A comforter is a soft toy or small blanket that is also sometimes referred to as a ‘transitional object.’ A baby comforter as I call them, is a small soft object that provides baby with a sense of safety and security. They are a portable best friend who signals to your little one that it is time to relax and unwind for bedtime. Another advantage of introducing a comforter is that they can support a baby who is stressed or faced with a change in their normal routine (immunisations, travelling away from home, long car journeys, settling at nursery or childminder, hospital stays).
Around the age of six months, your baby will go through an important cognitive developmental milestone – they will realise that they are no longer attached to you. This really is the beginning of your child’s growing independence, confidence and sense of identity. However, with this milestone also comes potential separation anxiety and even upset at times. This is a great time to introduce a comforter – it can make baby feel safe and remind them of you.
Attachment is a psychological phenomenon – with time, baby is able to transfer some of their feelings of attachment for their parents to an inanimate object. The key with this is, as always, consistency. Repeatedly introducing the object at sleep times helps form a pattern of behaviour and a new ‘sleep association.’ In theory if your little one is attached to a baby comforter, they are more likely to be able to soothe themselves back to sleep independently, using their comforter when they stir between sleep cycles during the night.
A ‘sleep association’ is basically anything that helps your baby fall asleep. There are all sorts of sleep associations including rocking, patting, feeding, and dummies. However, if you are struggling to get a settled night’s sleep it could be possible that moving away from parental controlled sleep associations could help your baby learn to settle themselves back off to sleep. I don’t believe in ‘negative sleep associations,’ unless they are negative for you. If everything is working well, then there is no need to fix it. However, I do believe it is always worth trying to introduce a comforter alongside the rest of your bedtime rituals.
It is important to choose a comforter that doesn’t have long fur, has no loose items such as plastic eyes or buttons, isn’t too large and won’t be pulled over your little one’s head or long enough to wrap around them.
The Lullaby Trust recommends that babies should sleep in a clear cot. Practically speaking this can mean that before 12 months you use the comforter as your baby falls asleep, and remove it afterwards.
- You can introduce a comforter from the age of six months
- Stick to one comforter, ideally one that is washable (and get a spare!)
- Sleep with it overnight before so that it smells of you (or hold it between you during feeds). If you are breastfeeding could even put a little bit of your milk on it.
- Give the comforter to your baby at each nap and at bedtime.
- Avoid bean fillings or long fur that your baby might pull out of accidentally inhale. You can try pulling at the fur to test it!
- A comforter can be a great support when trying to ditch the dummy
As children get older some parents worry about their child’s dependence on their comforter. There is nothing to worry about. Children tend to naturally reduce their dependence on their comforter as they get older. As long as their teddy or blanket isn’t stopping them from leading a happy and healthy life then please don’t worry. Most nurseries and schools are very sensitive to the potential need to bring in a comforter during settling in periods. Using their comforter when you are not there is a good way to practice self-regulation, and to cope with any fears or anxieties about you not being with them. In time, their comforter can be left on their peg, or even at home, ready and waiting for them on their return.
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