At first, breastfeeding a baby to sleep seems like the most natural thing, but some moms might tell you that you should not always let them fall asleep that way. Then you might start to second guess yourself and wonder if you are doing the right thing by doing it all the time.
Why Moms Start Breastfeeding a Baby to Sleep
Breastfeeding is a natural tranquilizer for most babies. They get into a comfortable position in the safe arms of a parent. Their bellies are filled with warm, nourishing milk. Distractions are likely kept to a minimum if they exist at all. Perhaps they’re staring into the adoring eye of their mother or they’re listening to their father talk to them in hushed tones nearby. Maybe a finger is gently caressing their cheeks or rubbing along their eyebrow.
Who wouldn’t want to fall asleep under those conditions, right? Heck…most of us would! When you think about the sleep deprivation that comes along with the early days of parenting, it’s understandable that many mothers are thankful for the association between breastfeeding and sleeping. It may seem like an intuitive setup that allows tired parents to get at least some rest, but there are some issues to think about.
The Needs of a Newborn Baby
For the first two or three weeks of life, your baby may not automatically wake up when he or she needs to eat. Newborns need to eat every two hours throughout the day and at least every four or five hours during the night. If your baby wants to sleep for longer periods of time, then you will need to wake them up for feedings.
This also means that you will need to keep him or her awake long enough to take in an adequate amount of milk. Since babies are naturally sleepier during the first few weeks, this is sometimes a challenge. There are a variety of techniques that you can use to keep your baby awake for feedings.
It may seem like a hassle and a waste of perfectly good sleep time to wake a newborn baby, but it is important for just the first couple of weeks. After that, you’re free to enjoy those longer periods of slumber if your baby is a good sleeper and is gaining weight in a healthy manner without other health risks.
Sleeping & Eating for the Older Baby
Once you’re past the first few weeks, you may find that breastfeeding your baby is one of the best ways to get him or her to sleep for at least a short period of time. You may schedule eating and sleeping together in your daily routine because they go so well together. If your baby wakes up during the night, a quick feeding session may be all that you need to earn a few more hours of rest. Medical studies have shown this to be GOOD for both of you and is perfectly fine to do! You don’t need to give that up.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that some older babies can become reliant on the breast to fall asleep over time. This may it more difficult to get them to self soothe or to wean your baby at night because they think of it as a comforting way to relax into sleep rather than just as a form of nourishment.
You can solve this problem by varying the way that you put your baby to sleep. Sometimes you can breastfeed your baby to sleep while other times you sing them to sleep, rock them to sleep, or allow them to fall asleep in a mechanical swing. The variety will show your baby from an early age that they can sleep without the breast, even though they probably prefer the comfort and warmth that comes from nursing off to sleep.
Remember that it is natural for babies to breastfeed to sleep. ENJOY IT! You are doing nothing wrong by taking advantage of that as long as you also ensure that your baby stays awake long enough to take in an adequate supply of milk each day.
- Life with a Breastfeeding Baby
- Should You Wake a Sleeping Baby to Breastfeed?
- How to Wean from Breastfeeding at Night
- Tips for Getting a Baby to Sleep Through the Night