HUG Teaching: What's a "Lovie"?

Baby cuddles up with her "Lovie"
The HUG Your Baby's Roadmap to Breastfeeding Success (now available in English, Korean, Japanese, Italian and Spanish) makes mention of “using a ‘lovie’” at nine months and at twelve months to help babies through the developmental challenges of those time periods. (See Roadmap at bottom of blog).

Use of a “lovie” may have cultural roots in countries like the USA, where maternity leave is minimal, availability of extended families is limited, and returning to work is necessary for most young mothers who have bills to pay. However, this practice is grounded in well-established child development theories and is offered as one possible “tool” for mothers wanting to extend breastfeeding duration. (Additional critical steps to achieving the international goals for exclusive breastfeeding are reviewed in other HUG Your Baby blogs.)

Child development literature is conclusive that babies must have attentive, responsive care from family during the first year of life so that the rapidly growing brain develops to its full potential, laying the foundation for lifelong, healthy emotional attachment and psychological growth. Learning to read a baby’s feeding cues, to notice early signs of over-stimulationto respond toinfant crying, and to appreciate a baby’s active and deep sleep cycles are all important tasks of sensitive parents who seek optimal parent-child attachment and want the best for their child.

As a securely attached baby approaches his first birthday, a parent will begin to see proof of her baby’s important mental development. A mother might notice her baby glance over to her or her partner when a neighbor picks up the baby—a behavior that displays an important cognitive achievement called “social referencing.” As months go by, “stranger anxiety” (also known as “separation anxiety”) replaces the more “polite” social referencing. This baby now clearly knows that “those people are my parents” but “you are not!”

By nine months the baby initiates games that reflect a new surge in her mental capacities. She squeals with delight when she drops a spoon and sees Mom retrieve it. She laughs uncontrollably when her brother plays “hide and seek,” or she giggles triumphantly when her father plays “peek-a-boo.” These games demonstrate the baby’s cognitive growth toward “object permanence”: the concept that “things that go away can come back.” This developing object permanence also contributes to increased stranger and separation anxiety.

The work of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton helps us understand that a surge in a baby’s cognitive, social or physical development typically causes temporary changes in a baby’s eating, sleeping or general behavior. (CLICK HERE to learn more about his theory of Touchpoints). Suddenly the world seems bigger to the young child, and thus, momentarily, a bit more frightening too.

The nine-month-old who had been sleeping through the night may now wake up more often and cry for her parents. Parents who do not know about, and anticipate, this normal change in development might believe the baby is hungry. If babies have been sleeping five to eight hours at night without eating, they do not now need more nighttime calories. Nevertheless, formula-feeding mothers might give a new nighttime bottle and breastfeeding mothers might resume more frequent nighttime breastfeeding.

Adding nighttime bottles and calories to the diet of a formula-fed baby can contribute to overfeeding and obesity. Though it is believed that breastfed babies[i] will not overeat, they may temporarily shift daytime calories to the nighttime if increased nighttime breastfeeding is offered.

Although giving more calories at night is not necessary, some mothers prefer to use breastfeeding to comfort her child. Certainly, breastfeeding is a source of both nourishment and nurture for every child. However, other breastfeeding mothers may be exhausted by the return of frequent nighttime awakenings, may worry that they now have insufficient milk, and may even consider weaning. 

This is when the “lovie” can be useful.

Parents can incorporate a small blanket or stuffed animal (i.e., a “lovie,” or "transitional object" in the professional jargon) into their cuddles with the baby throughout the day. Within a few days the baby will associate the closeness she feels with her parents with this sweet “lovie.” Then, when the baby needs her parents at night, the mother or father can comfort the child without feeding him by cuddling him up with his “lovie.” After a week or so of more frequent night time awakenings, most children become accustomed to the world of “object permanence” and resume their regular sleep patterns.

The next important Touchpoint, or developmental step, occurs when a baby begins learning to walk (at around one year of age). Babies this age again show disruption in their eating, sleeping or general behavior as they strive to become upright! The “lovie” can be used again to help comfort this child back to sleep without adding nighttime feeds. Of course, increased nighttime breastfeeding (as a comforting technique) may be the best option for some, but not all, mothers.

Parents who have chosen to add more nighttime feeds or breastfeeding might wonder how to get back to a regular, daytime eating pattern. Every few days a formula-feeding mother can cut in half the amount of formula in each bottle and incorporate the “lovie” into the nighttime feeding routine. A breastfeeding mother can cut in half the duration of each nighttime feed, as well as use the “lovie.” Usually, within a week or so, the baby will no longer require extra calories at night.  And after the developmental surges of separation anxiety and learning to walk have passed, the baby can continue to use the “lovie” to help him return to a good night’s sleep.
The HUG Your Baby Roadmap to Breastfeeding Success suggests,
"Incorporate 'Lovie'" into breastfeeding routines at nine and twelve months.





[i] Recent research suggests that babies fed pumped breast milk mostly by bottles may run the same risks of overeating and obesity that apply to formula-fed babies.