It’s OK to Nurse to Sleep

nursingtosleep

As a breastfeeding helper, I get a lot of questions about nursing to sleep. Most mothers are worried that by nursing to sleep, they are setting up bad habits for their baby. They are worried that their baby will never fall asleep any other way. They are concerned that they are doing something wrong.

Sound familiar? There’s a lot of talk out there about how moms are doing things wrong, especially when it comes to sleep. Our culture has unrealistic expectations about infant and toddler sleep. The idea is that you are supposed to put your child in his bed, kiss him goodnight, walk out of the room, and not hear from him again until morning. This picture could not be farther from the truth. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it now: babies and toddlers are designed to need parental help getting to sleep and staying asleep. Each child outgrows that need at his or her own pace.

Babies and toddlers are designed to suck to sleep. Sucking is their primary way of receiving comfort. Sucking releases hormones that make a baby sleepy, whether or not the baby received nourishment. That’s why a baby will fall asleep sucking on a pacifier.  Many moms are worried that if they nurse their babies to sleep, they will become “human pacifiers.” There is no such thing! There were breasts before there were pacifiers. Humans nursed their young to sleep for millions of years. And as far as I’m concerned, I’d prefer my baby to reach for a person when he needs comforting than a piece of plastic (if pacifiers work for you, that’s fine — they’re just not my cup of tea).  Babies who don’t nurse to sleep usually do suck to sleep on a pacifier, or a bottle, or a thumb.  The healthiest way for them to suck to sleep is by breastfeeding, not just nutritionally, but for good teeth alignment.  Nursing will not be the cause of braces down the road, whereas pacifiers, bottles, and thumbs could be.

To me, nursing to sleep is a sweet, heavenly experience I love being able to give my children. It’s nourishment, peacefulness, closeness, and relaxation. It’s the sleep association I want them to have.

Most children will be amendable to falling asleep other ways when mom isn’t there — in Daddy’s arms, a baby carrier, stroller, car seat. But if nursing to sleep is working for you, why change it? Also, for many busy babies and toddlers, nursing to sleep is one of the only ways to get in a good nursing session! Usually these sessions are the last to go when a child weans. Ending nursing to sleep before your child is ready may accelerate the weaning process too quickly if you aren’t ready.

So when to end it? It’s up to you! My older son stopped on his own when he was four.  It just kind of happened.  Sucking to sleep just didn’t work anymore.  That length of time is not for everyone, I know, and if you just let it happen, your child may outgrown it sooner or later than mine did.  But if you want to transition away from it sooner, you can.  The idea is to find gentle substitutes for nursing: back patting, cuddling, shushing, stories.  Some might have to enlist Daddy to help.  Like anything else with children, it’s is possible to wean from nursing to sleep gently, and with love.

So go for it.  Enjoy it!  It’s OK.

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “It’s OK to Nurse to Sleep

  1. Orla

    beautiful piece. I remember reading advice not to nurse our baby to sleep and it took me a long time to stop feeling guilty. now it is the reason why I don’t want my son to wean.

    Like

    Reply
  2. Wendy Wisner Post author

    So glad you liked it! Enjoy nursing your son! You can nurse for as long as you both like. Just follow your heart.

    Like

    Reply
  3. Christina // InThePineTree

    Lovely post! I always cringe when I hear other moms disapproving of nursing to sleep. As you said, it’s so important for infants and toddlers to have that closeness and comfort when going to sleep. Taking that away from them before they are ready just seems unfair to me. My son is 19 months old and he only will go to sleep while nursing. It doesn’t bother me – I’m his mama and this is what I signed up for! 🙂

    Like

    Reply
  4. elise

    thanks wendy! you always write such empowering comments and advice – it makes me feel confident that my instincts are right and things will all work out. early on, i googled stuff a few times and got so overwhelmed with all the conflicting info, i just went w my gut. and things have been going so well it made me realize i got this. 🙂

    Like

    Reply
  5. Wendy Wisner Post author

    So glad it’s helped you! Our instincts are there for a reason. Keep doing what you’re doing 🙂

    Like

    Reply
  6. Elise

    Thanks for this post. I found it just now as I went looking for answers on this topic. My nearly-2-year-old wants to nurse to sleep, and for the most part this works for us. It only doesn’t on those (rare) nights when I can’t remove the nipple without him waking. And he does well with sleeping through the night (8-5, which is awesome in our family), so I’m not concerned on that score. But on the nights that ARE hard I get paranoid about it.

    Can you recommend ways to start transitioning towards other soothing methods? Like you mentioned, his dad or other caregivers can put him down just fine without the sucking, but when I’m on bedtime, only the boob will do… But I’d like to be able to shush him or soothe him in some boobless way, too… I’m sure there are other factors on those nights when I can’t extract myself, and maybe it’s a matter of finding my own calm with it, since it doesn’t happen so often, but it really can be a drawn out process on those nights!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Wendy Wisner Post author

      I hear you about the long drawn out times — I’ve been there :). This is the age when you can start talking to them. Maybe explain that the nursing session has a beginning and an end. Play a song or sing a song to signify that beginning and end. I sometimes take a break by going to the other room with the kid for some water or a snack or having daddy walk him around. Just try different things and talk about them and know the next night might be totally different!

      Like

      Reply
  7. Pingback: TO AVOID EARLY WEANING, KEEP NURSING COZY - The Badass Breastfeeder

  8. Irene

    Thanks for this post. My older son is two and he still needs breastfeeding before going to sleep. I like the idea of to be able to help him to sleep. My only concern is if I could minimize the nap and night time awakening because I’m also breastfeeding my 5 weeks baby and it’s quite hard.

    Thank you very much

    Irene

    Like

    Reply
    1. Wendy Wisner Post author

      Yes! I understand. Nightweaning is definitely possible at the age, while still nursing to sleep. Elizabeth Pantley and Jay Gordan have some good, gentle ways to do it. It’s super helpful if your partner can take over some of the waking. Good luck! xo

      Like

      Reply
  9. Kristy

    Thank you, my daughter is almost 5 months and wont use anything but me to sleep, we have tried different dummies for months and nothing has worked because I thought thats what I had to do and she is my 4th but my other 3 I thought by now they had to wean from me to sleep better because they all keep waking so thats what i did? but after reading the benefits of co sleeping and this it has changed how I thought it should be done and we actually both sleep better and I know I will feed her for longer.

    Like

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth

    Hi Wendy — I love your advice and I really appreciate what you do. I just humbly request that you make one tiny edit for accuracy. Humans have only been nursing their young to sleep for millions of years, not billions (we’ve only been around for about 4.5 million years). Your point absolutely still stands, please forgive me for being a fact checker. Thanks again for your helpful experience and thoughts, it makes me feel good about nursing my 4-month-old to sleep.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Wendy Wisner Post author

      Yes! I think I had in mind the whole evolution of the human race, before we were officially Homo sapiens. The fact of our mammalian roots. But duly noted, and corrected.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth

        Absolutely, and for that matter I can’t think of a mammal that doesn’t nurse its young to sleep. Maybe whales? Anyway, glad you did not take offense.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s