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Introducing a Comforter: When can a baby sleep with a comforter?

Updated: Jun 3

Getting our Little Ones to sleep independently in a cot can sometimes be a real challenge, and using a transitional object like a comforter or a teddy can be really helpful to help them to feel more comforted and secure in their own sleep space. I am a huge fan of such comfort items - I had a teddy from birth that I still have at the grand old age of 38. However, safe sleep guidance doesn't seem to be clear on when exactly you can leave a baby to sleep with a comforter. This article will help you to understand exactly when it's appropriate to introduce a comforter and how you can do it.

Baby cuddling a teddy bear

What is a comforter?

A comforter, often referred to as a 'transitional object,' or a 'lovey', is a cuddly toy or small blanket serving as a source of comfort for a child. These soft items offer a sense of safety and security, becoming their portable companions. They can also help to become sleep associations that signal bedtime and relaxation. Additionally, comforters prove beneficial in comforting babies during times of stress or disruptions to their routine, such as vaccinations, travel, long car rides, settling in new environments like nursery or with a childminder, or during hospital stays.

Are comforters safe for a baby to sleep with?

Yes, comforters can be safe for babies to sleep with, so long as you choose an appropriate comforter and you follow safe sleep guidance from your country of residence.

The risks associated with comforters to babies are that they can either cover your baby's face and cause suffocation or risk of 'rebreathing'. On top of this, if there are attachments to a comfort item, or you're using a muslin, then the risk can be of strangulation. And if you have an item that has any small parts that could easily fall off, then there can be a risk of choking if your baby chews on the item.

When is it safe for a baby to sleep with a comforter?

In the UK The Lullaby Trust and the NHS provide guidance on safe sleep and they suggest that a baby should not sleep unattended with a comforter until 12 months of age. They reiterate that the safest way for a baby to sleep is in a clear clot or Moses basket without toys, pillows, cot bumpers, loose bedding or products that will keep your baby in one position. This is because there is strong evidence that babies are at a higher risk of SIDS if they have their heads covered. Unnecessary items such as soft toys can increase the risk of head covering or lead to an accident.

However, safe sleep guidance differs across the globe and in Australia, for example, the guidance is that you can introduce a comforter to your baby from 7 months of age (Red Nose Foundation Australia).

Can you introduce a comforter to your baby for sleep when they are under 12 months?

From 4 months of age it can help to introduce a comforter to your baby during the daytime, but not for sleep, to help develop an attachment to the object. You may choose to hold the comforter between you and baby while you're feeding so it's associated with nice calming and sleepy activities. At this age your child should not sleep with a comfort item.

From 6 months upward it can be a lovely ritual to introduce a comforter to your baby's bedtime routine and to allow them to sleep with a comfort object for supervised naps during the day taking care to ensure the item never covers your child's face, mouth or nose. It can be something you introduce as a settling item and you allow your child to fall asleep with the item and then remove it once they are in a deep sleep.

So while The Lullaby Trust does recommend that babies should sleep in a clear cot until 12 months of age. In practice, this can mean that before 12 months you use the comforter as your baby falls asleep, and remove it afterwards.

How can a comforter help with separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety peaks from 8 to 10 months of age and can continue to peak until 18 months of age but gradually decreases as the child grows older and develops more independence and confidence. Separation anxiety in babies is a normal developmental stage in babies and children where your child may show distress or anxiety when a baby is separated from their primary caregivers, typically their parents or main caregivers.

Separation anxiety really becomes a 'thing' when your baby is between 6-8 months of age and it can continue into the toddler years. This is a developmental phase where babies become more aware of their surroundings and start to realise they are separate being from their caregivers.

A comforter can help to ease a child's separation anxiety by acting as a 'transitional object' they can become attached to that is separate from their caregivers. It can help to provide a sense of security and familiarity. When a baby forms an attachment to a comforter, they associate it with comfort and reassurance, much like they do with their parents and caregivers.

This association can serve as a source of comfort when they are separated from you, helping to ease their anxiety and provide emotional support in unfamiliar or stressful situations. The presence of the comforter can offer a comforting reminder of their parents and home environment, making transitions and separations smoother.

How to introduce a comforter to a baby for sleep

Here are some tips:

  • Sticking to one comforter, ideally one that is washable is helpful to create a nice attachment (just remember to get a spare one!)

  • You can introduce a comforter as part of a bedtime routine and supervised sleep from the age of six months

  • IT can be a really helpful object to help your child to settle at nursery or at a childminder.

  • Sleep with it for a night before introducing it 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 breast milk on it.

  • For safety, avoid comforters with bean fillings or long fur that your baby might pull out of accidentally inhale and attachments that could easily become a risk of choking.

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