Marathon nursing sessions are common in the early days when newborns are just figuring things out through the day/night confusion coupled with the frequent growth spurts, and breastfeeding will offer that comforting experience loaded with sleep-inducing hormones that incorporates bonding via skin-to-skin contact that lulls your new bundle of joy into a dreamy state.
The problem is when the breasts become the newborn’s human pacifier for comfort nursing, and they start to depend on it to fall asleep, and they won’t fall asleep any other way.
Here are reasons why your newborn won’t sleep unless they are nursing and gentle ways to help them sleep and break the breastfeeding sleep association.
Reasons why some newborns prefer sleep feeds
Comfort nursing is normal. If your newborn is not nursing for comfort, they’ll need to be sucking on their fists or a pacifier, and in this case, the breast is their first pacifier and the one that all others are formed after.
Some studies show that comfort nursing is healthy for newborns as it decreases their heart rates and helps them relax. So all babies need to suck, just that some do it more than others which ensures that they survive.
This desire to nurse to sleep is very normal, and it’s not a bad habit you’ve fostered, so don’t fear that you’re perpetuating a bad habit because associating the breasts with wanting to relax enough to go to sleep makes perfect sense.
Sometimes, they may just need to be close to you and seek out nursing as a way to do that. It has a positive effect on their physical and emotional well-being. It is a way to nurture your newborn and is more than just imparting fluids and nourishment.
How to stop nursing newborns to sleep
If your newborn relies on nursing to sleep, don’t panic. Below are the best tried and tested tips to help you stop nursing your newborn to sleep and help them fall asleep in different ways.
1. Start with naps
One of the first steps is introducing and implementing a routine from an early age. Many parents find it easier to start with nap times since they are less exhausted.
Once you’ve mastered naptime, it should be easier to start enforcing a new routine at bedtime too.
It doesn’t have to be anything rigid, but it’s essential to pay attention to the newborn’s cues and respond promptly when restless or hungry because it will help to have a flow to your day.
The eat, sleep, play approach is crucial even in the newborn stage because it helps remove the association between feeding and sleeping, and dimming the lights and drawing the blinds will cue your little one that it’s time to sleep.
2. Find other ways to soothe the baby
As a new mom, it can be hard to listen to your baby crying, and your first instinct is to put the newborn to the breast regardless of the source of the cry because we know it will calm them down, but believe it or not, nursing isn’t the only thing that can calm a crying baby.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the 5’S approach that includes side or stomach, sucking, swaddling, shushing, and swinging has proven to be effective in getting newborns to fall right back to sleep without necessarily having to nurse.
Combining them with a calming bedtime routine and a conducive environment to rest equipped with a humidifier, appropriate white noise machine, and optimal room temperature for babies will help you send the baby to sleep.
3. Don’t stimulate the newborn at nap or bedtime
Stimulating a newborn’s little world can be as simple as visiting with family and friends or going out to crowded restaurants which can’t be avoided at times but whenever possible, try to avoid it in the hour before bedtime.
A wind-down time with dim lights, warm baths, and a soothing baby massage will help you set the tone for the night without having them cling to your breast the entire time.
4. Stop nursing before your newborn falls asleep completely
Babies will struggle to fall back asleep if the conditions have changed. This means that if they fall asleep nursing, they’ll want to nurse again to fall back asleep. They’ll learn the valuable lesson of self-soothing by falling asleep on their own so that they’ll only need you when they’re truly hungry or in pain.
Try sticking in a finger gently to break the latch once the sucking becomes more like tiny quivers and they’re no longer swallowing. If they start to cry and try to re-latch, try some of the soothing techniques we talked about earlier.
This will take some time to get your newborn to get used to not fully nursing to sleep but eventually, they will understand that eating and sleeping are separate.
5. Let your partner or a family member put your newborn to bed sometimes
Trying to be a super mom will only burn you out and increase your risks for postpartum depression. If nursing is part of your sleep routine, go ahead and nurse your newborn until they are drowsy but not asleep, then let your partner or the child’s minder finish by putting the little one in the crib.
They might fuss and protest at first, but they’ll soon get the hang of it. Getting them used to being put down by someone else will be extremely useful down the road as it can also create a powerful bonding time for partners.
6. Wean the baby gradually
Weaning your newborn off breastfeeding fully to sleep won’t happen overnight. You’ll likely have to repeat the un-latch, soothe, re-latch, un-latch, soothe cycle again and again over the first few nights or even weeks.
The suck to sleep association is one of the strongest bonds to break, and not only will it help them to learn how to self soothe, but you’ll also be cutting down on nighttime wakings that aren’t hunger-related, and the results will be well worth it.
Will it hurt my milk supply to let my newborn sleep?
Letting your newborn sleep for longer periods isn’t going to hurt your breastfeeding effort because your body adjusts the milk supply based on when you nurse and how much the baby needs.
Some babies will sleep early through the night but will make up for it during the day, so your breasts will accommodate that, but as they mature and start taking solid foods, the need for breast milk will decrease, and your body will adjust to that too.
How can I make nighttime feedings easier?
Donut-shaped nursing pillows or “husband” back pillows can help make nursing in bed easier. Also, keep the room dimly lit and any noise to a minimum. This will help the baby to differentiate between day and night.
Your newborn will likely object to these new changes in their routine via the most powerful communication tool they have- crying. The older they get, the more they might resist, and while your instinct might be to fix the problem, you can reassure and soothe them without succumbing to feeding them.
You are not harming or traumatizing them by refusing to feed them, and that upset you hear is out of mere protest because things are different. Just be consistent with them because this builds trust, and there will be no mixed messages.