You know, when I had my first son, I had a lot of struggles with nursing. It was something that did not come easily to me. And one of the things that I started to do right from day one with my son, was nurse him to sleep. Right? I thought that that was the only way that this child would sleep, is if he were at the breast. And I know a lot of new moms feel exactly the same way. Right? The idea that he could fall asleep in any other way seemed foreign. He’s cranky, put him at the breast. He’s tired, put him at the breast. He’s irritable, let’s put him at the breast. And so the breast starts doing a whole lot of extra jobs, doesn’t it? And then it gets really tiring for both, mom and baby.
Baby’s never really getting a full feed. Mom’s exhausted because she’s nursing every hour. And it really can set you off for nursing failure, right out of the gate. And I know for me, it did. Thankfully, I figured out how to correct it and manage to hang on to breastfeeding a little bit longer. But it really got us off to a rocky start. So, I just want to give you a few tips here today on how you can encourage your baby to start exploring other ways of falling asleep.
Now, the first bit of advice I want to share with you is that it’s not actually your job to make your baby sleep. That’s good news. It’s not your job. It’s baby’s job. How baby learns to fall asleep is part of the process of being a human being, right? Sleep is just a biological necessity that we all have to do. But we can also create a whole bunch of baggage around our sleep. And the most common pitfall around sleep is this idea that baby has to be at the breast in order for sleep to come, which is just not true.
And so you want to have a check on the timing of your babies sleep needs. That is like, clue number one to figuring out the puzzle. Is how much time awake can my baby tolerate before they’re fatigued enough to sleep again. And it just depends on their age. Check out the blog. I’ve got lots of articles on the different age ranges and the time awake that each age range can handle. But that would be the first step. So, if you’ve fed your baby, baby’s had a little bit of activity time, and baby’s getting fussy now, it might be sleep that she’s after, not feeding.
So, my advice to parents is to try. Right? Like, let’s just try and see if she’ll fall asleep without going immediately to a feed. The best way to try that would be to put her down in the crib or the bassinet and see what happens. She might fuss for a few minutes and start drifting off. She might need a little bit of extra help from you with some shushing or patting but let’s just see if she can move in the direction of falling asleep without the nursing.
Now, if you’ve got an older child, though, it tends to happen from about the six month mark and up, is that the relationship between feeding and sleeping becomes so strong that they simply refuse to do it in any other way. Right? It’s like, the habit is so deep. It’s my strategy for sleep. I know I need to get on that breast in order for sleep to come. And that’s what they’re going to require. Every bedtime, every nap time, and most likely, multiple times through the night. So, if you feel like that’s the situation that you’re in, then I would encourage you to take some steps to correcting that.
Now, the good news is that baby can learn a new way to fall asleep and it actually happens quite quickly when you think about the big picture of life. This is just gonna be a few nights of baby figuring out how to do this. But you want to, sort of, disassociate feeding and sleep and start teaching your baby a new way of falling asleep that doesn’t involve that. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t still offer nighttime feeds. If you’re not comfortable, yet, pulling those, you can absolutely include them. You just want to make sure that baby’s not falling back to sleep at the breast for those nighttime sessions. That baby is clear that this is for food. You know, you have a 10 minute feed then you go back to that crib and you fall asleep on your own.
And once they start to put the pieces together on how to fall asleep on their own, and not at the breast, your gonna start to see an increase in the consolidation of nighttime sleep and there’s a good chance your baby might wean out of her nighttime feeds, independently, once she has the skills for sleeping well on her own. That’s good news. Sleep well.