Comforters are transitional objects or actions that help your baby get to sleep, and to stay asleep. Some comforters require parental intervention, so are not ideal. Patting, pushing and rocking are comforter actions that require the parent or carer to be present to undertake the comforting.
Comforter objects are items such as a blanket, cuddly toy, dummy, a t-shirt or item of clothing belonging to Mummy or Daddy (as it has their very familiar smell on it). Comforter objects can be a wonderful way to help your baby self-sooth and self-settle, but they can also be the bain of parents’ life, getting up and down throughout the night to replace their baby’s dummy or give them their toy/blanket/item of clothing to cuddle.
Comforters can be a great support as long as your baby can use it independently of you. Comforters can also act as a coping tool in times of stress for your baby. If you are thinking about introducing a comforter, it is worthwhile choosing something that can be easily replaced. It should not have parts that could pose a choking risk, such as plastic eyes or nose. Choosing something that is machine-washable is also a good idea – they can get very grotty being carried around, drooled over during sleep time, and cuddled closely in times of illness.
If your baby is very young, you could start by putting the comforter nearby so your baby can see and smell it in their cot, but cannot reach it to become entangled or suffocated by it when they are going to sleep. As they get older and the SIDs risk is reduced, you can give it to them to cuddle. Always consider the SIDs safe sleeping guidelines when offering your baby a comforter. You can read more about safe sleeping here.
Some transitional objects present more of a SIDS risk than others, for example a large fluffy toy or a blankie can fall across baby’s face and reduce air flow, where as fluff free object such as a small soft cotton cloth tied in knots will fall away from baby’s face easily and will not shed fibres that can be inhaled.
Dummies, are a form of comfort, but offer oral stimulation through which babies can regulate themselves significantly. If you are considering offering your baby a dummy, there are a few things to think about. Firstly, most breast-fed babies don’t need a dummy because their sucking reflex is satisfied from the vigorous sucking required to extract milk from the breast, however some babies feed very efficiently yet may still look for sucking time. If this is the case then it is recommended. It is best offered once breast-feeding is well and truly established and going well.
It is important to consider dental health if you are going to introduce a dummy. For normal development of teeth and gums, ideally a baby should stop sucking on a dummy at around two years of age. However, if your child refuses to give up their dummy at this age, the damage will not be significant until the toddler is older and the jaw is less flexible, so it is not a cause for worry even at the age of two.
If you find that your baby wants to suck on the dummy frequently, consider offering it less often. Dummies are useful when trying to sooth your baby, but giving it to them when they are calm will encourage reliance.
If you find your child struggles to give up their dummy, it is worth remembering that it is not a life-long habit, and they will give it up eventually. Start by limiting the use of the dummy to certain times (such as sleep time only), then set a date to give the dummy to the ‘dummy fairies’ or what ever other strategy works for your family.
Expect some discomfort when first giving up the dummy, but this will pass as they get used to going to sleep without it. If you decide to wean off the dummy when you baby is around two to three years, you can discuss this with your toddler and allow them to choose a replacement cuddle toy. Involving them in the replacement object can assist them in the transition to being without their dummy.