When your baby arrives, sleep becomes one of the biggest topics of conversation in your life. How much you’re getting, how much the baby is getting, and what you need to do to ensure everyone gets enough rest. If you’re hoping to stop breastfeeding your baby to sleep, read on for suggestions to make the transition as easy as possible.
Is Breastfeeding to Sleep Normal?
First things first: If you don’t mind breastfeeding your baby to sleep, there’s no rush to stop. This is especially true if the baby is still very little. Babies nurse for comfort as well as nutrition. You’re not spoiling your baby or making him or her dependent on a “crutch.”
New parents face a lot of pressure from well-meaning family members or occasionally even doctors. Your pediatrician may assume you don’t want to breastfeed to sleep and give advice from that perspective. If that isn’t true, feel free to speak up about your breastfeeding goals and comfort level.
The “Drowsy But Awake” Method
One of the most common tips you’ll hear is to put your baby down drowsy, but awake. This works great in theory, although it can be tough to find that sweet spot at first.
Go through your bedtime routine as usual, with whatever combination of bath, story, singing, and nursing you and your baby enjoy. Keep an eye on your baby while you breastfeed. When those little eyelids start to droop, gently break the latch, but keep rocking and humming if you like. The idea is to get the baby used to falling asleep without a nipple in her mouth. If the baby gets upset, latch back on and repeat, breaking the latch when the baby is almost asleep. Patience and timing should lead to the baby learning to fall asleep in your arms, but not nursing.
Tip: When I break the seal with my baby, I leave my fingertip on her lip for a few seconds. The light pressure reminds her of my nipple and makes her less anxious to root again. Try it out and see if it helps you!
The Controlled Crying Method
Parents having a hard time managing a “drowsy but awake” maneuver, and who can handle a little bit of crying, may look for a different approach. You don’t need to resort to extreme “cry it out” methods. Soothe the baby almost to sleep, put him down, and leave the room. Set the timer for five minutes. If the baby’s still crying, go pick him up and soothe him again. Repeat until Baby falls asleep.
You may find it helpful to try alternate methods of soothing your baby, instead of breastfeeding every time. Singing, rubbing your baby’s back in the crib, or offering a pacifier may help. Some babies just want to know a parent is there. Folding a basket of laundry by your baby’s crib and humming a familiar lullaby may be all the reassurance your baby really needs.
Calling in Backup
When you’re breastfeeding, you know you have a secret weapon, a way to soothe your baby that no one else can provide. As it turns out, your baby probably knows it, too. You can use the uniqueness of your breastfeeding relationship to your advantage: Call in your partner.
Your baby knows only one parent has breastmilk to offer. Asking your partner to handle naptime or a nighttime diaper change signals your baby that nursing isn’t on the menu right now. Your partner can offer a pacifier, rock, sing, and snuggle your baby. If the baby isn’t hungry, she may decide the non-nursing cuddles are enough comfort to go back to sleep. Decide on a time limit beforehand with your partner (ideally during the day, when you’re both rested). Cross the time limit, and it’s time to breastfeed and try again later when the baby isn’t distressed. It’s okay for it to take a while for everyone to get accustomed to not nursing to sleep. Stay patient, and everything will work out fine.