping area.
With young babies, anything in the crib at all can be considered a SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) hazard.
Step three: Replace the mattress
Make sure it’s level (except for the incline, obviously), secure, and not wobbly.
Again, you’re shooting for an incline of about 15-30 degrees.
Any more than that will just be way too unstable and difficult for baby to sleep on.
Method 2: Purchase a crib wedge to elevate the crib mattress
The second option will cost you a few bucks but will be a lot easier to set up.
Get yourself a good crib wedge for inclined sleeping and stick it under the crib mattress.
There are a couple of benefits to doing it this way even though they’ll cost you anywhere from $20-50.
- They’re flat and level, so the sleeping surface should be very secure
- They’re designed to be crib-width, so no extra material will be sticking out
- They’ll give you the right amount of incline every time
You can get crib wedges of all different incline levels, but I haven’t seen anything that goes all the way up to 30 degrees.
Many different kinds of foam mattress wedge will do — here’s a very gentle one at 12 degrees (Amazon link), which should be right in the sweet spot if your doctor has recommended elevated sleeping for congestion or reflux.
(You can also sometimes find angled crib mattresses where the head is slightly raised — these are a fantastic option because they’re 100% stable. Here’s one at Target worth checking out.)
One other option worth mentioning: Bed risers
A lot of parents in online discussion boards talk about elevating the crib from the bottom up.
Meaning, they’ll put books, blocks, or other objects under the crib legs to get the proper elevation.
I’m not a huge fan of this.
To me it seems really unsturdy and unsafe, and it’s likely difficult to get the crib totally level this way.
But if you’re not comfortable having anything, even a crib wedge, remotely close to your baby’s mattress, I could see the appeal of doing it this way.
I would recommend using something like bed or furniture risers (Amazon link) for a uniform and sturdy elevation.
One thing to note here is that using bed risers or even books or blocks under the crib won’t get you to a 30-degree incline.
(Raising the head of the mattress itself gets you more incline because the slope is only around one-foot long or so before the rest of the mattress levels out. Raising the entire crib by a few inches will only give you a very small incline angle.)
Alternatives to elevated sleeping
It really depends on what issue you’re trying to solve with inclined crib sleeping, but since it’s not being recommended by as many doctors these days, you may want to explore some alternatives that don’t carry any safety risks.
Other sleep positions:
There is some evidence that certain specialized sleeping positions can help reduce reflux in babies with severe cases.
However, “back is best” and safest so ONLY experiment with other sleeping positions at the direction of your pediatrician.
Side and tummy sleeping can be very dangerous for babies if not prescribed by a doctor and done properly.
If you’re primarily using elevated sleeping to prevent flathead, you shouldn’t be worried about it.
Just make sure to implement plenty of tummy time for baby and the rest will take care of itself.
Other reflux or colic treatments:
If it’s reflux you’re concerned about, I’m not a doctor! But your own pediatrician might prescribe something like mixing cereal in with baby’s formula or breastmillk, better and more consistent burping techniques, or keeping baby upright after feedings.
You might even try switching to a different formula.
Again, this should come from your doctor and not a blog, but these are some of the common treatment courses.
What to do if your baby slides down while sleeping in the crib
One of the main reasons some doctors are recommending against elevating cribs these days is because sometimes babies will slide down due to the incline.
Obviously, for very young babies without much movement skill yet this could be a massive safety issue.
If you find your baby is sliding, I would reconsider the height of your incline and probably lower it. Or get rid of it altogether.
(If you’re using a crib wedge, you can try returning it for a model with a lesser incline — around 12 degrees or so.)
SIDS guidelines strongly urge you not to put anything extra in the crib, so I would caution you not to try to jury-rig some kind of homemade restraint to keep baby from sliding.
You can try a sleep positioner swaddle like this one from Reste Safe (Amazon link), but be aware that a lot of pediatricians recommend not using things like this either.
(Click the image below to see on Amazon.)
I’d discuss it with your doctor first before buying.
Baby sleeping is an area fraught with safety issues and controversy.
Some say sleep positioners and incline sleep can really help babies with congestion, colic, and reflux. (Anecdotal evidence is very strong that it does, if you spend time reading parenting forums.)
But newer research questions whether the benefits outweigh the risks.
My best advice? Talk to your doctor!
If they say it’s OK to try elevated sleeping, then OK, but don’t take this into your own hands without a professional opinion.
I hope this helps, parents, and good luck!