Often new moms are told to introduce an item that can serve as a positive sleep association or security item for their babies. Even as sleep consultants for Good Night Baby South Africa we advise this – have you ever considered why?
What is a sleep association?
Sleep associations are anything (even an action) that we use to help us get to sleep or to sleep better: a pillow, a blanket, even your partner is a sleep association – sometimes we aren’t even aware that we have sleep associations! Babies can use similar tools to help them sleep and link their sleep cycles.
The reality is that some sleep associations for adults can be sustainable, like a pillow (which is NOT suitable for babies) but some are non-sustainable, like a snoring partner (note: also not good for babies). This just means that some things we use can help us sleep and other things can have the opposite effect even though we have good intentions in using them.
When it comes to babies and children, some sleep associations are sustainable (like a taglet/security blanket/soft toy/lovey) because they are items babies can use independently without having someone else provide it to them. Non-sustainable sleep associations (like rocking/feeding to sleep) are those that require the assistance of a caregiver or parent like, for example, rocking or feeding a baby to sleep.
Should I let my child sleep with a dummy?
The reality is that a dummy falls somewhere in between – it’s a somewhat grey area. It can be both sustainable – for a newborn or if baby can use it independently but it can also be non-sustainable: if you have to go in more than once a night just to put the dummy back in.
Benefits of a sustainable sleep association like a security blanket or lovey
Science reveals that sustainable sleep associations or security items are beneficial for children, helping to give them security and self-regulate their emotions in a healthy way. Once again, I will compare this to adults: we all have things we do or use to cope with emotions; we exercise to manage stress, hang out with friends to unwind or call a friend to vent. Some coping mechanisms, of course, are better than others. Just like us, children need coping mechanisms as all their emotions are very new – they are still learning to process and self–regulate.
The lovey/security blanket/taglet serves as a built-in sense of security making children feel safe enough to take small risks, explore and grow. It’s like training wheels for your emotions, it provides a safety net which increases confidence and then are shed when no longer needed. By taking small risks, children will feel free and unafraid to transition to taking larger risks as they grow and change.
Things to keep in mind when choosing a lovey, security blanket or sustainable sleep association for your child
- Choose something that is safe
This is by far the most important factor to keep in mind when choosing a lovey. Even though you can already introduce a lovey at 3 months of age, it should NOT be left with your baby until 6 months of age and even then, you should choose something that is NOT large or bulky, or has loose pieces of fabric and it should be 100% safe to be left in your baby’s cot during sleepy time.
- Choose something you can buy plenty of
I can even recall my own daughter standing in front of the washing machine crying, waiting for her taglet to finish washing, and meltdowns in airports when we lost a beloved stuffed animal. You will need to wash your child’s lovey eventually and you will lose some, so make sure you have backups!
- Choose something that’s not too big
You don’t really want to walk around carrying your toddler’s giant pink blanket but the main reason to choose something small is the fact that it’s a lot safer. Big blankets can pose a suffocation risk.
- Choose something that is easy to wash
Even though stuffed animals are cute, they can be tricky to wash. Rather choose a taglet or a small blanket that you can just throw into the washing machine.
- Think long term
Most children only let go of their security items between 4 and 9 years of age. Make sure you do have boundaries with it and that it should stay at home and in their cot or bed. Even though it is also normal for children to switch security items, it can be helpful from the start to choose something that you would ‘like’ for a while.
Luckily these days there are not only a lot of safe options to choose from but you get such a great variety of beautiful and cute options.
Don’t worry too much if your baby does not form an association – some babies simply aren’t interested. Your baby should associate with their comfort item by 8 or 9 months of age, if they have not by then, it is likely they won’t.