When asked in Early Parenting Groups about when and how to introduce a comfort object or blankie, and if they are safe to use in the crib, here are my comments and suggestions.
Choose your blankie carefully. Pick an object no bigger than a cloth diaper or washcloth, not a stuffed animal, and nothing with a music chip, rattle or bell which could disturb your baby’s sleep as she moves around at night. My personal favorite is the perfectly-sized ultra soft Angel Dear Blankie.
Blankie should be washable and replaceable. Any blankie should be washer-dryer safe. Some children will accept interchangeable blankies, like a cloth diaper. Others have an assortment of blankies enjoyed alone or in multiples. Consider getting a duplicate if you see that your child is becoming attached. If you go that route, be sure to keep all three blankies in equal rotation. One brand new lovey carefully put away on a shelf for emergencies will NOT masquerade as the worn, washed, much-beloved version that’s gone missing.
Introduce a blankie early. You can introduce a comfort object even as young as 4 – 6 weeks, but this doesn’t mean putting your baby to sleep with it at night. Begin the blankie-bonding process by tucking it between you and your baby during feeding, cuddling, rocking and snuggling times, and guide her hands to the fabric. As your baby feels secure, content and drowsy while she clutches, strokes or rubs the fabric, she’ll soon begin to associate the warm, secure nurtured feelings you are providing, with the blankie as well. Once your baby seems to notice and enjoy his blankie, you can tuck it in his lap in the car seat, too.
Use your judgment and consult your pediatrician about when to place blankie in baby’s crib. When is it safe to put blankie in the crib? That’s a hard question to answer, because it depends on the parents’ comfort level and your pediatrician’s perspective. Also, many infants sleep better swaddled, until 4, 5 or 6 months or until they start rolling over and need their arms available. If your baby is being swaddled, use the blankie during your bedtime routine, but don’t put it in the crib or bassinet – all your baby could do would be stare at it beseechingly if her arms are swaddled, anyway! Once your child is no longer swaddled and can roll side to side and push up on straight arms, perhaps around 6 months, some parents feel comfortable giving their baby a small, thin blankie for sleep. Ask your pediatrician for guidance. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that nothing be placed in the crib with the baby and don’t specify any timeframes to relax that mandate.
How much is too much blankie? Some parents discourage the use of a blankie, much like they discourage thumb sucking, perhaps thinking it is a babyish habit or a sign of weakness especially as their child leaves toddlerhood and remains attached to their object. I see the adoption of a blankie as a true positive: a healthy way for a child to regulate their own comfort and relaxation, one of many ways to finally find that illusive “self-soothing” ability parents of younger infants yearn for. Though many babies do become attached to an special object, others instead choose a thumb or pacifier, or will hum, rock their body or head, rub or hold their hair or ear, or kick or thump rhythmically to relax or self-soothe.
If your child is becoming blankie-obsessed, you can set some ground rules, such as “Blankie doesn’t leave the house – she’ll wait right here for you to come back”. If you go somewhere overnight, blankie can be packed and travel along, but you may not want her to go along on daily errands and adventures. An already hectic morning routine can be even more so when you are frantically searching for blankie.
Does your child use an attachment object? What is it, did you offer it, or was it self-selected? What do you or your child call it?
And… do tell: do you recall your own childhood attachment object? Was it a special blanket, pillow or soft toy? Do you still have it as a grown-up?