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?