Catherine Completely Baby Sleep Consultant

Catherine Thompson
Baby Sleep Consultant & Owner of Completely Baby

As adults, we know certain things just make sense for a good night’s sleep; a decent of pillows, a sleep mask, and the right doonah for the season, to name a few! But for young babies and toddlers, many parents worry about when and how to introduce items they think might aid their sleep.

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You’ll hear me talk a lot about creating your baby’s sleep environment across the blog, and introducing a comforter is a key part of this.

In today’s article, I’ll talk you through how to introduce a comforter, the safety considerations, and when the best time to do this might be for you.

Sleep Comforters: Safety First

Before introducing a sleep comforter, it’s essential to be aware of the safety considerations around your baby and their sleep environment.

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Some objects can pose a safety risk for young babies and toddlers. This includes anything soft or loose that could cover your baby’s head, face or mouth while they sleep, creating a risk of suffocation.

For this reason, it is not recommended to use a baby comforter – or any loose soft blanket or toy – in your baby’s cot or bassinet under seven months old (unless they will be supervised while sleeping, but generally best to reduce the risk entirely).

Once your baby is seven months or older, you can start looking at introducing an object, such as a baby sleep comforter, that can support their sleep and separation from you.

Why Use a Baby Comforter?

Many parents ask me why use a baby sleep comforter at all, and it’s an excellent question.

In one of my previous blogs, I spoke about sleep associations. Some can support your baby’s bedtime routine, and some can be disruptive. Baby sleep comforters can be a positive sleep association tool that helps signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep and supports their feelings of safety while they drift off.

Using a comforter for your baby can become an excellent self-soothing resource when they wake at night. They can easily reach for it and use it to resettle without needing to call out for you.

The more positive associations your child builds with their comforter, the more useful it can be – not just for sleeping. It can also be helpful when:

• They’re feeling unwell.
• They’re feeling overwhelmed.
• In situations where they might get fussy or anxious – such as being away from home or on long car journeys.

Children also experience phases of separation anxiety, which can begin around 8-12months old and again around 18 months to two years old. A baby comforter can be an essential aid to support them through these periods of developmental anxiety.
In these instances, you may see a comforter or similar positively associated object referred to as a transitional object.

What is Winnicott’s Transitional Object?

Donald W. Winnicott was an English paediatrician and psychoanalyst influential across developmental psychology. In 1953, he introduced the term ‘transitional object’, which he used to describe any blanket, soft toy, or other comfort items that young children often develop a strong attachment to.

These days you’re more likely to hear these referred to as a ‘blankie’ or a ‘security blanket’ which are essentially soft objects for young children. These transitional objects have been proven to help support children when they begin to experience separation anxieties, usually around eight or nine months old.

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Introducing a transitional object like a sleep comforter at around seven months old to support your child’s ability to self-soothe can help them once they reach this first separation anxiety phase. Studies have shown that children under six months old tend not to engage with objects in their sleep environment and are generally too young to find them a comfort.

It’s worth noting that not all babies enjoy and find comfort in a transitional object. There are cultural influences to be considered here, as well as general attachment and parental relationships.

Is Attachment to a Sleep Comforter Normal?

The short answer here is yes, it’s very normal and developmentally appropriate – it is even considered a good thing by many psychologists.

Building on Winnicott’s work, another development psychologist John Bowlby introduced the concept of attachment theory, which you may already be familiar with.

In Bowlby’s attachment theory, children develop strong attachments with their parents, which can fall under three attachment styles:

1. Anxious: Categorised by neediness and clinginess to main caregivers and visible signs of anxiety when left without their caregiver.

2. Avoidant: Children may be content to be independent but become anxious when their main caregiver leaves them, returning to avoidant behaviours when the caregiver returns.

3. Secure: Children show no or few signs of anxiety when their main caregiver leaves them, recovering quickly from their absence but displaying happy behaviours to see them when they return.

Bowlby felt that attachment styles were innate to each child but could be influenced by how parents responded to and addressed their needs. Transitional objects form a part of these attachment styles. They are typically considered a proxy for the comfort and reassurance children gain from their mothers as they learn to be more autonomous and independent from her.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that transitional objects are essential to a developing emotional support system children need, especially in their early years. These objects can become a strong reminder of love, security and safety when the mother is absent.

How to Introduce a Comforter: Step By Step

Introducing a sleep comforter is a relatively easy process. If you think your little one will benefit from this wonderful resource, you can begin the introduction between six and seven months.

Here’s a step-by-step overview of how to introduce a comforter:

1. Choose a safe comforter:

First, make sure you choose a sleep comforter that puts safety first. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is something you need to consider when choosing here, and you determine a comforter’s safety from its:
a. Size – Relatively small so it can’t become wrapped around your baby’s face, head or neck.
b. Material – A light cotton gauze or muslin cloth that is breathable and poses a low fire risk.
c. Design – Something soft, cuddly, and appealing for your child. Also, look for ones that can be securely attached to the cot or crib in some way so it doesn’t move around too much, creating more of a risk.

2. Sleep with the comforter for a few nights:

This will give the sleep comforter your smell, providing more a comfort for your baby. You could also consider adding a few drops of breast milk (or formula) to add a soothing, comforting scent.

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3. Create an association:

When you put your baby down for a nap or nighttime sleep, they can begin to form a positive association with the comforter and falling asleep. In time, even just seeing their comforter will create a calming sensation for your baby.

4. Be consistent:

The key to success here is consistency. That means using the comforter for every nap and sleep, so your baby can build a positive association and attachment.

If you find your baby isn’t overly fussed about the sleep comforter, don’t worry.

Not every baby will want to use a comforter, or some might not become keen to use one until they’re a little older – there are no rules here, and it’s all about working with your baby to find the best resources that support them and you on their sleep journey.

How Else Can a Sleep Comforter Help?

As mentioned, a comforter that your child enjoys feeling connected with and supports their feelings of safety can have many benefits outside of helping them sleep.

A few of these include:

• Helping them relax and feel settled more generally during daily activities such as car rides, being out for dinner, or out in public places.
• During medical appointments at the doctor or dentist.
• When attending childcare or daycare.
• When your child is feeling unwell or sick.
• During stays away from home on holiday.
• During stays away from their parents/main caregivers, such as sleeping over with relatives.
• When they’re experiencing new situations, environments or experiences that may make them feel anxious.

Which Baby Sleep Comforter Should You Choose?

I recommend making sure you search for a SIDS-safe comforter to start with – and there are a few different ones on the market that are reliable, safe, and popular with many babies.

Kippins Baby Comforters

Kippins logo

Kippins Baby Comforters are a wonderful choice. Available in a range of styles and animal characters, they are SIDS-safe and have four small ties on each corner that you can attach a dummy to. They’re made from 100% organic cotton and machine washable too! A top choice !

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Purebaby Comforters

purebaby logo

Another alternative is the Purebaby Muslin Comforter – a lovely baby sleep comforter with ties on the corners you could attach a dummy to, made from 100% organic cotton and eczema friendly.

Baby Sleep FAQs

1. Can I introduce a baby sleep comforter at five months?

It’s not recommended that you introduce a sleep comforter before six months at the earliest. This is for safety reasons, but studies also show that many babies before this age don’t explore or take reassurance from comforters before six-seven months.

2. Do comforters help babies sleep time?

They do! By providing them with a safe, consistent, and positive presence, a sleep comforter can be an excellent resource to aid your baby’s sleep and support them to resettle if they wake in the night.

3. Are baby comforters SIDS safe?

Nothing can be guaranteed to be 100% SIDS safe. As mentioned, when considering a comforter, pay attention to the size, material and overall design to ensure it is safe. Double-check with your local health nurse or GP if you have any concerns

4. Can my toddler sleep with a comforter?

The answer to whether or not a toddler can sleep with a comforter really depends on the age and maturity of the toddler. Generally, it is not recommended that toddlers under the age of two sleep with any kind of comforter. For this age group, extra bedding can be dangerous and increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

For toddlers over two, if you feel comfortable introducing a comforter and that it will provide them with comfort and reassurance during sleep, then there is no reason why they can’t use one.

5. Why do babies get attached to comforters?

Babies get attached to comforters for a variety of reasons. Comforters offer a sense of safety and comfort that babies rely on for their emotional wellbeing. A comforter is often the first item a baby forms an attachment to, as it can provide a sense of familiarity. Babies typically develop an affectionate relationship with their comforter due to its soft feel and inviting smell.

6. Are there any alternative comfort objects that can be used if a baby does not take to a sleep comforter?

Alternatives to a traditional sleep comforter could include items with a personal touch, like a soft blanket or a shirt worn by a parent, offering the baby a sense of security through familiar scents and textures. These items should always be suitable for the baby’s age and safe for sleep environments to avoid any risks.

7. How should parents clean and maintain the comforter to ensure it remains hygienic and safe for the baby?

Cleaning and maintaining a comforter involves regular laundering with gentle, baby-safe detergents and thorough inspections for signs of wear and tear. It’s important to follow the cleaning instructions provided by the manufacturer and to ensure the comforter is completely dry before giving it back to the baby to prevent mold and bacteria growth.

8. Can a comforter interfere with a baby’s ability to sleep through the night if they become too dependent on it?

While comforters can be beneficial for self-soothing, there’s a balance to be maintained to prevent over-dependency, which could disrupt sleep patterns. Encouraging the baby to fall asleep without the comforter occasionally can help develop independent sleeping skills, ensuring the baby learns to self-soothe without always needing the comforter.

Think a Comforter is Right for Your baby?

If you think a comforter could benefit your baby but feel uncertain about introducing these on your own, I can help.

I’m here to support you with any and all your baby’s sleep needs, even if it’s just a little bit of reassurance that you’re on the right track.

Book a completely free chat with me today, and let’s help your baby on their way to better sleep.

Catherine Completely Baby Sleep Consultant

Catherine Thompson
Baby Sleep Consultant & Owner of Completely Baby

Did you find this article helpful? I am a highly experienced baby sleep consultant with a unique educational and healthcare background who supports tired parents to help their babies find sleep more easily. If you want to chat about your situation please book in a free chat today by clicking the below button now! Alternatively you can text or call me on: +61 406 344 010.