Babies naturally fall asleep right after eating when they're tiny. It's unrealistic and self-defeating to try and get your very young breastfed baby to sleep any other way, since he should nurse between eight and 12 times per day. But as he grows, you might want him to learn to fall asleep without using you as a pacifier. The problem with letting him nurse to sleep every time is that whenever he wakes in the night, he looks for nursing comfort, rather than learning to soothe himself back to sleep.
Assess your baby's schedule. Is he old enough not to need to nurse every few hours? The ability to self-soothe to sleep develops gradually. In a University of California study published in the August 2001 issue of the "Journal of Developmental and Behavior Pediatrics," even 12-month-olds were able to soothe themselves back to sleep slightly less than half the time. If your little one still needs a bedtime nursing, it's likely he'll fall asleep during it. But he might not need to nurse before every nap.
Nurse your baby before putting him in bed for the night or for a nap -- but not until he falls asleep. The idea is to put him into bed when he's drowsy but not asleep, so he gets used to the sensation of falling asleep without the breast. Once he does well with this, nurse him just to a relaxed state before putting him in his bed. Gradually, he'll be ready to transition to falling asleep on his own.
Offer a pacifier, once your baby is over 1 month old (to avoid nipple confusion) and breastfeeding is well-established, KidsHealth.org recommends. A pacifier can help satisfy his sucking urge and may also reduce the possibility of sudden infant death syndrome, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Change locations. Nurse before bedtime or nap time in a room other than the bedroom, to change the association between nursing and sleep.
Cuddle or rock your baby before bedtime, but don't let him fall asleep . This just substitutes one presleep habit for another. Put him down while he's still awake but drowsy, just as you would with breastfeeding.
Expect setbacks. When your baby doesn't feel well or is upset, he's more likely to want to nurse for comfort and might be more likely to fall asleep while nursing. See the progression to self-soothing as a process, not something that happens overnight.
- Nursing your child to sleep can damage little teeth, if he falls asleep with milk still in his mouth.
- KidsHealth: Breastfeeding FAQs
- Aha!Parenting.com: Helping Your Toddler Learn to Put Himself to Sleep
- Ask Dr. Sears: 10 Tips for Night Feedings
- Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics: Night Waking, Sleep-Wake Organization, and Self-Soothing in the First Year of Life
- Pediatrics: Do Pacifiers Reduce the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?
- KellyMom: Nursing to Sleep and Other Comfort Nursing
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