Many mothers around the world know that breastfeeding is the quickest (and most natural) way to get their baby off to sleep — or back to sleep when they wake at night.
Indeed, breastmilk is a natural sleep tonic.
It contains a hormone called cholecystokinin, which induces sleepiness in both baby and mother.
Breastfeeding, and the skin-to-skin contact associated with it, boost oxytocin levels in a baby and her mother. Oxytocin enhances a mother’s maternal feelings, and gives her a sense of calm.
It also provides mother and baby with a natural sedative and has overall ‘feel-good' effects.
Despite these facts, many mothers worry about whether breastfeeding their babies to sleep might mean they will never learn how to go to sleep on their own.
They’re even told that it could create ‘bad habits’.
So, what’s the truth? Is feeding your baby to sleep a good or a bad thing?
Is Breastfeeding To Sleep Creating A Bad Habit?
Your baby’s desire to be breastfed to sleep is not a bad habit at all. It’s very normal.
Babies seek to breastfeed for many reasons other than just being hungry. Breastfeeding provides comfort for pain. It provides warmth when your baby is cold. It provides security and familiarity when insecurity and uncertainty set in. It helps a baby transition from feeling drowsy, overstimulated or overtired to falling asleep. It’s perfectly natural for your baby to seek to breastfeed to relax enough to go to sleep.
Here are 6 things you need to know about breastfeeding to sleep:
#1: Feeding To Sleep Is Good For Supply
Your supply works on a supply equals demand basis. The more milk removed from your breasts, the more milk your breasts will make.
Since breastfeeding your baby to sleep can significantly add to the total number of feeds in a 24-hour period, this means more milk is removed and therefore more is made.
So if you happen to have a low supply, try feeding your baby to sleep.
#2: Feeding To Sleep Is Good For Your Baby’s Brain
A baby is born with only one quarter of the volume of an adult brain. Close contact with your baby is about much more than feeding. It’s also largely about brain wiring and forming pathways in your baby’s brain.
The first pathways formed after birth are those that connect emotional to social intelligence, and by 6-8 weeks, these pathways are more or less wired for life.
Feeding your baby to sleep helps provide your baby with more opportunities to be close to you – a great thing for her brain development.
#3: Feeding To Sleep Might Be The Only Time Your Baby Will Feed
For some older babies (from 3 months onwards), feeding to sleep at naptime and during the night might be the only times they will feed well.
This is because some babies are so easily distracted by their environment that trying to feed when they are awake and eager to explore can be nearly impossible.
Allowing your baby to breastfeed at times when she feeds well and isn’t distracted by the environment makes sure she gets enough milk and your supply is maintained.
#4: You Don’t Need To Worry About Future Sleeping Habits
There are a great many children who have been breastfed to sleep and who eventually go to sleep on their own without breastfeeding. Your child will do this when she is physically, emotionally and developmentally ready. There is nothing you need do to make this happen, so relax and know that when your baby is ready, it will happen. Isn't that awesome?
We don’t worry about a 4-month old’s nappy use interfering with her future toilet learning; in the same way we don’t need to worry about an infant or toddler breastfeeding to sleep.
#5: Night Waking Is A Biological Norm
It’s common for mothers to worry if their babies are not sleeping through the night by a certain age. After all, everyone knows they are ‘supposed to’, and much to your despair and frustration, you will most likely hear stories from family and friends about their children sleeping through at six weeks, three months or six months and so on.
Even when a mother has no problems with her baby waking at night, she still worries, thinking it’s a problem because everyone seems to ask about it.
The truth is, sleeping through is something which will occur in time, when your baby is developmentally ready. Even if you do nothing about it. Getting your baby to sleep through the night is not a battle to be won, as it’s so often portrayed in books and the media. It’s a developmental milestone that different babies will reach at different times.
#6: Children Can Adapt Well – Even If You’re Away, Your Child Can Go To Sleep
If you breastfeed your child to sleep, it’s normal to worry about how she will go to sleep if you are not around.
The truth is children are very good at adapting to new ways to go to sleep when you’re not there. Your child will adapt, and his other caregiver will find ways to comfort your child that will work just fine.
Breastfeeding to sleep is a good thing. It certainly isn’t a bad thing. Your child will stop breastfeeding to sleep on her own when the time is right, even if you do nothing about it.
The only time breastfeeding to sleep might be a problem is if it’s negatively affecting you or your family. If this is the case, there are many gentle strategies that can you can try.
For more information see these other fabulous BellyBelly articles:
- 4 Gentle Alternatives To Sleep Training Your Baby
- 12 Effective Ways To Help Your Baby Sleep
- Baby Sleep: 15 Great Tips To Help Your Baby Sleep Better