How Transitional Objects Help Babies

Updated 
February 1, 2023
 | 
7
 minutes read
Written by
Mandy Treeby
Chief Baby Sleep Consultant
Medically reviewed by
Elissa Gross, DO
Board Certified Pediatrician & Lactation Consultant

Is there anything more precious than a baby hugging their favorite teddy or blankie? More than cute, though, these beloved objects serve an important purpose for your baby: they’re transitional objects that create a sense of security and order for them.

In this article I’ll delve into what transitional objects are, how to introduce your baby to a transitional object, and the ways transitional objects can help with separation anxiety in babies.

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What is a Baby Transitional Object?

Often also referred to as a security object or lovey, a baby transitional object is any object your baby bonds with. Most commonly, a transitional object is a teddy bear, a pacifier, or a soft blanket, though sometimes it’s more unique: one baby I know loved a piece of Tupperware!

Whatever shape this object may take, baby transitional objects play an important role in your baby’s development.

What is the Purpose of a Transitional Object?

Transitional objects do two things:

  1. They provide a sense of security.
  2. They help your baby become independent.

Yes, it may seem counterintuitive – your baby latches onto an object to become more independent, but note a transitional object is not you. It’s an independent object – often imbued with personality by your baby – that lets your baby feel comfortable as they begin to navigate the world on their own.

(For more on your baby’s developmental milestones around this time, read our guides on 8-month and 9-month milestones.)

When Do Babies Adopt Loveys?

Most often babies latch onto or become more attached to their transitional object around 9 months. This is when they begin to develop an independent sense of self and understand object permanence.

How To Introduce Your Baby to A Lovey

Many babies adopt a lovey on their own – they instinctually bond with an object. If your baby does not adopt a lovey on their own, they’re very clingy, or you want them to have one to help with separation anxiety, you can introduce a lovey by:

  1. Holding the lovey between you and your baby – this will help them associate the object with you, their ultimate source of love and comfort.
  2. Get your scent on it by putting it under your shirt or sleeping with the lovey. Babies often have very sensitive little noses. If a lovey smells like you, they’ll imprint on it faster.

Do All Babies Need a Transitional Object?

No, babies do not always “need” a transitional object, but research shows that 60% of babies organically adopt one by the time they’re 8 or 9 months – around when separation anxiety begins to appear.

Many babies begin to experience separation anxiety around 8 months. While you, their caretaker, may want to prevent separation anxiety in your baby – it does sound pretty scary, right?! – separation anxiety in babies is a really great thing.

Why is Separation Anxiety a Positive Sign in Babies?

Separation anxiety in babies is positive because it shows they’re learning object permanence: the realization that objects and people continue to exist even when out of sight.

Prior to this point, you would leave the room and your baby would get distracted by whatever else they saw. Around 8 months, though, your baby understands that you have left the room and are somewhere else. This can create a bit of anxiety – but this is necessary for their development.

That’s precisely why a lovely may emerge around this point: this object helps your baby feel secure and in control as they develop an independent sense of self.

If you suspect your baby’s sleep is being impacted by Separation Anxiety take this free sleep assessment and get a personalized sleep plan to get your baby’s sleep back on track.

Do Transitional Objects Help with Separation Anxiety?

While separation anxiety in babies is natural and a positive development, a lovey can help ease your baby’s anxiety by making them feel secure.

Also, transitional objects give your baby a sense of control: they may be little, but even babies understand they don’t always have power to control their activities or you. A transitional object, however, never leaves their side. It’s there for them all the time – well, almost all the time…

Can Babies Sleep with Stuffed Animals or Transitional Objects?

No. Your baby cannot sleep with stuffed animals until they’re over 1-year old. This is because anything soft, whether it’s a teddy bear, a blanket, or a pillow, is considered a safety hazard in the crib.

Basic Baby Sleep Safety Rules:

While we’re on the subject of safe sleep for babies, it’s always worth revisiting the ABCs of Baby Sleep Safety :

A: Alone – Your baby should sleep alone in their crib or bassinet. While we endorse room sharing, bed sharing is unsafe.

B: Back – Your baby should be put to bed on their back until they can roll over both ways, front to back and back to front.

C: Clear Crib – To keep your baby safe, use a firm mattress, and keep baby’s crib free of blankets, pillows, and, yes, transitional objects

Some Tips on Transitional Objects:

Keep a Spare: If you find your baby loves a certain teddy bear, do yourself a favor and get another if possible. This will help both if you lose the original and as a substitute when you need to wash the original.

Keep ‘Em Clean: On that note, teddy bears, blankies and other loveys will get dirty. Like, really dirty. Keep them from stinking, or spreading germs, by washing your baby’s lovey regularly.

Beware of Detachable Eyes: Some toys, especially stuffed animals, may have small, plastic eyes that can pose a choking hazard. Therefore, it’s best to avoid or try to dissuade loveys with these features. Instead try a bear that has stitched eyes. Or, if your baby loves one with plastic eyes, consider removing those eyes. Yes, this may sound gruesome, but safety first!

When Do I Get Rid of My Baby’s Teddy Bear?

Sometimes babies will naturally transition away from their lovey – they’re slowly rely on it less or maybe forget all about it. This often happens between 2-5 years old. If your baby is very attached and you think it’s time to move on, there are a few ways to help wean your baby from their lovey or transitional object.

How To Wean Your Baby from a Lovey:

While lovey’s can be great, there comes a time when you will need to wean your baby from their lovey.

Some ways to do this:

Set Lovey Limits: If your baby is becoming too attached or simply cannot do anything without their lovey, it may be time to set limits.

For example, “You can only cuddle your lovey while watching tv,” or “one-hour of lovey time before bed.” You understand your baby best, so you’ll instinctually know the best method here.

Make It a Milestone: As your baby grows, they’ll become more aware that they’re becoming a “big kid.” One of the first steps in this journey is often giving up a lovey. If you frame the conversation as a rite of passage, your baby may be more amendable to putting their lovey on the shelf.

Tip: Telling your baby that their lovey is going to another, needier kid may help ease the blow. You can then donate it, if it’s in good condition, or tuck it out of sight as a keepsake for yourself or, later, your baby.

“Lose It:” Sometimes babies do this on their own – they leave behind their lovey somewhere and never see it again. This can and almost certainly will lead to some tears, but in time your baby will get over it.

If you baby is having a terrible time letting go of their lovey, you could manufacture an “accidental loss”. Again, you may want to actually keep the lovey somewhere safe for keepsake, but sometimes “ripping off the band aid” is the best route if your baby is too attached to a lovey.

If your baby’s transitional object is interfering with their sleep, or if you think a transitional object or lovey could help ease your baby’s anxiety at bedtime, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ for personalized guidance and step by step support for everything sleep.

The Smart Sleep Coach can support you through the many ups and downs and developmental milestones your baby will experience, from sleep regressions to teething to, yes, outgrowing their transitional object!

Sources:

“The importance of the transitional object for the psychological development of the child,” KinderPsychology.
“Transitional objects as objectifiers of the self in toddlers and adolescents,” Bull Menninger Clinic.
“Transitional Objects: Security Blankets & Beyond,” American Academy of Pediatrics .

How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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FAQs:

A great way to introduce your baby to a transitional object is by holding the object between you and your baby during cuddle time. This both helps your baby associate the object with security, but gets your scent on it, as well, which can really help babies feel attached to the lovey.

Not all babies need a transitional object, but 60% of babies will instinctually adopt one. Rest assured this is an important and natural part of their development and independence.

Pacifiers can be transitional objects, yes. For more information on how to safely introduce pacifiers to your baby, read our article on How and When to Introduce Pacifiers .

Transitional objects play an important and positive role in your baby’s development: they provide a sense of security and provide an emotional bridge between complete dependence and their developing sense of self!

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