Breastfeeding is a very comforting experience that involves sleep-inducing hormones and skin-to-skin contact that help put your baby into a dreamy state.
However, once a few months have passed, you may be wondering how to stop breastfeeding at night.
Luckily, it isn't the only way to get your baby to fall asleep.
In this article, Polysleep gives you 10 steps to help you stop nursing your baby to sleep.
The physiology of shared and solitary sleep
Research reported by La Leche League International reveals that when babies and mothers sleep separately, even if the mom continues getting out of bed to respond to her crying baby:
Newborns might sleep more deeply than normal, and this might not be safe for them.
Babies wake less frequently, but their overall level of stress might be greater, and they cry more during the night.
For mothers sleeping separately from their infants, they may wake less frequently, but they wake more fully, stay awake longer, and obtain less sleep in general.
Breastfeeding could be interrupted when babies and mothers are separated.
Babies typically obtain around a third of their calories in the nighttime, but when you space out nursing sessions, it decreases that intake.
If you don't compensate with daytime nursing, it reduces milk production. Sleeping through the night and early weaning are linked with separate sleeping arrangements.
Some cons of nursing baby to sleep
When trying to figure out how to stop nursing to sleep, it’s helpful to think about that practice’s disadvantages. Indeed, nursing to sleep does have some drawbacks, including:
Increased emotional toll
Parenting can become extremely exhausting super quickly when the baby only wants mom, particularly when it's 3 am, and your baby has already woken up several times that night.
The increased emotional and physical demands can really take a toll on the mother who is already dealing with sleep deprivation and a bunch of hormones.
Difficulty for others to feed the baby
If you're still in the earlier infant phase, you might think you'll never want to take a break from your little one.
However, there will come a time when you will need that break. It's important to both your sanity and your health.
If your baby will only fall asleep latched on to you, then you have an issue. This could pose challenges when you're trying to get a partner or other family member involved.
Therefore, it's essential you introduce a bottle to your little one early on if you plan on sharing the feeding/bedtime experience.
Creating a suck-to-sleep link
When you go to bed at night, you probably have a certain routine you follow that includes things like: putting on pajamas, brushing your teeth, reading, etc.
Your baby is no different. So, by having a bedtime routine, you're telling your baby's little body it's time for sleep.
There isn't anything wrong with using nursing's sleep-inducing, powerful impact to help get your baby ready for bed.
However, when your baby depends on sucking in order for them to fall asleep, this could be a problem. This dependency can make it harder down the road when you're ready to start weaning them or when they consistently wake and need to nurse to go back to sleep.
When to stop nursing baby to sleep
Along with learning how to stop nursing to sleep, you also want to learn when. During their first few months, it was fine to let your baby fall asleep while breastfeeding.
As time goes on, however, it's essential to pay attention to signs telling you it is starting to become an issue.
If your baby uses your breast as a pacifier
You might not know it, but your baby might actually use you as a human pacifier. This is because breastfeeding can provide comforting benefits (pain relief).
Comfort nursing every now and then is fine, particularly when your baby is teething or experiencing an illness. But, if your baby is comfortable sucking often (a fluttering suck but not swallowing), you need to unlatch them.
Some babies genuinely have a greater need for sucking, which is essential for oral development. You could offer a real pacifier if this is the case.
If your baby wants to nurse all night
In the early days, marathon nursing sessions are common when babies are trying to figure things out. Add on frequently day/night confusion and growth spurts, and you'll understand why parents of babies look like zombies.
Babies have shorter and lighter sleep cycles than adults, so they wake overnight multiple times.
If your baby has become dependent on sucking to fall asleep, they'll likely want to nurse every 45 minutes or so all night long.
If your baby won't sleep or nap without nursing
Everyone has their own habits at bedtime. Some like to sleep with the tv on or the window open.
Babies also develop certain habits when it comes to sleeping, but habits don't really benefit them unless they encourage sleep and don't keep the baby from sleeping.
While nursing will certainly help your little one to fall asleep faster, what do you think will happen when they wake up, and you're not there for them to suckle on again? They'll become stirred and will want to nurse again in order to fall back to sleep.
Sleep training research
Research shows there are programs that do work. However, the research doesn't really count families that stop the program if the parents can't tolerate it. Also, it doesn't really examine the emotional and physiological cost of the effect of breastfeeding or the cost to the baby.
One study measured cortisol levels during the first month. It showed nighttime separation was associated with poorer coping skills during the day by the baby.
Babies with a solitary sleep arrangement during their first month of being born had an increased cortisol response at five weeks to bathing sessions compared to babies that regularly co-slept. This effect wasn't explained by:
Maternal caregiving behavior
Infants' sleep duration
Infants' night waking
So, basically, baby-mother separation in the nighttime during the first month was associated with a stronger stress reaction to a minimum of one type of routine daytime stress.
How to stop nursing baby to sleep in 10 steps?
Because eating is their most basic need, babies begin developing routines around nursing patterns and feeding times. Even so, there are ways you can help your newborn fall asleep without having to nurse first.
A lot of parents find it simpler to begin with naptime since they're not as tired and more likely to stick to a new routine than during the night. Implementing a new routine before bed should become easier once you've gotten naptime down.
The best thing you can do to keep your newborn from establishing a dependency on requiring nursing before they go to sleep is to create a nap routine. This routine, however, shouldn't be built around nursing. This stops the link between sleeping and nursing and breaks the connection you'd otherwise create.
Let dad handle the late-night feedings if there still are any. You can pump your breast milk and have it ready for nighttime feedings. This way, your baby will still experience the benefits of breast milk, but there won't be that sleep-nursing link.
Stimulation is essential in a developing newborn. They require lots of it for them to learn, grow and achieve milestones. Sadly, stimulation close to naptime will usually mean an overly active newborn who won't be able to fall asleep. This is particularly true for babies that excite easily.
When they're learning new skills or discovering new things, it's difficult for them to do anything else. You'll want to try your best to stick to a schedule, regardless of how much you'd prefer to watch them babble to you or walk around.
If playtime happens too close to nighttime, it will be difficult to make this transition. Try and make playtime earlier and have an extended relaxation period before bedtime.
This will involve weaning your baby off your nipple slowly in order to stop the link instead of just letting them cry it out. When your baby is almost ready to start falling asleep, you release your nipple and close your baby's mouth.
While your baby will initially begin waking up each time to look for your nipple, by repeating the process you'll eventually break the subconscious association.
Feed your baby a minimum of 30 minutes before it's time to go to bed. Move the feeding to an earlier naptime/bedtime routine if you've been feeding immediately before sleep time.
Try applying the seven safe sleep rules you find here.
Feed your baby in any room other than the baby's bedroom.
Once your baby becomes old enough, use a daytime schedule that's age-appropriate and that follows proper wake windows. This helps your baby get into a rhythm of eating and sleeping.
If your baby tends to fall asleep while they nurse, they'll want to nurse more in order to fall back to sleep. By teaching them to fall asleep by themselves, they'll learn a good self-soothing lesson, and they'll hopefully only need you when they're in pain or hungry.
Unlatch your baby from your nipple when they're done feeding, so they can fall asleep. Insert your finger gently and break the latch once their suction starts becoming more like little flutters, and they're not swallowing anymore.
These are just some tips you can follow when trying to figure out how to stop breastfeeding at night.
By doing so, your baby will learn how to fall asleep on their own.
It's definitely something you'll want to master for your own well-being and sanity.
If you liked our blog article, please don't forget to Share it with your friends by clicking the button below!