Is breastfeeding your baby to sleep a good idea
There are advantages and disadvantages to breastfeeding your baby to sleep, but what is right for you? Rowena Bennett examines the pros and cons.
breastfeeding to sleep

As with most parenting topics, when it comes to feeding babies to sleep, people are in vastly opposing camps. For some it is ‘natural’ for babies to breastfeed to sleep, while others believe it can cause infant sleeping problems. Let's take a look at both sides so you can make an informed decision about what suits you and your baby:

Advantages

• A tear-free approach to getting your baby to sleep
• You get to rest at the same time while your baby is settled
• You don’t need to decide when your baby has finished feeding

Disadvantages

The main disadvantage of breastfeeding your baby to sleep is that it can create a breastfeeding-sleep association – your baby learns to psychologically link the act of falling asleep with suckling at your breast. This can cause problems with your baby's sleep and feeding behaviour in the following ways:

  • When your baby is tired he will want to breastfeed, without necessarily being hungry. You may find it difficult to tell the difference between his hunger and tired cues.
  • The feed may last a lot longer than usual as you baby will continue to suck after he is full, until he falls asleep. Breastfeeds can last up to an hour or longer depending on how long it takes for him to fall into a deep sleep - if you wake him before he's deeply asleep he will sense the loss of the nipple and immediately wake.
  • If you don't offer your breast as soon as your baby is ready to sleep, he's likely to get overtired and struggle even moreso to get to sleep.
  • Your baby is likely to wake more often during naps and night time as he seeks a comforting breast to suck on to resettle. This may mean you're giving night feeds longer than otherwise expected.
  • Night feeds may even last beyond the age of six months. (By six months of age most healthy, thriving babies are considered to be developmentally mature enough to go through the night without feeding.)
  • Other caregivers will struggle to get your baby settled with the absense of breastfeeding.

Making the right choice for you

If it works for you and your baby, then by all means, feel free to breastfeed your baby to sleep. The information provided above is just to forewarn you about the behaviours that you might expect, so that you don't blame them on anything else, such as low milk supply

 
This article was written by Rowena Bennett and adapted for Kidspot, New Zealand's favourite parenting resource for Early Life Nutrition.
 
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby. This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.
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