One of the biggest myths when it comes to breastfeeding is that nursing to sleep is a bad idea… But in reality, there are actually many benefits to nursing to sleep! Let’s break down this theory and why nursing to sleep is a myth.
Why People Say You Shouldn’t Nurse to Sleep
There are so many resources out there for new moms, and some of them contradict each other! This is why it’s important to do your own research to understand where these myths come from.
For example, one popular reason people say to avoid breastfeeding to sleep is that it can cause tooth decay. Although any food or drink staying on your teeth for too long can lead to cavities, there actually has not been a link found between breastfeeding to sleep and tooth decay. The best way to prevent cavities in babies and young children is to practice good dental hygiene!
There are also many schedules and sleep tactics that will encourage you to avoid nursing to sleep. The main reason that they say this is that it creates a dependency on nursing. If your child needs to be nursed to sleep, they won’t be able to sleep on their own or through the night.
However, this isn’t completely true…
The Nursing to Sleep Myth
While nursing to sleep may lead to a baby being more dependent on breast milk before they go to sleep, it isn’t a terrible habit!
Regardless of whether you decide to sleep train in some way or not, it is important to understand how we as humans fall asleep.
In their blog post, Happiest Baby explains that everyone has sleep associations. You might have a night routine, need four pillows, or read a chapter in a book before falling asleep. If you are missing a sleep association, you will have a harder time falling asleep.
The same can be said about babies! In fact, this is why some babies struggle more than others to fall asleep or sleep through the night. It’s not because they don’t know how to sleep, but because there is a part missing in their routine.
This is the biggest reason why nursing to sleep is a myth. That need to nurse before falling asleep is simply a sleep association… just like the ones we have!
The Benefits When You Nurse to Sleep
KellyMom explains that breastfeeding your baby to sleep is actually developmentally appropriate. The article goes on to explain that breastfeeding is designed to help your child calm down and sleep better.
Also, before nap or bedtime is the perfect time to nurse because there are fewer distractions. Some babies struggle to nurse during the day because they would rather explore the world around them. You can really use the time before sleeping to get a good nursing session in.
Additionally, your breastmilk changes throughout the day. There are actually higher levels of prolactin and tryptophan in your breastmilk! This means that your milk supply will increase and it will also help your baby produce melatonin to help them sleep better.
Lastly, nursing on demand has been shown to increase your milk supply… So if your baby wants to nurse to sleep, allowing them to do so can help, especially if you are struggling with a low supply!
I see nursing to sleep as a much easier way to put baby down… especially if that’s the only way. On top of that, it gives you a little extra mom time if you can manage to stay awake!
When Should I Stop Nursing to Sleep?
Let’s keep this transparent: Pediatricians and other specialists will recommend that you don’t nurse to sleep (or even during the night at all) starting as early as 6 months! However, there aren’t any real facts to back up why this would be best.
Many say that it is during this time when babies don’t need the nutritional value of breastmilk and they should be sleeping through the night. However, both of these are false.
First of all, breastmilk is not only used for its nutritional value. Comfort nursing is a valid reason to nurse your baby, which is exactly what nursing to sleep can provide.
Also, sleeping through the night is a myth itself! All babies will wake at different periods during the night. It just depends on if they are able to fall back asleep by themselves or if they need some help. This could be in the form of nursing or additional comfort.
You should nurse to sleep as long as it is working for you and your family. You know what’s best and are more aware of what your baby needs! It is ultimately up to you how long you breastfeed and at what intervals. But if you are ready to start weaning, you can check out this post for some helpful tips!
Tips for Phasing Out Nursing Before Sleep
If nursing to sleep is no longer working for you and your family, here are some ways you can phase it out.
Let’s start with this: I would not recommend stopping abruptly. Not only will this create more struggles putting your baby to sleep, but it will also hurt your milk supply and can lead to complicated issues such as clogged ducts (and more) because you are skipping your typical night routine nursing sessions. I recommend having a plan in place for which steps you will take to adjust your supple to this new routine.
The easiest and most gentle way to move away from nursing to sleep is to slowly add in more sleep associations. For example, you can rock your baby, have your partner do bedtime, use a sound machine, or create a new nap/bedtime routine. As you add in these sleep associations, it makes it easier to remove the ones you are trying to phase out (in this case, nursing before sleep).
Now, this doesn’t have to be a “perfect” method. You might still find there are times when you nurse to sleep because it is better for your baby (for example, if they are teething or sick). You won’t ruin your progress or completely change their routine if you nurse them to sleep for a few days. Give yourself and your baby time to adjust to this new change!
If you still have questions about nursing to sleep or other breastfeeding topics, you can book a lactation session so we can talk about all of your concerns and/or questions.
Follow Your Gut!
You know your baby best. If nursing to sleep is working for you, keep doing it! There are so many benefits and it allows you to keep forming that special bond with your baby. You are doing great regardless, mama!
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