Does our baby need a “lovey”?

Does our baby need a “lovey”?  We have been trying to get our six-month-old baby to take a blanket or stuffed animal.  Everyone says she’ll be happier and sleep better if she has a “security object”.  So far, she doesn’t seem interested.  Does it make a difference?  If it does, what can we do? Will she be less secure if she doesn’t have one?

It’s true that some babies latch on to a soft blanket or teddy bear. They take great comfort from a “lovey” when they are falling asleep or feeling a bit of stress.  The term "security object" is used because we think that a baby connects warm, cozy feelings of babyhood to a warm, cozy object that she can hold onto when her parent isn’t there with her.  As a baby takes on the challenges of the big world the lovey becomes a symbol of home and safety. Many children will enjoy having the lovey with them for years, often until it bedraggled beyond recognition by anyone but its owner.

Babies and toddlers seem to choose a lovey that reminds them of baby like sensations and memories.  They may choose something they like to suck, chew, stroke or sniff, holding the lovey close to their faces, sometimes while sucking on a thumb or finger. Blankets, stuffed animals or even sweaters can become the object of a child's affections and strong attachments.

It's natural, of course, to hope that a teddy bear will help your infant to sleep longer or better. A six-month-old baby doesn’t need to transfer her feeling for her parents to a security object—she still has you. And that may be all she needs!  I don't think you'll be able to convince your baby to choose a lovey if she's not interested, and not all babies are.  What babies usually do make their own choices, associating the feelings of nursing or cuddling with an object that is nearby. That’s why a baby may reject a sweet little teddy bear and cling to mom's t-shirt or a burp cloth!  (Sometimes a pacifier or bottle accidentally becomes a security object and becomes important to a child for more than sucking or feeding needs.  If your baby seems attached to these objects now, a blanket or bear might be a good substitute). 

One way to encourage a security object the is to place a soft, thin but sturdy blanket over your shoulder during cozy cuddling times and feeding times.  After a while your baby will to associate the feel and scent of the blanket with a secure and pleasant time.  Don't wash the blanket, since the comfort comes in part from its scent. Whenever you put your baby in her sleeping place, set the blanket next to her. She might-or might not-gradually come to love it. If your baby gets attached to the blanket, you can then try laundering it in plain water with a mild unscented soap. Since the lovey is treasured for its appearance, its feel, and its odor,  parents usually find that they have to work out a compromise between hygiene and familiarity.

Once a baby becomes attached to a security object it can be tempting to give it to her every time you see her feeling sad or distressed.  As a baby gets older, rather than offering, wait for her to ask you for it. Sometimes a baby needs to cry and get her comfort from you rather than a blanket.  Most children will learn to cope with frustration and calm themselves with a little bit of help from a parent.  A security object can be a helpful addition to the way a child learns to cope with feelings, but it doesn't have to be the only way.

There is really no difference between a baby who has a lovey or does not when it comes to falling asleep.  What a lovey can provide is an extra source of comfort that a baby gets used to as part of his falling asleep routine.  But babies can take the same kind of comfort from the feeling of the the sheets in their crib, the smell of their pajamas, or the good feeling sucking on their thumbs.  It’s up to them, not us.

Sweet dreams!

Meg Zweiback