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Breastfeeding baby to sleep, bad habit or ok?

by Jessica Martin-WeberNaturepedic
this post made possible by Naturepedic Organic Mattresses for the whole family
Use the code “TLB15” for 15% off your cart at naturepedic.com. 

Fan Question: My baby keeps falling asleep while breastfeeding, am I making a bad habit?

You bring your tiny new human being to your chest and after a little awkward fumbling they are successfully latched as you marvel at their tiny perfection and they suck, drinking deeply of your milk. They settle into a steady rhythm and you feel them relax more fully into you, a relaxation that in 5-10 minutes is fully heavy sleepiness. By the time they’ve drained your breast your baby’s eyelids are closed, their arms and hands floppy, their lips and jaw slack, and a dribble of milk rolls down their cheek as they breathe deeply in sleep. 

Warm, soft, snuggled sleep.

Eight months later, the scene isn’t much different, they’re just longer and rounder. Ten months after that the routine continues. Maybe not every feed but often and maybe it is the only way they go down for a nap or bedtime.

For many little ones boob = sleep.

This may worry some as they hear from others that breastfeeding their baby to sleep is creating a bad habit, alarm that their child will never be able to sleep on their own if they do this, and dire warnings that the milk will damage the child’s teeth. On The Leaky Boob we frequently hear from those wondering if breastfeeding their baby to sleep is a bad thing, fears that this experience that happens so frequently for so many will doom them and their child.

I have good news!

According to pediatrician Dr. Arthur Lavin and coauthor of Baby and Toddler Sleep Solutions For Dummies, breastfeeding your little one asleep is totally fine. 

In a live interview I had with Dr. Lavin on The Leaky Boob Facebook Page (view here), he explained that there’s no concern with breastfeeding your nursling to sleep and it is actually quite normal that breastfeeding would lead to sleep. In fact, it’s a part of how the brain works! The portion of the brain that regulates feeding is closely related to regulating sleep and wakefulness and releases a hormone called orexin which is why we feel sleep when we have full tummies even as adults. This starts from birth. Breastfeeding also releases oxytocin and dopamine in the brain which makes everyone involved feel sleepy. These hormones are a part of helping milk flow and contribute to bonding by making us relaxed, happy, and safe. It all combines to be a drowsy inducing cocktail of snuggles and feeding. What better way for baby to fall asleep?

For a newborn it just makes sense. Breastfeeding to sleep feels safe and the scent of the breasts and breastmilk is familiar, comforting, and warm. Being skin to skin is soothing and babies are programmed to want to be there, close and protected. Their food, safety, and everything they know is there. Cradled to your chest they can fill their tummy, get that relaxing hormone release, smell home, and be lulled to sleep to the sound of your heartbeat just like before they were born.

Breastfeeding your baby back to sleep at night helps protect your breastmilk supply while meeting their demanding nutritional needs. A baby’s growth rate for the first 4 months of their life is faster than it will ever be again (even teen boys don’t grow as fast!) and feeding frequently through the night not only ensures an adequate milk supply as it coincides with the time of day that the milk-making hormone prolactin is highest in the lactating parent’s brain, these feedings also provide a steady supply of calories for this rapid growth phase. Night-time feeds can be protective of breastmilk supply with higher prolactin levels at night and may make up to 20% of a baby’s total milk intake. Feeding to sleep is part of their growth strategy! (See this study for more info.)

Breastfeeding to sleep may continue long after birth as well, particularly around certain times of day as melatonin levels in breastmilk are higher in the evening and through the night. It’s no surprise that a year or even two years later your little one falls asleep best while at the breast. This may even contribute to a regular sleep rhythm for your child. (Read about melatonin in breastmilk here.)

But is it a bad habit?

According to Dr. Lavin, no. In our interview Dr. Lavin explained that just as adults can establish new sleep habits, so can babies and young children. If, at some point, breastfeeding to sleep isn’t working for you and your child, you can change it. Particularly with an older baby or toddler. If you want to night wean gently, check out our night weaning readiness checklist here.

So it’s totally natural to breastfeed your baby to sleep and it isn’t a bad habit but… what about their teeth? We’ve all heard of bottle-rot, won’t falling asleep with breastmilk be bad for their teeth?

Human milk isn’t going to cause human teeth to decay. Dr. Lavin shared with us that genetics and socio-economics have more of an impact on the development of cavities than breastfeeding to sleep. That doesn’t mean there’s no risk, it just means that the risk is pretty low and wiping or brushing the teeth after your child eats solid food or drinks anything other than breastmilk or water is adequate protection for your child’s teeth. It isn’t necessary to clean teeth after breastfeeding at night (don’t wake the baby!) if there has only been breastmilk or water since the teeth were last cleaned.

As always, it is important to practice safe sleep whether or not you are breastfeeding your baby to sleep. The AAP recommends that babies under 12 months should sleep alone on their back in a dedicated sleep space in the parent’s room, free of blankets, pillows, toys, and crib bumpers. While the AAP recommends against bedsharing it is better to prepare to practice safe bedsharing if there is a chance you will fall asleep with your baby rather than to accidentally sleep with your baby in an unsafe manner (i.e. falling asleep with baby in a chair, on the couch, in a recliner, etc.).

Breastfeeding your baby to sleep is a completely normal reality, particularly in the first few months. If at some point you desire to change that and establish different sleep habits, you can. No need to worry that it is a bad habit you’ll be stuck with or is causing problems later on down the road. If it is working for you and your baby, it’s not a problem at all. Happy breastfeeding and sweet dreams!

Night Weaning Gently FAQ’s and Night Weaning Week 2020 with Giveaway

Night Weaning Week 2020 is made possible thanks to the generous support of Naturepedic and the Night Weaning Gently Workshop.

 

Learn more about all the brands sponsoring Night Weaning Week below, including Naturepedic organic mattressesArdo, Crane USA, Olababy, the “Night Weaning, gently” workshop, and the upcoming “Sex, Interrupted” e-book.

But first, we’re answering some common questions related to Night Weaning.___________________

Night Weaning Gently FAQs

by Jessica Martin-Weber

 

What is respectful, gentle night weaning?

Respectful, gentle night weaning is a mindful process of ending night feeds that considers the needs of the entire family with awareness of development and the importance of the parent/caregiver – child bond. This process cares for the whole family and can be done with any sleep arrangement in respect for the family’s values, priorities, and needs. While it may be with some tears, it won’t be traumatizing or isolating and there will be comfort for those tears, which teaches your child that they can be upset and still have care and support from you even when they can’t have what they want. It does not involve leaving your child to cry alone.

Ready to night wean but want more help in doing so? Take our Night Weaning Gently Workshop e-course.

 

When is a good time to start thinking about night weaning and does it have to mean moving baby into their own room? How do you know if they’re ready?

(Want to determine your family’s readiness for a respectful, gentle night weaning experience? Start with this free downloadable night weaning readiness checklist.)

I really think the answer to this is very unique to each family and each baby. Night weaning doesn’t have to mean moving the child into their own room if that is not what is desired by the family. It is important to remember that every child is different and their unique temperament may greatly influence their night weaning readiness. While some infants naturally give up their night feeds at a young age, more commonly night feeds remain an important part of an infant’s routine until 10-12 months of age or beyond for both nutrition and comforting reasons. Under 6 months night feeds for the breastfed baby are important in establishing and protecting milk supply and night weaning too early can lead to low milk supply. If your child is under 10 months, they may not be ready to night wean. Both child and parental readiness are important – if you are not ready to night wean your child, you do not have to. Your child’s level of readiness for night weaning is the most important consideration and we do not encourage attempting to night wean if your child’s readiness score is not optimal. 

(Points to keep in mind for your child’s sleep space.)

 

Will night weaning gently end all night wakeups?

Maybe, maybe not. It usually will help but we all wake for a wide variety of reasons, including babies, toddlers, and young children. Night weaning gently will end night wakings to feed while respectfully preserving the parent/caregiver-child bond.

 

How long does it take to night wean gently?

It is very unique and individual, every child and family is different but typically somewhere between 7-10 nights. However, sometimes it is a very smooth and easy-going transition, particularly if your child is very ready for the process and it may be complete in 3 nights. Other times it is a more drawn out process with additional steps, particularly if there are any set-backs such as illness or travel. 

Wondering if your child is really ready? See this checklist.

 

What are some cues that your baby may be ready for night time weaning?

Studies have shown that babies under 12 months still need to wake often to eat both for nutrition and for safety in their sleep cycle.  So I don’t look for any signs of readiness before 10-12 months. After the one year mark, though, any combination of these may be a sign of readiness to night wean:

  • Seems tired and grumpy during the day.
  • Eats well (solids and breast milk) during the day.
  • Has moved through some of the major milestones such as walking.
  • Does NOT have intense separation anxiety.
  • Is not actively teething or sick.
  • Seems frustrated and restless at night at the breast
  • Wakes to nurse but falls quickly back to sleep without really eating.
  • Shows basic understanding of phrases like “all done.”
  • Shows interest and awareness in bed time routines and daytime vs. nighttime.
  • May play putting toys to bed.
  • Responds to soothing other than breastfeeding (i.e. rocking, singing, back rubs, etc.)
  • For a more complete list of signs of night weaning readiness, download your free night weaning readiness checklist here.

I think night weaning is most successful if the child is truly ready for it, please don’t expect that just because your child is over a year old they will be ready to night wean.  If it is a giant struggle or at any time the parents feel this is all wrong and not what they want to be doing then they should stop. It is possible that a child won’t be ready one month but will be the next. Remaining flexible is perhaps the most important key to night weaning. Maybe for all of parenting actually.

 

What’s really involved in respectful, gentle night weaning?

It will depend on your child’s personality, your sleep arrangements, the support you have, and your primary goals in night weaning, but in general you set a kind of time frame that you won’t breastfeed during (your most valuable sleep hours) and soothe without the breast when they wake instead. Go over the night weaning readiness checklist and if it looks like you’re ready, you start with a block of time you don’t feed during the night, say 10pm – 4am and instead offer cuddles, back rubs, soft sounds, empathy for their upset with comforting words, and maybe a sippy cup of water. You may want to do more to prepare and it is likely you will want to more specifically customize the process to be mindful of your child’s personal sleep temperament.

Learn more about your child’s sleep temperament and night weaning gently in this do-at-you-own-pace e-workshop.

 

Can you respectfully and gently night wean a child without the help of a partner?

Absolutely. 

 

Are there options in how to night wean?

There are several and any method should be customizable to your family’s needs.

Night weaning gently method overviews:

The Feed To Sleep Method– For toddlers. If continuing to breastfeed to sleep for bedtime is something you want to continue, this method allows for gently ending middle of the night feeds while allowing for breastfeeding to continue to be the last step in the bedtime routine. With responsive comfort given for wake-ups during a set time frame of your most valuable sleep hours, the Feed to Sleep Method gradually reduces feed times during those hours over the course of several days but does not interfere with breastfeeding to sleep at bedtime.

The Gentle Weaning Method– For older babies and toddlers. This method involves including breastfeeding as part of the bedtime routine but gently weaning off breastfeeding to get to sleep at bedtime and through the night. A respectful, tuned-in approach that ends the connection between breastfeeding and nighttime sleep by observing how suckling changes and gradually reducing the time at the breast for each feed before laying baby back down.

The Time Block Method– For older toddlers and preschoolers. Involves the older child in the process with conversation that breastfeeding (or whatever your family calls it) will only happen when the sun shines or in a specific spot and not during sleep time any more. Selecting one feed to start with and using the light outside, the time on the clock, a color changing clock, or some other signal, the child knows that breastfeeding will not be available until that time but that comfort is still offered.

 

Do you have to night wean or will they eventually stop on their own?

Night weaning is completely optional. All children will stop feeding through the night on their own, often between the ages of 2-4 but sometimes later. However, no child has been breastfeeding through the night by the time they have gone off to college, they all stop at some point. If you don’t want to night wean, you don’t have to.

I can’t stress enough that being flexible and figuring out what works for your family, not following a set schedule of what someone has predetermined your child should be doing at what age is crucial for the night weaning experience to be free from trauma.

For more in-depth support in planning your respectful, gentle night weaning journey and for less than the cost of a night at a hotel, take the Night Weaning Gently Workshop with Jessica Martin-Weber and no-cry Children’s Sleep Consultant, Rebecca Michi. Register here.

___________________

Night Weaning Week Giveaway

 

Many thanks to the brands that are participating in Night Weaning Week. They believe that parents should have easy access to the information they need to make the best decisions they can. Their products reflect that belief, and we’re excited to share a bit about the ones featured in this giveaway.

To enter the giveaway, please use the widget at the end of this post. 

 

Our Title Sponsor, Naturepedic, is all about sleep. Their mission is to provide everyone from babies to adults with a fuller, healthier night’s sleep on a quality organic mattress. Their handcrafted organic mattresses and accessories are a dream to sleep on. You can sleep soundly knowing that you are completely safe from unhealthy materials and chemicals.

Naturepedic Crib Mattress
Retail Value: $349 

The Organic Breathable 2-Stage Baby Crib Mattress combines breathability and waterproofing for a safe, healthy and hygienic crib mattress design. The mattress starts with a firm, flat waterproof surface made from non-GMO sugarcane that is so pure, it actually meets food contact standards and easily wipes clean.

 

 

 

 

A free registration for the “Night Weaning, gently” workshop
$295 Value

Learn how to gently end night feeds thanks to the Night Weaning Gentlyworkshop, with Jessica Martin-Weber, founder of The Leaky Boob and Rebecca Michi, children’s sleep consultant.

 

 

Ardo: Calypso-To-Go breast pump
Retail Value: $300

The Calypso-To-Go is a Swiss-made, closed system breast pump that features: 64 settings, 3 power options (battery, AC adapter, car adapter), less than a pound, piston pump (gentler than membrane pump), 250mmHg (same as most pumps), insurance covered. It goes where you go!

 

 

 

 

Crane: Elephant Humidifier
Retail Value: $55

Meet Elliot the Elephant! No matter the humidity level you would like to achieve we’ve got you covered. The Crane Adorable cool mist humidifiers offer variable output settings and an adjustable 360 degree mist lid making it easy to send the mist in any direction. Plus, our humidifiers are whisper quiet which makes it the perfect option for light sleepers, kids, and especially babies.


Olababy: a transitional feeding set, or a spoon + bowl feeding set
Retail Value: $25

Baby-led weaning training spoons and silicone bottles

 

 

 

 

12 free copies of the upcoming “Sex, Interrupted” e-book
Retail value: $17.99
Coming out April, 2020

What if intimacy and sex could actually be BETTER after baby?

Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber, together for over 20 years and still “doin’ it” in spite of having 7 kids, share their stories and thoughts on how they’ve kept their connection – and their groove – alive all this time. Straightforward and honest, they share the good, the bad – the ugly – the challenges and the beauty in maintaining a relationship when babies enter the picture – and stay there FOREVER. 

 

Enter the giveaway here:

 

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