People often ask me what the difference is between a baby “comforter” and an “aid”. I recommend using a sleep comforter and I spend lots of time telling parents that sleeping aids are a definite no-no. In reality, they are both aids in essence but the way I see it, there are two types of aids. There are sleeping aids that may become a problem – such as rocking, patting, feeding or giving your baby a dummy to suck on while going to sleep. Then you have helpful aids that do not require parental participation.
In my opinion aids that require your attention are a problem. However, something which provides comfort, and which the baby can easily find himself when he wakes in the middle of the night or between sleep cycles can be a parent’s best friend.
Every baby finds an aid of some sort to comfort himself with just before he goes to sleep. Unless the parents have introduced the aid themselves, they are usually unaware of just what it is that is comforting their baby at sleep time (with the exception of thumb sucking).
An unintroduced baby comforter could be holding, rubbing or playing peek-a-boo with the sheets or blankets but sometimes it can be a little more complicated. I have seen babies play with the bars on their cots just before falling asleep as their comforter and this can cause a problem when you ask one of these babies to fall asleep in a travel cot or anywhere away from their beloved cot bars. If they don’t have the bars to play with, they can’t fall asleep. Another common comforter is playing with labels or tags on bedding or clothing.
In my “traveling with a baby” article, I mentioned Luke as a case study. As I seem to be coming across more and more babies like Luke, I thought I would use this article to share with you his story in more detail.
Luke’s parents contacted me when he was 10 months old. Up until this stage, he had always been a good sleeper. His parents had started Luke on my routines when he was five weeks old. At 10 weeks, he had started to sleep all night and had done so nearly every night since. But now, suddenly, at 10 months he was finding it hard to go to sleep and once asleep he was waking up crying several times throughout the night. I consulted with Luke’s parents several times over the phone but we couldn’t work out what the problem was. I decided a house visit was the only option. After putting Luke to bed I decided to sneak into his room on all fours and observe him in an effort to work out what the problem was.
At first, things looked OK. They had put Luke to bed and he was lying down looking ready for sleep. I watched him and saw a funny movement in his wrist. He was pulling his fingers up as though he was trying to scratch his wrist before he became frustrated and started to cry. It was not the cry you hear when a baby is fighting sleep. He seemed genuinely upset and had tears so I picked him up and went to talk to his parents. After a few minutes, we realised he was looking for the sleeves of his pyjamas but he couldn’t find them anywhere as he was now in short-sleeves for summer. It became obvious to us all what Luke’s problem had been. We had spent hours on the phone trying to work out what was different about Luke’s environment and I felt very silly that we had not considered the summer pyjamas to be an issue. We put Luke back in long sleeves and he started sleeping through the night again.
This was a clear case of a baby who was comforting himself to sleep using an aid that the parents were totally unaware of. It is also a good example of why it is better for parents to choose their baby’s comforter for them so you know what it is. It can be just about anything so long as it is safe with him in his cot.
Tips about baby comforters
There are a few things you really need to be aware of when introducing comforters to your baby.
- Some babies like to sleep with their comforters over their faces. This can be a sign of coldness (as is moving around the cot). The Safe Bedding Guide has tips on how to tell if your baby is too cold or hot cold
- Make sure your baby cannot get the comforter tangled around his neck. A good comforter size is about 38cm by 38cm
- Soft toys are not the same as comforters
- When choosing a comforter, please avoid ones with bean fillings or long fur that your baby might pull out and accidentally inhale. Pull at the fur to see how easily it comes away. Choose comforters from the Save Our Sleep store as I have ensured all comforters fit the safe criteria
- We also recommend that you have more than one comforter, and that they are machine washable. This enables you to rotate and wash them periodically, as well as ensuring you have a back-up comforter in the event that you misplace or lose one.
Tricks of the trade
There are also a few tricks to introducing a comforter to your baby. I believe mum should put it down her top for a few hours to allow her smell to infiltrate it before putting the comforter in the cot near baby’s face so he can turn and snuggle into it. It is amazing to watch a baby take solace from their comforter.
It is my experience that babies with comforters are much happier and more secure as they progress through certain milestones in their lives. Research has shown that at about nine months babies often become very clingy to mum as they realise they are individuals and not a part of their mothers. A comforter seems to help with this transition.
Meanwhile, in Germany there has been some research published recently which states that slightly older kids feel much more secure if they have a comforter with them for the first few visits at kinder or day-care. I also support this notion but feel you should quickly wean your child off taking it once they are settled. I also firmly recommend that a comforter is only given to a baby at sleep times or on occasions when some additional comfort is required such as a visit to hospital or the doctor. In my opinion, it is not good for children or babies to be carrying their comforter around all day.
One other issue I often get called about is when suddenly, at about 10 months, the baby comforter starts getting thrown out of the cot. The first time it happens it could be an accident, so walk in without making eye contact or talking and very calmly return it to the cot. If this becomes a ritual, the baby is probably game-playing. I suggest parents in these situations explain to their baby that if they throw the comforter out it will stay there and they won’t have it to sleep with. If this continues, don’t go in straight away but instead wait until you feel your baby has realised their comforter might not be coming back. Then walk in without eye contact or talking and give it back. Each time wait considerably longer and the game will soon stop.
When using comforters in the cot as suggested in some articles, it is important to ensure they are safe for your baby. Some comforters have bean fillings which could block the air from getting into a baby’s mouth or nose if the baby was to sit it on top of his face. You also need to take care with soft fur covered comforters because the fur could be breathed in by a baby and cause the baby to cough a lot which may not be dangerous but could cause the baby a lot of unnecessary discomfort. To ensure the fur is safe, just pull at it and see if any comes away. I recommend comforters only be given to babies under 6 months who are swaddled, if your baby is under 6 months and not swaddled then I recommend you swaddle your baby unless your baby can roll when swaddled.
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I wish you every success.