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Choosing and using a "Lovey"

A lovey is a transitional object; something your child can turn to for comfort in the night when you are asleep. Forming a strong bond with a lovey can make getting through travel, big events like moving or starting daycare, and developmental regressions easier for your child. This blog offers suggestions for how to help your baby attach to a lovey for sleep. At Baby Sleep Science we encourage our children to attach to loveys and we thought you might enjoy reading our lovey stories. ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Meg's lovey story

My sister-in-law gave our oldest daughter a little lamb stuffed animal when she was about 9 months old. The bond was swift and immediate and to this day Lammy is still hidden under her big pillow in her big bed with all of her big-kid stuff. I secretly hope she takes Lammy off to college.

So strong and adorable was the attachment with Lammy, that my sister-in-law gave our other three daughters a similar stuffed animal in babyhood - all equally precious - but no other child has bonded as fiercely with theirs the way Ella did. That's not to say they don't have loveys too. Madeline has "baby dog" and a tattered toddler pillow with her name embroidered on the case. Charlotte has a taggie blankie she still lays down on her pillow each night and Hannah has "bunny" who is beautiful and soft and given to her by a very special person from my early days as a mother.

Erin's lovey story

Like many families with new babies, my little ones received dozens of lovey candidates when they were born. We chose a select few to participate in our bedtime routine right from the time each of our babies was born. Up until around six months, the loveys would sit with us during book and song time and each would give our babies a "kiss" once they were transferred to the crib before moving to the changing to "sleep" for the night. Graham had Zebra and Bear-Bear, and Teague had Bunny and Donkey. Graham fully attached to Bear-Bear during a trip just before the 18-month mark and the two became inseparable. Teague formed a strong attachment to Bunny (a washcloth-sized lovey) right around the six-month mark. After a quick call to our pediatrician, we got the ok to let Bunny sleep in Teague's crib. He would (and still does) rub the silk fabric from Bunny's ears and nose against his lips to soothe himself to sleep. It makes me very happy to see my children use their loveys to help them wind down and ease into sleep.

When and how should you introduce a lovey?

So how do you pick the perfect lovey for your child? We've provided some tips below, but sometimes the right one will pick you.

Step 1. Safety first! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until age 1 to introduce anything into your baby's crib. Prior to that time, you can make your lovey candidates part of your sleep routines, but don't place them in your baby's sleep space. Some research has suggested that babies will bond with a lovey as early as six months old. If you think your baby would benefit from having a lovey at that time, then ask your pediatrician if it is appropriate for your baby. Your pediatrician will be able to determine whether your baby's strength, motor skills, and cognitive development are sufficient to place a lovey in the crib.

Step 2. Select a lovey (or a few lovey candidates). When the timing is right, pick the perfect lovey! It should be small (think washcloth sized), and made of light material. It is very important to avoid offering any lovey that could pose a suffocation risk. Also, remember, babies and toddlers chew on everything, so avoid anything that could present a choking hazard. For example, any object with beady or button eyes, loose clothing, bows or ribbons, or pieces that could come unattached. Our favorites are the Aden and Anais "Issie" and the Angel Dear Blankies, but you may have another small stuffed animal or doll that is designed for sleep and approved by your pediatrician in which your child has already shown special interest.

Step 3. Foster the bond! You will need to work on forming the attachment! You might think these things just happen (and sometimes they do), but it's often helpful to encourage the bond. When you've picked out a lovey (or a few lovey options), begin to incorporate it into your bedtime and nap routines. For example, your baby could hold the lovey during bedtime feeding or you could always ensure the lovey is there read a book with you. Once your child has shown interest in one and the time is right, begin to take it with you everywhere! Not forever, just for a few weeks. Swing it on the swings at the park and send it for a ride down the slide. Sit it in the shopping cart next to your child while getting groceries or give it a little snack on the counter while your child has a meal. Tuck it it to the car seat or stroller while out for a walk or between you and your child while you nurse or cuddle with a bottle, and treat it like the friend you hope it will become for your child. Within 2-3 weeks you'll begin to use the lovey just at sleep times (nap, bedtime) and perhaps a few other special times too like on a long car trip, but by that point the attachment will have developed!

When you respond to your child in the night you can begin encouraging, "hug your blankie" or, "where's bunny?" to remind your child of its purpose and to strengthen the bond.

Using a lovey to transition away from parent-led sleep associations

In some cases, a parent will take the place of a lovey for a child. For example, your baby might want to hold your hand or stay latched all night long. While these comforts are also sleep associations and could be changed with sleep training, you may find that you can make a more gradual transition by keeping the lovey close when your little one looks for you at night. For example, if your baby wakes up and reaches for your hand, gently stroke your baby's hand with the lovey before offering your hand. Over time (think weeks, not days) your baby may be willing to accept the lovey as a comfort object, allowing you a longer, more consolidated sleep.

What if my baby doesn't attach to a lovey?

Some babies will not be interested in a lovey no matter what you do and that's ok. Similarly, some children will attach to objects that are not appropriate for sleep, like a wooden toy truck. Babies and toddlers don't need a lovey to sleep well, so don't stress if your child doesn't seem to want a lovey for sleep.

References and further reading:

Burnham, M.M., Goodlin-Jones, B.L., Gaylor, E.E. and Anders, T.F., 2002. Use of sleep aids during the first year of life. Pediatrics, 109(4), pp.594-601.

Lehman, E.B., Arnold, B.E. and Reeves, S.L., 1995. Attachments to blankets, teddy bears, and other nonsocial objects: A child's perspective. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 156(4), pp.443-459.

Fortuna, K., Baor, L., Israel, S., Abadi, A. and Knafo, A., 2014. Attachment to inanimate objects and early childcare: A twin study. Frontiers in psychology, 5, p.486.

Dyl, J. and Wapner, S., 1996. Age and gender differences in the nature, meaning, and function of cherished possessions for children and adolescents. Journal of experimental child psychology, 62(3), pp.340-377.

Lehman, E.B., Denham, S.A., Moser, M.H. and Reeves, S.L., 1992. Soft object and pacifier attachments in young children: The role of security of attachment to the mother. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33(7), pp.1205-1215.

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