One of the most lovely experiences of early parenthood is nursing a baby to sleep in your arms until they are fast asleep. Your baby’s ability to fall asleep at night may become dependent on the pre-bedtime feed as they grow older. Everyone’s sleep can be disturbed if a baby develops a feed-to-sleep or nursing-to-sleep relationship.
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To put it another way, many families may benefit from the feed-to-sleep relationship. However, some parents may elect to make a few adjustments in order to improve their child’s sleep patterns and teach him or her how to soothe themselves or herself as well. We’ve provided a step-by-step approach to help you break the feed-to-sleep cycle.
Feeding a Newborn to Sleep
When a baby’s stomach is full of warm milk, he or she is more likely to fall asleep during or after feeding. Natural sleep-inducing compounds are found to be more concentrated in breast milk produced at night than during the day. Theoretically, this biochemical evidence supports the notion that drinking milk can help you unwind.
Sujay Kansagra, MD and director of the Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program at Duke University Medical Center, adds that “many early newborns find breastfeeding quite relaxing and a fantastic opportunity to bond with mom.”
Only an hour or so every day is all that a newborn baby is awake during the newborn stage, therefore feeding takes up about two-thirds of that precious time. According to Susie Menkes, PhD, CPSC, CCBS, a certified pediatric sleep specialist at Healthy Little Sleepers, nursing a newborn to sleep is normal during the first few months of their existence.
What Is a Feed-to-Sleep Association?
It’s possible that nursing can still put older babies to sleep. Dr. Menkes thinks this is perfectly typical. Because they are only able to go asleep when they are given milk, your baby may have developed a feed-to-sleep relationship. Term used to describe a baby’s dependence on milk as a key stage before going to sleep.
If the child learns to link falling asleep with nursing, it implies he or she will need to be nursed back to sleep each time they wake up at night, according to Dr. Kansagra. When an infant reaches the age of four to six months, he explains, a sleep association is established.
Nevertheless, a feed-to-sleep association is only an issue for children who are unable to fall back asleep on their own and wake up several times throughout the night. Dr. Kansagra says, “In this condition, the newborn is often not hungry, but is simply using nursing to soothe to sleep. As a result, both mom and baby may have frequent awakenings and sleep disruptions as a result.
A newborn who falls asleep on a parent but wakes up in their cot is likely to be scared and puzzled. That which helped them sleep in the first place, adds Dr. Menkes, will cause them to “cry” for it again.
Oftentimes, parents will assume that their baby needs to be fed when they hear him or her crying or making noises in the middle of the night. In order to get the baby to sleep again, parents may have to feed the infant four or six times a night, which Dr. Menkes describes as a “cycle.”
Cons of Nursing Baby to Sleep
Feeding a child at night can lead to dependency and other issues in the future.
It Could Lead to a Suck-to-Sleep Association
Brushing your teeth, putting on pajamas, and reading a book before going to bed are all common nighttime rituals. Your baby is just like the rest of them! Establishing a regular bedtime routine instills the notion in her tiny frame that it is time to rest. Nothing wrong with using the powerful, sleep-inducing effects of breastfeeding to get your baby ready for bed. What’s problematic is if your child becomes reliant on sucking to sleep and refuses to do it in any other way? When it’s time to wean or when your infant wakes up frequently and wants to breastfeed to settle back to sleep, this reliance could make it more difficult.
It Could Make it Harder for Others to Feed the Baby
It may be difficult to imagine that you’ll ever need a break from your new baby if you’re still in the newborn stage. But believe us when we say that, at some point, a night out with your significant other or a short vacation will be necessary for your well-being and sanity. And if he only sleeps when he’s attached to his mother, you’ve got a problem! As a result, it’s crucial to introduce the bottle early on if you want to share this magical bonding moment with your lover.
It Could Increase Your Emotional Toll
Parenting can quickly become a drain on mom’s energy if nobody else will do it (especially at 3 AM when your baby wakes for the 5th time that night). If you’re a Mom already dealing with hormones and sleep deprivation, the additional physical and mental demands can truly take their toll. The prevalence of postpartum depression is on the rise among new mothers, therefore it is crucial to take care of yourself in whatever manner possible. Mom and baby will both benefit from sharing the burden of feeding.
When to Stop Nursing Baby to Sleep
It’s okay to let your baby fall asleep on your breast in the early days. It’s critical to watch for warning indications as the situation progresses.
If Your Baby Uses Your Breast as a Pacifier
No, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that. This is because you are, at times. Breastfeeding has been shown in numerous studies to provide pain alleviation for newborns. Comfort feeding is acceptable during times of illness or teething. Unlatching is the best option for those times when your baby needs to be comforted by sucking on his or her lips without swallowing. There are certain babies who need to suck more than others, which is critical for the development of their oral cavity. It’s possible that an actual pacifier could help.
If Your Baby Won’t Sleep or Nap Without Nursing
When it’s time to go to sleep, most of us have odd rituals. Consider whether an open window or an on-demand television would be more conducive to your peaceful slumber. When it comes to sleep, babies can form habits, but only if they encourage sleep rather than inhibit it. What happens when your baby wakes up and his human pacifier is gone? To assist him get back to sleep, he’ll want to breastfeed again. And yet another time. Then some more. I’m sure you understand the idea.
If Your Baby Wants to Nurse All Night
In the early days, when babies are still figuring things out, long nursing sessions are not uncommon. Add in rapid weight gain and sleep deprivation, and you’ll see why parents of babies resemble characters from a zombie film. Babies’ sleep cycles are shorter and lighter than those of adults, therefore they are more likely to wake up during the night. It’s likely that your baby will insist on nursing every 45 minutes…all…night…long…if she has become dependent on sucking to sleep.
How to Stop Nursing Baby to Sleep
Don’t worry if your baby has to be nursed to sleep. Now, let’s speak about how to gently teach your baby alternative methods to go to bed at night.
Start with Naps
Since they’re less tired and more likely to stick to a new schedule during naptime, many parents find it easier to start with naptime. A new nighttime routine should be much easier to implement if you’ve mastered naptime. Establishing a regular routine is a good place to start. Putting your baby down for a nap at 1 p.m. doesn’t have to be a strict rule. Observe your child’s indications and respond quickly when he’s exhausted or hungry. However, it might also be beneficial to maintain a consistent routine throughout the day. The “Sleep, Eat, Play” philosophy is popular among many individuals. An relationship between feeding and sleep can be broken by this. Create a naptime routine with songs, stories, and dimmed lights instead to signal to your baby that it’s time for some shut-eye.
Find Other Ways to Soothe the Baby
As a new mother, it might be difficult to sit and listen to our baby’s cries. No matter where the cry comes from, we instinctively reach for our baby’s breast to soothe him or her. Sucking isn’t the only way to soothe a sobbing infant, as you may think. The American Academy of Pediatrics has even issued a research article based on Harvey Karp’s 5’S technique to calming babies. Swaddling (but not while sleeping), sucking, shushing (but not while sleeping), and swinging are all examples of the S’s. You can use these methods at home as well, as they’ve been proved to help relax newborns following immunizations. Incorporate them into a relaxing night routine and a sleep-friendly environment. Install blackout curtains, use a humidifier, turn on white noise, and keep the room at the ideal temperature for newborns, among other suggestions.
Let Your Partner Put Baby to Bed Sometimes
It is only natural for mothers to have a strong bond to their children and have a hard time allowing others to share tasks like feeding and sleep, which they have carried for nine months. Making your baby comfortable with being set down by someone else now will come in handy in the future. This might be a great moment to connect with your significant other as well! If your bedtime routine includes nursing, feel free to do so until your baby is tired but not asleep. After reading a story, lullaby, and placing baby in crib, let your partner or another family member finish. She may be apprehensive at first, but she will gradually get the hang of it and may even be able to go to sleep for extended periods of time (one can hope). Try to be a “Super Mom” and you’ll end up exhausted and more likely to suffer from Postpartum Depression. When it comes to bedtime, let yourself and your partner to share the responsibility for your child.
Don’t Stimulate Baby at Bedtime or Naptime
Have you ever been unable to sleep because you stayed up too late watching something exciting? For your baby, it could be as simple as going to a crowded restaurant or spending time with friends and family. Even if you can’t stop it, try to avoid going out or having visitors in the last hour before bedtime. Ordering in and arranging appointments earlier in the day may be necessary for a short period of time. Playtime is an additional source of stimulus! Playing peekaboo with Daddy is enough to keep your child awake when it’s time to go to sleep. Instead of letting your child play right before a nap or bedtime, try having a quiet time with dim lighting, soothing music or a sound machine, a warm bath, and a gentle massage for them.
Stop Nursing Before Baby Falls Asleep Completely
Every time they wake up in the middle of the night, babies have a hard time getting back to sleep. That’s because she will want to nurse again in order to fall back asleep if she falls asleep while nursing. In order to become self-sufficient, your child will only need you when she is truly hungry or in pain if you can train her to fall asleep on her own. Begin by unlatching the nipple latch before your baby goes to sleep in order to avoid waking him. When his sucks become more like little flutters and he is no longer swallowing, gently insert a finger and break the latch. You may want to try some of the other tactics we discussed earlier if he begins to cry or want to re-latch. While this may take a while for your kid, he or she will ultimately learn that eating and sleeping are not one and the same.
Wean the Baby Gradually
It won’t be easy to wean your infant off of breastfeeding overnight. A lot of the time, you’ll be doing the same process over and over for a few nights or even a few weeks to get your baby to sleep. One of the hardest associations to break is suck-to-sleep, but the payoff is enormous! Because this is a great way for her to learn how to self-soothe, it will also help reduce the number of overnight wakings that are not connected to hunger.
Establishing Good Sleep Habits
Naturally, the best approach to remove the relationship between eating and sleeping is to not create one at all. ‘Sleep connections can emerge as early as infancy,’ adds Dr. Kansagra. Even when a child is young, the idea is to allow them to fall asleep on their own when they are tired. The self-soothing skills can be learned through this.”
For this, Dr. Kansagra recommends adopting a nocturnal routine that lasts about 20 to 30 minutes and begins with a meal. Bathing and other relaxing activities can then be done, followed by bedtime. If you feed your baby too late, he or she will be exhausted and likely fall asleep in your arms as you feed him or her.
A good pre-sleep routine should begin with a feed, preferably done in a room other than the one in which the child will be sleeping, according to Doctor Menkes. A lullaby or a book could be the final step before going to sleep. It can make a lot of difference to reorder things, she says.
Will the baby stop nursing to sleep on their own?
Yes, most babies eventually cease breastfeeding to sleep as a developmental milestone. However, it could take months or even years to do this.. The average age of weaning in the past was around three or four years old. Even though some families continue to practice extended breastfeeding, most parents find that their children continue to nurse before night, but they usually unlatch before they fall asleep completely. Many of these families also use co-bedding, which, if done correctly, can assist to reduce the number of sleep disturbances. As long as you aren’t concerned about your infant falling asleep while nursing, you can go ahead and do so. If and when you’re ready to help your baby gradually wean from going asleep sucking, you can utilize the progressive strategy we discussed earlier. In the end, it’s all about what works for you and what works for your family.
Can I still feed my baby before bed?
Absolutely! Because of something called Chrononutrition, there may even be advantages. According to recent findings, the composition of breastmilk changes throughout the day. Cortisol levels in morning milk are higher, while melatonin and tryptophan levels in nighttime milk are higher. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being and contentment, is synthesized from tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Tryptophan is essential for the correct development of the brain if it is ingested early in childhood. It is possible that these components in breastmilk can help to balance the circadian cycle of a baby, whose days and nights are frequently inverted. Feeding your baby before going to sleep can be a wonderful opportunity to bond with your child and prepare him or her for bedtime. Continuing to nurse until your baby is tired but awake will help you break the suck-to-sleep association. Unlatch your baby’s latch after he or she has eaten and try a new method of putting him or her to sleep.
Breastfeeding is an incredibly powerful and amazing act. You are literally keeping your little one alive by what you’re making with your body. Breastmilk contains amino acids and hormones that make your baby feel sleepy, not to mention the comforting act of sucking—so it’s no wonder that babies love to nurse to sleep. However, if your baby will only fall asleep nursing, you may want to consider helping her fall asleep in different ways using the gentle techniques we’ve suggested. Having a baby who can fall asleep without your help means that they can fall back asleep without your help, and that means you’ll be getting some much needed Zzz’s.
We can’t overstate the importance and beauty of breastfeeding our children. Keeping your baby alive is a matter of life and death for you. In addition to the comforting act of sucking, breastfeeding is known to induce slumber in infants because of its high concentrations of amino acids and sleep-promoting hormones. However, if your baby is only able to fall asleep by breastfeeding, you may want to try some of the more gentle methods we’ve mentioned if this is the case. A baby that is able to sleep through the night without your assistance is a blessing since it means you can catch some much-needed shuteye!