One of the most beautiful experiences of parenthood is rocking a baby to sleep as they nurse. A pre-bedtime feed may have helped your infant fall asleep in the past, but as they get older, they may need it more and more to fall asleep on their own. This is known as the “feed-to-sleep” or “nursing-to-sleep” relationship and can cause sleep disruptions for both the parent and the child.
Many households may benefit from linking eating and sleeping. Others, however, may elect to make some adjustments in order to help their kid learn to self-soothe and get more rest. We’ve laid down a plan below if you want to learn how to interrupt your feeding and sleeping patterns.
Feeding a Newborn to Sleep
Newborns typically go to sleep while being fed or shortly afterward because their bellies are full with warm milk. Breastmilk expressed in the evening has been shown in studies to contain higher quantities of naturally occurring compounds associated with sleep than milk expressed throughout the day. This lends biological credence to the belief that drinking milk can help you relax.
According to Sujay Kansagra, MD, director of the Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program at Duke University Medical Center, “many early newborns find breastfeeding quite relaxing and a fantastic time to bond with mom.”
Babies in the newborn stage spend just about an hour awake per day, and two-thirds of that time is often devoted to nursing. According to Susie Menkes, PhD, CPSC, CCBS, certified pediatric sleep specialist at Healthy Little Sleepers, nursing an infant to sleep is common practice for the first few months of life.
What Is a Feed-to-Sleep Association?
Babies of all ages have the potential to nod off when nursing. Dr. Menkes believes this is par for the course. However, if you see that your baby will only fall asleep after being fed, they may have formed a feed-to-sleep link. This is a phrase used to indicate how essential breast feeding is to a baby’s bedtime routine.
Dr. Kansagra notes that this is because the infant has learned that nursing is necessary for falling asleep and so needs to be nursed every time he or she wakes up throughout the night. Sleep associations, he says, first appear once a newborn reaches the 4- to 6-month mark, when they have a significant developmental leap.
However, the only time a feed-to-sleep linkage becomes problematic is when a child wakes several times during the night and cannot put themselves back to sleep without assistance. “In such a case, the baby is usually not hungry but is using breastfeeding as a means of self-soothing and going to sleep,” “And so on, says Dr. Kansagra. Both the baby and the mother may have frequent awakenings and restlessness as a result.
A baby is more likely to be shocked and confused when they wake up in their crib after falling asleep on a parent. Dr. Menkes said, “They will cry to get that thing that assisted them to sleep in the first place.”
When a newborn wakes them up throughout the night with cries or noises, parents often rush to the rescue, only to discover that their infant may not actually be hungry. It’s a vicious cycle: “[The baby] has to be fed four or six times a night just to get back to sleep, so no one gets any actual sleep.” “Doctor Menkes elaborates.
Cons of Nursing Baby to Sleep
It’s not a good idea to make your little one’s sleep routine dependent on food, as this might cause dependency and other issues.
It Could Lead to a Suck-to-Sleep Association
You probably have at least the rudiments of a nightly ritual that you follow, such as cleaning your teeth, getting into your pajamas, and reading a few minutes before turning in. There is nothing special about your babe. Her young body will learn from her constant bedtime ritual that it is time to sleep. There’s no shame in relying on nursing’s natural sedative properties to help your baby wind down for the night. The issue arises when your infant has to be suckled to sleep and refuses to go to sleep in any other way. When the time comes to wean, or if your baby awakens frequently during the night and wants to breastfeed to settle back to sleep, this dependence could make things more difficult.
It Could Make it Harder for Others to Feed the Baby
To a parent still in the early days with a newborn, the idea of needing time away from their precious child may seem inconceivable. Date nights and short vacations may not seem necessary now, but trust us when we tell you’ll need them soon. And if your little man will only fall asleep while clinging to you, you have a serious problem on your hands. This can make it difficult to involve your partner, so it’s smart to start the ritual of sharing a bottle of something special right away.
It Could Increase Your Emotional Toll
Being a parent is exhausting, especially when no one else will help (especially at 3 AM when your baby wakes for the 5th time that night). When a mother is already struggling with hormonal fluctuations and lack of sleep, adding the additional stress of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. Since postpartum depression is on the rise, it’s crucial that new mothers find ways to lessen their stress levels. Sharing the feeding duties can help Mom and baby in many ways.
When to Stop Nursing Baby to Sleep
During the first few weeks, it’s perfectly normal for your baby to fall asleep while nursing. As time goes on, there will likely be warning indications that indicate a growing issue.
If Your Baby Uses Your Breast as a Pacifier
Feel like a human pacifier sometimes? In some cases, you actually are! Several studies have shown that breastfeeding can help ease newborn distress. It’s acceptable to nurse a sick or teething child for comfort on occasion. However, you should unlatch if your baby frequently engages in comfort sucks, which involve only lip contact and no swallowing.
The need to suckle is a normal part of development for some infants. In that scenario, a real pacifier might be a good option to try.
If Your Baby Won’t Sleep or Nap Without Nursing
All of us have strange rituals before bed. Perhaps you’re the type to drift off with the window cracked or the TV on. Babies, like adults, can form sleep routines, but these routines will serve the baby best if they facilitate rather than disrupt sleep. The convenience of nursing when putting your baby to sleep is undeniable, but what about when he wakes up and no longer needs his human pacifier? To get back to sleep, he’ll want to nurse. And once more. And once more. To put it simply, you understand.
If Your Baby Wants to Nurse All Night
When infants are still learning how to function, they often spend long periods of time nursing. When you factor in rapid development and day/night confusion, it’s easy to see why new parents often seem like they’ve stepped out of a horror movie. Infants have shorter and lighter sleep cycles than adults, thus they wake up several times during the night. If your baby has learned to rely on nursing to get to sleep, she may wake up several times a night for feedings.
How to Stop Nursing Baby to Sleep
Do not fret if your infant has to be nursed to sleep. Let’s discuss some of the ways you may ease your baby into sleep routines.
Start with Naps
Since parents are less sleep deprived and more likely to maintain a new routine during naptime, this is often the best time to institute it. If you can establish a new pattern during nap time, it should be much simpler to do the same before night. Creating a regular habit is an important first step. This need not be so regimented that you always feed your baby at noon and put her down for a nap at 1 PM. If your baby is sleepy or hungry, act quickly on his indications. But it also helps to have a routine in place for your day.The “Sleep, Eat, Play” philosophy is favored by many. To put it another way, this helps break the link between eating and sleeping. Instead, you can put together a naptime routine that signals to your baby that it’s time to sleep by singing lullabies, reading bedtime stories, and turning down the lights.
Find Other Ways to Soothe the Baby
As a mother, it can be heartbreaking to hear your newborn baby cry. When our infant starts to cry, our natural inclination is to put her or him to the breast because we know this will soothe them. Incredibly, soothing a fussy infant requires more than just a sucker. The American Academy of Pediatrics has released studies on the effective use of the 5’S method for relaxing babies, which was popularized by baby sleep specialist Harvey Karp. Sucking, swaddling, tummy or side (unless while sleeping), shushing, and swinging are all part of the five S’s.These methods have been shown to reduce anxiety in infants following vaccination; giving them a try at home is encouraged. Add them to a restful bedtime regimen and a quiet, comfortable space. Blackout drapes, a humidifier, some white noise, and a comfortable temperature are all things to bear in mind while designing a nursery.
Let Your Partner Put Baby to Bed Sometimes
For nine months, mothers are responsible for the well-being of their infants, so it’s only natural that they develop a deep bond and find it difficult to divide feeding and bedtime duties. It will serve you well in the long run if you start your child early on the experience of being put down by others. A couple’s relationship can strengthen during this time. If breastfeeding before bed is a regular occurrence, feel free to continue doing so until baby is sleepy yet awake. You should let your partner or another family member finish reading a lullaby and putting the baby to sleep in the crib. Even if she cries and resists at first, she will likely adjust and start sleeping better (one can hope).You can’t do it all, and trying to will only leave you exhausted and vulnerable to Postpartum Depression. You and your partner should feel free to take turns putting your infant to sleep.
Don’t Stimulate Baby at Bedtime or Naptime
Do you ever find yourself very awake after staying up late to see something exciting? Going out to a noisy restaurant or chatting to some new people can be just as stimulating for your baby as it was for myself when I was a baby. Although it’s not always practical, it’s best to avoid activities like going out or having guests over in the hour leading up to bedtime. For the time being, this may necessitate some adjustments, such as more frequent early morning appointments and the occasional order of takeout.Play is a great way to get the juices flowing! Yes, even a simple game of peek-a-boo with Daddy can be so exciting that your child has difficulties falling asleep. Keep fun away from nap and bedtime, and instead have a wind-down period with low lights, relaxing music or a sound machine, a warm bath, and a peaceful infant massage.
Stop Nursing Before Baby Falls Asleep Completely
Babies have a difficult time falling back to sleep after being awakened several times during the night if the environment has changed. If your baby nods off while nursing, she may want to do so again before going to sleep. Teaching her to fall asleep without your help will help her learn to calm herself in times of distress, such as when she is hungry or hurting. If your baby is currently latched onto your nipple, you should unlatch him or her before he or she goes to sleep. Once his sucks have diminished to flutters and he is no longer swallowing, you can try breaking the latch by inserting a finger and pulling gently. If he starts sobbing or re-latching, try one of the other methods we discussed.It may take some time for your infant to adjust to going without nursing before bed.
Wean the Baby Gradually
To sleep through the night without nursing your infant will not happen overnight. In the beginning, you may have to go through several nights (or even weeks) of un-latching, soothing, re-latching, un-latching, and soothing again. The link between sucking and falling asleep is very strong, but eliminating it will be well worth the effort. This will not only aid in the development of self-soothing skills, but it will also reduce the number of unrelated nightly awakenings (yeah, sleep!).
Establishing Good Sleep Habits
Of course, not associating feeding with sleep in the first place is the simplest method. Dr. Kansagra explains that sleep associations can form even in newborns. Even with very young children, the goal is to eventually have them be able to fall asleep without assistance when they are tired. This is a great way to educate kids to calm themselves down when they’re upset.
Dr. Kansagra suggests starting the night off on the right foot by instituting a 20- to 30-minute feeding regimen. After this, you can unwind with a bath or other relaxing activity before retiring to bed. If the baby is fed too late at night, they are likely to be exhausted and will likely fall asleep while being fed.
The wonderful pre-sleep routine, according to Dr. Menkes, begins with a feed, ideally in a separate room from the one in which the child will sleep. Lullabies and bedtime stories are two options for winding down before sleep. She comes to the conclusion that “rearranging the deck chairs” can make a huge difference.
Will the baby stop nursing to sleep on their own?
Most babies, from a developmental standpoint, do learn to cease needing to be nursed to sleep. However, this may take a considerable amount of time. Children weren’t typically weaned until they were three or four years old in the past. Even while some families still engage in extended breastfeeding, the vast majority report that their children still latch on for the night but eventually unlatch and go to sleep without further nursing. In addition, many of these households use the sleep-saving habit of co-bedding.It’s fine to continue nursing if your child isn’t getting too sleepy at the breast. You can follow the progressive strategy we discussed earlier if and when you decide to help your infant wean from falling asleep sucking. Never forget that your path as a parent is unique and does not have to resemble anybody else’s.
Can I still feed my baby before bed?
Absolutely! In fact, a practice called Chrononutrition suggests there may be advantages. The composition of breastmilk has been found to shift throughout the day, according to recent studies. There are more levels of the stimulating hormone cortisol in morning milk, and of the sleep-inducing chemicals melatonin and tryptophan in evening milk. The joyful and mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in part from the amino acid tryptophan. The amino acid tryptophan, consumed throughout early childhood, is crucial for healthy brain growth. Since newborns typically have their days and nights reversed, these components in breastmilk can also aid to balance their circadian cycle.Feeding your baby right before bed is a great way to bond with your little one and get them ready for sleep. Until your baby is tired but awake, you can continue to feed him or her to break the suck-to-sleep link. Once your baby has finished eating, unlatch the breast and find another strategy to get him or her to sleep.
The act of breastfeeding is one of the most remarkable and significant acts a human can perform. What you are doing with your body is literally what keeps your baby alive. It’s no surprise that babies like to fall asleep when nursing; breast milk includes amino acids and chemicals that make them feel sleepy. If, however, your infant will only go to sleep while nursing, you may want to try one of the other methods we’ve described. When your kid is able to go to sleep independently, they will also be able to go back to sleep without you having to wake them.