Baby Comforters: Do they work? Dr Kate Johnson shares her advice for introducing a baby comforter and explains the benefits of using it as a sleeping aid.
To an outsider, a comforter seems like an ordinary blanket or stuffed animal. But to a parent and child, a comforter has mystical sleeping powers!
Comforters are wonderful. They can help smooth the transition from being with mum or dad to independent sleep when the lights go out; and they can stay important to kids for many years.
Here is my advice for getting the most out of the baby-comforter relationship:
Sleep Associations: You or the Comforter?
Often when parents say that their baby or toddler doesn’t like comforters, this is often because the parent is the comforter, meaning that mum or dad feeds them to sleep, or rocks, bounces or lies down with them until they’re asleep.
That’s okay, except it usually leads the child to wake up during the night or too early in the morning looking for the comforter (parent) to soothe them back to sleep.
When parents eventually change that pattern and the child becomes responsible for self-soothing, the comforter suddenly grows in importance.
Establishing the Relationship.
When babies are little, they don’t necessarily show a preference for pieces of cloth or soft little blankets.
However, every parent who’s seen a baby eventually become starry eyed over a comforter knows the signs of attachment: smiling when they see it, rubbing it on their face, or grabbing it when upset.
When the baby-comforter bond is forming, keep the comforter hanging around, especially during feeding time. Put it on your chest as you breastfeed or bottle feed. Once you see the signs of affection, put the comforter in the cot or bed and keep it there. If it gets dragged to the couch or the playroom, pop it back in the cot.
If you do this, the sleep association isn’t diluted and the comforter maintains its “potency.” Watch your little one’s face light up when she goes to bed, because she gets to see her treasure.
Different Kids, Different Styles.
Some babies focus in on a particular comforter well before their first birthday.
Others don’t seem to care much for one particular blanket or soft animal. It’s okay if there isn’t just one object, or if it changes week to week; some kids are flexible about their sleep associations and others are very specific.
It’s never too late to try offering a comforter. There is no missed opportunity!
If you put some in a basket and ask your child to choose before bed, you may find, after a while, the preference grows.
If your child’s “comforter” is a blanket, try to select breathable options in materials like thin muslin, which is important in the early months for safety reasons.
Do Take it Along BUT Have a Backup.
Happily, the comforter is portable, so taking it on a vacation is smart, because it’s a sleep association that travels well. If you can, buy two identical ones. If your child loves the thin muslin blankets, cut one large one into many small pieces. Then keep them in a bin with other blankets so they’re always on hand at nap or bedtime.
Kate graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) in 1997 and a Ph.D. in 2001. Kate has since worked, lectured and written extensively about sleep and done further study in the field, including undertaking Postdoctoral fellowships in the Human Sleep and Neuroscience Programs at Stanford Research Institute and the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.