Can comforters help with my baby’s sleep?

I am a big fan of comforters. Comforters, or transitional objects (which can also be called “lovies”, “snugglies”, “blankies” etc.) are a great source of comfort for babies as they grow. When a baby is little they are often swaddled, so they have their hands wrapped up. Once they are able to sleep with their hands unwrapped, they may like to touch or cuddle something. I find that it isn’t often until a baby is over six months, and closer to 12 months, they will really start to attach to a comforter and be able to use it to help soothe themselves.

Babies can have many comforters, and if they are using a dummy for sleep, then this will be one of their sources of comfort. I find if we are removing a dummy from a baby because they are waking a lot overnight, then giving them a comforter, like a piece of muslin, a toy with a blanket attached, or a small, soft toy, can be a great replacement. If you are giving your baby a comforter, then having it smell like you, can help a baby attach. So if you can wear the comforter down your shirt for a day or so, or sleep with it yourself, that’s a plus!

You also need to ensure that the comforter is safe for your baby to sleep with. I don’t usually encourage a comforter to be in the cot with the baby until they are able to roll. It also needs to be small enough so that it can’t cover the baby’s face or get wrapped around the baby’s neck.

Babies can be fickle little things and some babies will attach easily to a comforter and some just won’t want a bar of one. I do find that if a baby is getting a lot of comfort from a parent around sleep; they are being rocked to sleep, or are co-sleeping, then they just won’t need to attach to something else. Mum is the best comforter of all!

As a baby gets around 12 months of age, they are entering the separation anxiety stage. This can cause a whole range of sleep disturbances with babies often having a sleep regression and wanting someone with them when they fall asleep. Having a comforter that the baby can snuggle into and find some comfort with can help reduce this anxiety. Research agrees and according to the New York University Psychoanalytical Institute, “the transitional object may be conceived of in three ways: as typifying a phase in a child’s development; as a defense against separation anxiety; and, lastly, as a neutral sphere in which experience is not challenged.”

The term transitional object was coined in 1951 by D.W. Winnicott, an English paediatrician and psychoanalyst, as “a designation for any material to which an infant attributes a special value and by means of which the child is able to make the necessary shift from the earliest oral relationship with mother to genuine object-relationships.” Transitional objects are self-chosen — a child’s first “not-me possession” — like a blanket, teddy bear, pacifier, doll. The reliance on such objects is rooted in sensorial elements that lessen the stress of separation, while they soothe and comfort the child.

So having a comforter is a lovely thing for your child. It is not a sign of insecurity but is something your child can take with them as they grow and are confronted with many new challenges, such as childcare, pre-school and school. It is also a good idea to have two identical comforters. This allows you to wash one while the other is being used, or if one gets lost or left behind, sparing your baby (and yourself) a potential emotional meltdown!

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.

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