Why Nursing Your Baby To Sleep Is Normal

Have you been told that nursing your baby to sleep will spoil your baby? Maybe someone suggested it will create a bad habit and encouraged you to try to get your baby to fall asleep another way. There are lots of products and services on the market with new ones popping up all the time aimed at being attractive to parents promising more sleep for you and longer stretches of sleep for your baby. 


Truthful Tip: A 5 hour stretch of sleep is considered sleeping through the night for your baby. Babies naturally wake to feed during the night until around age 2 years old. They may not wake completely, but rather roll over and nurse and roll back over all while mostly still asleep. It is sometimes called a Dreamfeed.


The truth is, breastfeeding your little one to sleep is one of the easiest ways to help your baby to fall asleep. You may even find it helps you fall asleep thanks to hormones that are released when you nurse your baby. Nighttime nursing and breastfeeding your baby to sleep has many advantages. Sure, it can be tiring sometimes, no pun intended, but it is a natural way for babies to fall off to sleep, full on your milk and comforted to sleep.


Myth

They will start to depend on sucking to sleep and won’t be able to fall asleep any other way.


Fact

The action of sucking and its rhythmic pattern helps calm a baby’s nervous system helping them get ready for sleep. There are hormones in your milk that help your baby fall asleep. Babies do not have their internal clock working quite yet. Breastfeeding to sleep helps develop their internal clock. Melatonin increases in your milk when it becomes dark outside.(1) Not only does it help your baby fall asleep, when they wake to feed in the middle of the night, it helps them fall back asleep faster and stay asleep for longer. Your baby’s internal clock develops over time. They produce very little of their own melatonin during the first 3 months of life. It begins to increase and peak around age 3 years old.(2)


Myth

Breastfeeding your baby to sleep is a bad habit and can lead to dependency on you to fall asleep. 


Fact

Babies rely on their parents for comfort. They are not able to regulate their emotional states on their own nor be independent. Self-regulation development begins around 3 - 4 months old , but does not fully develop until 3 years old.(3)


Breastfeeding delivers the comfort your baby needs in order to feel safe and secure to fall asleep. Babies sleep differently than adults. Babies do not fall into as deep of a sleep and therefore wake more often than we do. This is protective of mom’s milk supply and for your baby to gain weight. Prolactin levels are highest during the middle of the night and your baby’s sleep cycle matches that natural circadian rhythm. Milk removal when prolactin levels are naturally highest help protect your overall supply. This is super helpful as your baby gets older and is more distracted during the day and nursing for shorter periods of time. They make up for the missed feeds during the night.


Just like your baby will outgrow diapers and grow out of crawling someday, they will also grow out of needing to fall asleep while breastfeeding and eventually grow out of breastfeeding.


Myth

Breastfeeding my baby doesn’t allow anyone else to feed the baby and that makes it harder for them to bond with the baby.


Fact

Feeding is not the only activity to be able to bond with the baby. While it is true, another person may not be able to feed the baby when the mother is exclusively breastfeeding, there are other nurturing ways to bond with the baby. Infant massage is one way to spend time with a baby helping them relax, communicate with lots of eye contact and create a strong bond. While the other person is spending time with the baby, it gives the mom a little break and time to rest and restore. Other ways to spend quality time with the baby are wearing the baby in a sling, taking a bath together, playing, signing to the baby, going for a walk together outside or lying down next to mom and baby while breastfeeding.


Myth

The baby is using me as a pacifier to fall asleep.


Fact

Breastfeeding is not just about calories. Babies are hardwired to connect and attach to their mother not only for food but for comfort and protection. Each time they are getting milk, even if it is just a small amount, it helps keep your supply robust and delivers calming hormones to your baby to help comfort and calm them. 


A pacifier can actually interfere with breastfeeding. Babies have a high need for sucking. If they are given a pacifier in place of breastfeeding, they may miss out on calories they would be getting if allowed to pacify at the breast. Over a 24 hour period of time, when pacifiers are given, it can reduce the number of times your baby nurses which can impact your milk supply and lead to less weight gain.(4)


Sucking on a pacifier shapes the baby’s mouth differently than breastfeeding does. During breastfeeding, the baby’s mouth is filled with breast tissue which presses into the roof of the mouth. The palate spreads, growing wide and drawn away from the nasal cavity. This is important preparation for when their teeth come in. There will be plenty of space with their wide jawline for teeth to not be crowded. With regular pacifier use, their palate is more likely to remain high because the nipple is more narrow and doesn’t fill their mouth or offer the same roof of the mouth pressure as the breast.


Myth

Breastfeeding to sleep spoils the baby.


Fact

It is impossible to spoil your baby. Their brains are not fully developed and they are not able to manipulate or trick you. They are only able to try to express themselves to have their biological needs met for food, comfort and protection. If they are asking to nurse more often, it is likely due to a need for extra comfort which is common when they are about to have a physical or emotional growth spurt, or maybe they are teething or not feeling great so  need extra snuggles and breastfeeding time. Being able to lay down next to mom and breastfeed is just what they need to help regulate their nervous system and get back in balance.


Myth

Breastfeeding the baby to sleep has a high emotional toll on the mother.


Fact

Most mothers feel amazing to be able to provide milk from their body to sustain their baby’s life and see their baby thrive. When the mother does not feel supported , it makes her mothering even harder. She may begin to view breastfeeding as harder. When a mother feels supported, breastfeeding continues longer than when she feels less support. When we care for the mother, she is able to and empowered to care for her baby. 


Mothers who breastfeed their babies for comfort can look at it as their body being a powerful and amazing, perfect place for her baby to get the comfort, attention and food needed to be able to fall asleep peacefully and grow well. Laying down to nurse your baby to sleep can be a moment for you to simply enjoy your baby and get a little extra rest yourself and you deserve it because the job of parenting and breastfeeding is a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week tiring yet incredibly rewarding job.




Footnotes:

  1. https://openaccesspub.org/jbfb/article/316
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1855314/#:~:text=Melatonin%20secretion%20increases%20and%20becomes,decade%20%5B11%5D%20(figure%20%E2%80%8B
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225568/
  4. http://www.nancymohrbacher.com/articles/2015/8/21/what-does-it-mean-to-use-your-breast-as-a-pacifier 

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4 comments

  • I’ve been feeling guilty about breastfeeding my baby to sleep because of what others have said, things I’ve read, etc. This article validated and reassured me in so many ways. Thank you!

    Julia
  • I’m so happy to see this article. I’m always so happy to get home from working a 12 hour shift that I almost feel guilty sleeping with my baby on me all night long because I know the recommendations for babies to sleep alone on their back in a crib. But after 14 hours away from my little guy, I just want to hold him and nurse him and make sure he knows his mommy is there for him.

    Catherine Donosa
  • This is SO REFRESHING, encouraging and enlightening to read!! Thank you!!

    Sara
  • I nursed my baby to sleep tonight after a long time and it felt so calming and connected. I opened my email and this showed up right after I was done! Thanks for the info and for educating mothers and the world. Keep it up!
    ———
    Legendairy Milk replied:
    Hi Kimberly, that is so amazing to hear and thank you so much for your kind words. We are honored to be a part of your breastfeeding journey!

    Kimberly Vargas

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