Safe Sleep: When to Introduce Stuffed Animals, Blankets, and Other Comfort Items

Odds are, you had some sort of comfort item that accompanied you through your childhood and if you didn’t, you surely knew someone who did. Sometimes these items were seen in a store.  The shopper held it in their hands, felt how soft it was and imagined the sweet child coming into their life soothing themselves to sleep with the item. Other times, these items were dreamed up in a creative person’s mind. After hours of thought, effort and skill put to use, they handcrafted a gift that would be cherished for countless years. Usually, these items came in the form of a stuffed animal, blanket, lovey, or pillow. 

Attend any baby shower and you are guaranteed to see at least one, if not all, of these items, gifted. These gifts are always appreciated and make it easier to daydream about your precious baby sleeping peacefully. Something that might not cross your mind when you are holding that soft and cozy item is when and how to introduce it to your child’s sleeping routine in a safe manner. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation is that there is nothing in the crib other than a mattress and fitted sheet until the child is at least 12 months old. At 12 months old, a small blanket or comfort item may be offered. 

While some parents may decide not to introduce comfort items at this point in their child’s life, others may think their child would benefit from having something to self-soothe at bedtime with.  Every parent can make this choice based on their individual child’s needs and the best part of deciding to introduce one or not is that you can always change your mind. Sometimes children take to these items right away and other times, they seem completely indifferent to the addition. If your child seems indifferent, give them time. It can take a few weeks to attach to an item. If they do attach to an item I recommend keeping it in the crib for only sleep. This way you don’t have to worry about finding it at sleep times and it isn’t dirty from being dragged through the grocery store. 

When that first birthday rolls around and if you have decided to introduce a comfort item, this is how we would approach the transition. Initially introduce one item at a time. If you decide to later introduce other items, we recommend keeping things simple with limiting two comfort items in the crib at a time. This allows your child to get used to the items as well as form a particular bond to those specific items. Leading up to that first night of sleeping with a comfort item, take the time to introduce your child to the item in a calm setting. Set the mood for the relationship your child will have with the item by demonstrating snuggling it, rubbing it gently, and having it lay across your body. Encourage your little one to practice these calming motions with their new bedtime buddy.  This will hopefully get them acquainted with the item prior to that first sleeping encounter so that they aren’t too excited by it to actually fall asleep when it first enters the crib. When that item seems familiar to your child, move forward with bringing it into the crib at bedtime.  We recommend introducing it at bedtime rather than nap time because nap time is already short, no need to potentially make it any shorter with a child who is too excited to fall asleep.  As a parent, you are probably well versed in narrating what your child is doing and experiencing. Treat this the same by giving your child prompts such as “It’s bedtime, give blanky a snuggle” or “Let’s say goodnight to your stuffy and give him a good night hug and kiss” and then place them in the crib along with your little one. Be sure to tell your child they are doing a good job and encourage them to continue to love on their item if they need to by saying something like “That was so kind of you, I hope you and your lovey have sweet dreams together!” Don’t fret if the first few nights your child takes a little longer falling asleep. They are getting to know their new snuggle buddy and should eventually settle into their new bedtime routine. Once your child registers the item as a sleeping cue, then we would recommend also using it at nap times. 

Once your child forms that bond, remember to bring their comfort item with them while traveling away from home for a night. You may find that it makes bedtime a lot smoother because in a place of unfamiliarity, they will have a piece of home with them. 

You may have noticed that we haven’t mentioned pillows yet. While this is a comfort item, it is slightly different than the previously mentioned items. Safe sleeping is something we are passionate about and it is recommended that pillows not be used until children are around the age of 2 years old. By that age, they will be familiar with pillows. You have probably shared countless cuddle sessions in your bed reading books or having snuggles and your child has most likely placed their head on pillows during those moments. When your child is old enough to safely sleep with a pillow, introduce them to their new bed addition. Before this introduction we suggest asking them if they would like a pillow. If they would like one, have them practice laying in their crib with it and when that first night comes, anticipate your child taking a little extra time to fall asleep. As with the other items, they will eventually settle in and view the pillow as a sleeping cue. 

Sleep training can look different for different families. Remember to do what works best for your family in particular.  Know that we are here to help guide you towards doing so in the safest way possible and to help set you up for healthy long term sleeping habits! 

We are sleep consultants in Denver, Colorado, Kansas City and Fort Worth, Texas but everything we do is virtual. We help families all over the world!

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