Breastfeeding is the easiest way to put a baby to sleep. Baby finds your touch comforting, the milk is nourishing and the overall exercise has a calming effect on the baby which lulls him to sleep. Win-win? Not really! Breastfeeding your baby to sleep, which although appears as an easy fix in the night, is known to have many drawbacks. Read on.
Benefits Of Breastfeeding Baby To Sleep
Here are some benefits of breastfeeding your baby to sleep:
- Comfort: It is very comforting for the baby if you breastfeed him to sleep. This means your baby will be less fussy and will spend less time fighting sleep
- Convenience: It is very convenient for a tired mother to breastfeed the baby to sleep as she is co-sleeping with the baby, it also means better sleep for her
- Extra Nutrition: We know that breastmilk is very nourishing for the baby so extra feedings in the night means extra nourishment for your baby
- Bonding: Nothing can beat the midnight cuddles when you breastfeed your baby to sleep. It is definitely a great bonding time for both the mother and the baby
Why Shouldn’t You Nurse Your Baby To Sleep?
Although there are many benefits of breastfeeding your baby to sleep yet there are three primary reasons why experts discourage mothers nursing their baby to sleep:
- Poor sleeping habits for the child: Nursing your baby to sleep can develop poor sleeping habit in your baby. Let us tell you why. If we (adults) wake up in the night, what do we do? We just fall back to sleep on our own, don’t we? This “falling asleep alone” is a habit that we need to teach our babies early on. If you feed the baby to sleep, then soon, the baby will start associating breastfeeding to sleep. What is the consequence? Every time the baby wants to sleep, he would want to be breastfed. Breastfeeding will become his cue to fall asleep. And this is not a habit you want your baby to learn. As he grows older, he should be able to sleep independent of external stimuli. And the sooner he learns, the easier it is for you
- Increased levels of exhaustion for the mother: While in the initial days it might be fulfilling to see your child drifting off to sleep while suckling milk, it can be very exhausting for the mother if she needs to breastfeed every time the child needs to sleep. If your child wakes up often in the night, this could mean no sleep whatsoever for you. This also increases your child’s dependency on you. Your partner and other members of the family might find it difficult to take care of your baby and put him to sleep in your absence
- Higher chances of tooth decay: Once your baby gets used to breastfeeding for falling asleep, it is difficult to kick that habit away. In few months, their teeth will start sprouting and night-time feeding is very bad for your child’s teeth. When they fall asleep while nursing, they will retain some amount of milk in their mouth. The sugar content of this milk will attack their teeth causing cavities
What Should You Do About Night Time Feeding?
So are we saying never feed the baby in the night? Of course not. Breastfeeding is, as we mentioned before, a calming and nourishing activity. It also helps in building and strengthening the bond between the mother and child. So, by all means, breastfeed the child in the night, especially in the first two months. However, do not make a habit out of it. Once the baby turns three months, try the following:
- Breastfeed late in the evening and leave it at that. Do not make breastfeeding part of your night time routine
- If this is not possible, or if you are worried about your child being not full, you can make breastfeeding part of your bedtime routine. However, this should be one of the first activities in the routine. You start by feeding the baby. Then you change his nappy and his clothes. And then put him in his crib or bed. And then start singing a lullaby, which will finally put him to sleep. This way he is not associating night time feeding to sleeping
- Try to reduce the amount of time spent on breastfeeding in the night
- To ensure you are not exhausted yourself, try to pump milk in advance so that your partner can feed the baby, when your baby wakes up in the night
- Create a favorable environment for sleeping. Make sure it is quiet and dark when you put your baby to sleep. Switching on the TV is not helpful for putting baby to sleep! So if it is quiet and dark your baby will soon start associating it with sleep and will easily fall to sleep without the need to breastfeed him
- Some babies need some kind of comfort while they fall asleep. You can use tools like pacifiers to induce sleep in your baby
- Make sure you don’t play with your baby before you put him to sleep. There is a general belief that playing with the baby will tire him out and help him sleep better. But this works exactly the opposite. Playing will stimulate him and make it difficult for him to sleep. Remember your baby needs to be calm when put to sleep
Despite all these efforts, please remember that if your baby is exclusively breastfed, then you will have to wait longer for him to establish a sleeping pattern than formula-fed babies. This is because breastmilk digests faster, making babies hungry quicker, resulting in them waking more often in the night for a feed. This is normal. As long as you ensure that the baby does not fall asleep while latching, you are doing well!
All the best!