For the Love of Lovies: Introducing an Attachment Object to Your Baby

This photo was sent to me by Rachel, our Arlington assistant manager. I shared it with my office-mate, who saved it to show it to her 5 year old son, who still uses two of those very same lovies (known as as Tiga!) as his attachment object. This led into a conversation where we both “over shared” as she put it: she had a special pillow (Bumpy) all through her childhood, until a traumatic incident at age 11 when her parents accidently-on-purpose left it behind on a trip to break her of the attachment. Not cool, folks.

I over-shared about my own Special Pillow that I sleep with every night. I can sleep without it and do, on occasion, I just prefer not to. My Special Pillow is very, very flat. In fact, it’s now actually a beach towel folded in thirds, inside several pillowcases, since the original pillow disintegrated after 30+ years of use. My current version is a fine substitute, and is most delicious with a crisp, cool cotton pillow case fresh from the laundry.

My daughter had two lovies as a young child: Baby and Lovey. Both were present during her earliest years. Baby, a soft stuffed doll, was a newborn gift from a work friend, and perched at the head of her bassinet from her first week. Now that she’s 15, I have no idea what happened to Lovey, a blue fleece elephant blanket with satin trim, but Baby, now threadbare, is still tucked in the shelf of her headboard, a place of honor watching over her as she sleeps. She takes Baby to overnight camp, but leaves her packed away, I’m told, because she doesn’t want kids playing with Baby as they might toss around other decorative stuffed animals in the bunk. She packs a few of those to leave on her pillow as decoys, I guess.

My son had Lambie, a wooly hand-puppet that he enjoyed cuddling in his crib as a toddler, but not any lasting need. No idea what happened to Lambie, gone to pasture, I guess.

When asked in New Moms Groups about when and how to introduce a lovey, and if they are safe to use in the crib, here are my comments and suggestions.

Choose your lovey 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.

Washable and replaceable: Any lovey should be washer-dryer safe. Some children will accept interchangeable lovies, like a cloth diaper. Others have an assortment of lovies enjoyed alone or in multiples. Consider getting a duplicate if you see that your child is becoming attached. My favorite Angel Dear lovies are cleverly packaged as a threesome: a pair and a spare for savvy parents terrified of the dreaded lost blankie. 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.

When can you introduce a lovey? Introduce a lovey early, even as young as 4 to 6 weeks, but this doesn’t mean putting your baby to sleep with it at night. Begin the lovey-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 lovey as well. Another name for a lovey is a “transitional object” as the child transitions feelings of security to the object itself. Once your baby seems to notice and enjoy his lovey, you can tuck it in his lap in the car seat, too.

When can a baby sleep with a lovey 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 lovey 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 lovey 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 lovey? Some parents discourage the use of a lovey, 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. As parents, we all have our biases and weak spots. I (personally for me!) didn’t want to have the kid who dragged the ratty blanket through the supermarket or preschool, or to have to drive back to the Cape at midnight after a weekend away to collect the left-behind blankie following three hours of inconsolable crying. So as my daughter moved through toddlerhood, I designed some rules such as “Baby doesn’t leave the house, she’ll wait right here for you to come back.”  Julia had other diversions for the car and outings, but I didn’t want to worry about a lost Baby at the zoo. If we went somewhere overnight, Baby was packed and traveled too, but she didn’t go along on daily errands and adventures.

I see the adoption of a lovey 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.

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 the lovey?

And, tell the truth: do you recall your own childhood attachment object: a special blanket, pillow or soft toy? And, do you still have it as a grown-up?

About Nancy Holtzman RN IBCLC CPN

Nancy is a Vice President at Isis Parenting and leads Clinical Content. As one of the original co-founders, she was instrumental in the creation of many prenatal and new parent programs at Isis Parenting, helping to develop the Isis vision in its earliest stages. Nancy has over 25 years of clinical nursing experience including ten years at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, and is a mother/baby nurse educator, a board certified lactation consultant and board certified pediatric nurse. She is the founder of the Great Beginnings New Mothers Group series which has now reached over 10,000 Boston-area mothers. She speaks and writes for a national audience about breastfeeding and infant development, and has served on the board of MLCA, the Massachusetts Lactation Consultants Association. She received a BS from Northeastern University College of Nursing, and a Certificate in Advanced Pediatric Assessment from Boston College. Nancy lives in Boston with her husband, two teens and a rescued Bichon. Find her tweeting about all about babies at @nancyholtzman

6 Responses to For the Love of Lovies: Introducing an Attachment Object to Your Baby
  1. Stacey
    March 15, 2010 | 8:12 pm

    My daughter has a lovie – affectionally called “Bear” (but is really a lamb – no way I can change her mind!). When we transitioned her off of her pacifier, she led the way by replacing it with “Bear.” Sadly, it is the one and only and I have no idea what we will do if we leave it somewhere. I’ve searched all over to find a just-in-case replacement – no luck.

    I do not have my original lovie anymore….”Boo boo kitty” – she’s gone to a better place (there was no possible sewing trick my mom could do to save her anymore!).

    I’m personally a big fan of a lovie – as the blog says, it really helps to self-soothe and relax and I see it with my daughter. Whenever she throws a toddler tantrum and we talk about her going to take a break, she always runs and finds her “Bear.” Sure enough, 2 minutes later, she’s all set and tantrum is over (Ok, it doesn’t work ALL the time, but most!)

    • Nikki
      October 18, 2012 | 2:53 pm

      Hi Stacey- I just wondered when you transitioned your daughter off her dummy onto a lovie and how?

  2. Jess
    March 15, 2010 | 8:15 pm

    Look! It’s Puma! (He’s a friend of Isis Arlington.) Stacy is the proudest cat mama around right now. That cat *does* love his lovie.

  3. Amanda Rush
    March 16, 2010 | 9:57 am

    I love this! I can very CLEARLY recall my childhood lovey, though it has long since disappeared… my lovey was a bone fide “baby blanket” – my big sister drew a picture of our family on fabric and my mom sewed the blanket. I loved that thing to pieces, literally. I’m glad I had the foresight to save and frame portions of the drawing before the blanket started ripping to shreds. I still remember losing it. It was my junior year in high school and I was on a weekend retreat. When I got home, the blankie was nowhere to be found. I still have the framed pieces, though.

    A close childhood friend of mine still has her “bunny head,” a more rustic version of the angel dear lovies we carry at Isis. She tells a very funny story about leaving bunny head behind in a hotel as an adolescent and her panicked attempts to track it down.

    I don’t have children but my dog has adopted a stuffed white bear as her lovey. Many a cute photo has been taken…

    Thanks for this sweet and thoughtful post!

  4. Bianca P.
    March 16, 2010 | 11:42 am

    We introduced a lovey when our son was 2 months old after having it suggested in Great Beginnings and we didn’t expect him to become as attached as he did. Fortunately we did use a commercial small blue dog blankie that is machine washable and dryable, and once we realized how important it became we bought several extras and put all of them in the rotation so that no one blankie would become more special than the others. Now our son is almost 2 years old and he still loves his “doggie” and must have it with him to go to sleep. We have one in the crib, one in the car, one in daycare, and an emergency one at a friend’s house. Currently we are working on instituting some doggie use rules – the car doggie stays in the car, the doggie does not go with us to the playground, nor does he get to sit at the table during meals, etc. So far so good. And yes, I do still have a special blankie from my own childhood and it lives under my pillow. I don’t need it to go to sleep or anything, but I do love it too much to put it away.

  5. Katherin H.
    March 21, 2010 | 3:48 pm

    Growing up my lovey was “Scratchy Blank,” a baby blanket I had since infancy and that after getting dirtied up a lot and several sewn-up run-ins with our dog, it had pills all over as well as stitched up scars that I liked to rub on my lip. Scratchy Blank came with me everywhere, and had different colored rocking horses on the back that soon faded to the white of the blanket’s base color. I loved that blanket dearly, and it disappeared at some point in my youth. I think loveys are great!

Leave a Reply