How To Break Breastfeeding Sleep Association

Hi Mama! I am Lesley Marbach, a mom of 2, a teacher, and the founder of The Sleep Haus. As a new Mom, I knew that I needed to figure out a way to get good, restorative sleep for my family. I scoured the internet, purchased a newborn course, and began “laying heathy sleep foundations”.

Tips to Break Nursing to Sleep

What is a healthy sleep foundation?

Healthy sleep foundations are the first step in you and your baby’s sleep journey. Some foundations of sleep are things like creating an environment that is ideal for sleep, implementing sleep routines and encouraging proper nutrition, and most of all providing emotional and developmental support for your baby. The best part is that you can introduce these foundations during the newborn stage.

Nutrition plays the most important role in establishing healthy sleep foundations for your baby. Newborns are notorious for dozing in and out of sleep while on the breast. It’s important to arouse them so they receive full feedings rather than small snacks throughout the day.

So, one of the big questions I always get is…The only way I can get my baby to sleep is by nursing to sleep. How can I break this sleep association?

Let’s chat about sleep associations. Sleep associations are “things” that your baby associates with falling asleep. This could be nursing to sleep, rocking to sleep, or even listening to the sound machine in a dark room while dozing off independently.

When a child falls asleep with a parent assisting them, like nursing to sleep, when baby wakes, they will look for that “thing” that put them to sleep. When that “thing” is no longer there, your baby may become upset and need your help in falling back to sleep.

When you allow your child the opportunity to fall asleep independently, it’s much easier for them to go back to sleep on their own overnight and to connect sleep cycles during naps.

How do I get my breastfed baby to sleep without nursing?

Nursing is very calming to your baby, so it’s not uncommon that after they finish a feed, they doze off while they are still on the breast. Then you gently place them in their crib and leave the room. The next thing you know, you hear crying through the monitor and your baby is awake. Or maybe you have to be so careful when you lay them down asleep because they jolt awake and become upset. Has this ever happened to you?

There may even come a time that your baby wakes more frequently to nurse overnight. Sometimes, these sessions are only a few minutes long and you come to realize you are now being used for comfort rather than nourishment. Is this wrong? Absolutely not! Is it ideal for you to nurse your baby back to sleep repeatedly all night long? Well, that is completely up to you and how sustainable it is for you and your family. If it’s not something that you can keep up with, then keep reading!

Let’s go back to the question of how do I get my breastfed baby to sleep without nursing. The key in independent sleep is laying your baby down awake in their sleep space at the start of bedtime and for naps. This gives your baby the opportunity to fall asleep all on their own. If your child becomes upset, this is a great time to intervene and support your child through this process of falling asleep. Practice makes perfect. It truly takes practice laying your child down awake and allowing them to doze off themselves.

When should you stop nursing to sleep?

Honestly, this decision is up to you, Mama. Nursing to sleep is not harmful or wrong. It purely depends on if you are able to manage it. If your baby is only waking one to two times a night and you enjoy nursing to sleep, keep doing what you’re doing. On the other hand, if your baby is waking six times a night and the only way to get them back to sleep is by nursing, then this may be the time you begin breaking this sleep association for you and your baby.

How long does it take to break feed to sleep association?

Consistency is key when breaking any kind of sleep association that is deemed a “sleep crutch”. You will see progress within the first night or two, but you must remain consistent throughout the night as well. When you are consistent and follow through with breaking the feed to sleep association, your baby will be sleeping independently in no time.

How do I stop nursing comfort at night?

When you realize that baby is only nursing on you for a few minutes, this is most likely comfort nursing. How you stop comfort nursing is by breaking the feed to sleep association. When your baby is able to fall asleep independently at bedtime they will no longer wake out of comfort, but only for hunger (if at all).

When should I nurse my baby so I do not create a breastfeeding sleep association?

You should include a nursing session in your child’s bedtime routine, but you want it to be earlier in the routine so your baby doesn’t fall asleep on you. This may look like giving baby a relaxing bath, a lotion massage, and putting jammies on. You go into their room where the lights are down low and you offer a full feeding, keeping in mind that baby is not falling asleep while on you. If your baby begins to doze off, you will burp them and arouse them to finish their feeding. After the feeding is completed, you can read a book, sing a lullaby, and get baby ready for bed. You will turn on the sound machine and place baby in their swaddle or sleep sack, give kisses and then lay them down completely awake in their crib. This simple bedtime routine and the process of how it’s implemented will break the nursing to sleep association.

Are there any reasons I should nurse my baby to sleep?

There are two reasons that I may suggest a Mama to nurse her baby to sleep. The first reason is that you have a newborn baby. Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t spoil a newborn”? Well it’s true. Your newborn needs you, your closeness, your skin to skin contact. Nursing is what provides comfort for your baby and they truly need the assistance to fall asleep.

The second reason I may suggest to nurse your baby to sleep is if your child becomes overtired. There are times, especially with a newborn, that your baby will stay up for hours and just can’t seem to fall asleep. This is when I suggest doing whatever you need to do to break the cycle of being overtired. If that means nursing to sleep, go for it!

Just remember, at the end of the day, you are the Mama and you get to do what’s best for you and your baby. Hey, guess what? You were chosen for a reason to be your baby’s Mama. You are totally rocking it! Great job!

Nighty Night,

Lesley

Lesley Marbach has been working with children her entire career. She has a Masters of Education, is a Kindergarten teacher, a sleep coach, and the owner of The Sleep Haus in New Braunfels, Texas. With sleep being so important for her and her family, she realized that her passion was to help other Mamas get the rest that they deserved. Lesley works with families of newborns up to toddlers four years of age. You can find more of her 1:1 coaching services at www.thesleephaus.com

Dream Weighted Sleep Swaddle, 0-6 months