If you are reading this guide, then you have probably wondered how you will ever stop feeding to sleep.
This might be because you are going back to work, or you would like someone else to be able to care for your baby around nap time or it may just be that you have decided that now is the time.
I want to start by telling you all though that there should be absolutely no pressure from anyone else influencing this decision. If you’ve decided that you would like your baby to perhaps fall asleep without the help of your breasts every time, then great, but if you’ve been told you are “making a rod for your own back” or that you are “creating bad habits” then please do not listen to this.
If, ultimately, you are happy feeding your baby to sleep and they’re happy too, then please continue.
Breastfeeding is a truly magical experience, our breasts almost become our superpower. The best bit of advice I was given was “if in doubt, boob” and it’s amazing just how quickly our breasts can calm our fractious babies.
Feeding to sleep is not a bad thing to do and nor will it ever be as long as you are happy doing so. In fact, it is developmentally normal and healthy, but there comes a time when you decide that you would like to try other ways to get your baby to sleep.
The advantages of breastfeeding to sleep
- It helps a baby feel secure, attached, loved and comforted, thus helping their emotional development.
- Our breast milk contains natural sleep-inducing hormones which help babies establish their circadian rhythm.
- It is handy and convenient to know that you can calm and help your baby fall asleep by feeding them.
Some disadvantages of breastfeeding to sleep
- Other people will struggle to settle your baby, which may be tricky if you need to leave the house at nap time/you’re returning to work/your child is being cared for by someone else.
- It may be inconvenient to have to feed your baby to sleep when you have other small children in the house or things you absolutely need to do. Breastfeeding is a full-time job and often our society is not geared up for supporting that.
How do I help my child fall asleep another way?
Change up your bedtime routine
If you have bought any of my other sleep guides, then you will know just how important I believe our baby and children’s pre-sleep routines are. If you are currently ending your baby or toddler’s bedtime routine with a breastfeed to sleep, then there are small changes you can make to your routine to gently steer away from that.
The perfect bedtime or pre-nap time routine:
- Up to the bedroom, make the room as dark as you can (portable black out blinds are invaluable!) and turn on a dim light.
- Get baby changed into clean pyjamas and nappy
- Use a baby sleeping bag if you are not co-sleeping, these are a great sleep signal for your little one.
- Sit in a chair in their room and offer their bedtime feed. Turn light off and sing a bedtime song, this should be the same each night and again, will be a lovely sleep signal for your baby – Turn off the light and cuddle until drowsy and then put down in their cot.
If you are reading the above and can only imagine a bedtime or nap time going that peacefully then let me tell you how you can get there.
Introduce Other Sleep Associations
The first thing I would recommend is to introduce these new sleep associations over the course of a week or so. The positive sleep associations are the sleep song that you sing to your little one. Perhaps you could introduce a comforter that you will offer baby every time you feed them so they also start to associate the comforter with sleep and downtime.
Please be aware that safe sleeping guidelines state that baby must sleep in an empty cot free from toys or comforters for the first year, so you may want to take the comforter away once your baby is asleep, if they are sleeping in a separate room from you.
Detach Baby Before They Are Fast Asleep
Once you’re sure the breastfeed is finished, try detaching your baby from the breast (break the suction with a finger in the corner of their mouth) before your baby is fast asleep. If baby instantly tries to root for more milk, then try and cuddle your baby close to your breast, putting a little pressure on their chin or rub their back to see if that pacifies them.
Please bear in mind that your baby may do that because they are still hungry and they need the second breast, in which case feed your baby and try again when they have finished.
Get someone else in on the bed time routine
This might not be viable for everyone but you may like to commit to a time where it may be possible for your partner/family member/friend to help you with little one’s bedtime routine.
It’s at this point that you can do your routine as normal but once the little one has finished their feed, you can pass your baby to your partner, or whoever it is that is helping out, and they can sing the bedtime song to your little one and sway them gently while they fall asleep.
When you have implemented a new bedtime routine and your little one has grown accustomed to the pre-sleep song and any other sleep associations that you may have added to their routine, then you may want to try and settle your baby to sleep in a different way.
I recommend that once your baby has finished feeding, you have turned out the light and sung your song, that you gently put your baby into their cot, place a firm and gentle hand on them and gently tap and shush them. You can do that for as long as it takes for your little one to fall asleep.
Once they’re asleep, you can stop shushing and keep your hand on them so they are feeling that contact with you as they drift into a deep sleep. You can then slowly release the pressure in your hand and slowly take your hand away. Once you’re confident your baby is peacefully asleep, then you can leave the room and let them sleep.
If your baby doesn’t tolerate this, then of course pick them up and put them in the cradle position so their head is in the nook of your arm and start to sway them from side to side whilst shushing and tapping their bottom.
Once they become calm, then stop swaying but continue to tap and shush. If they’re calmer still, then stop shushing but continue a nice rhythmic tap on their bottom.
If at any point they begin to get upset again then introduce the last thing you stopped. So for example, if you stopped swaying and baby becomes fractious, then start to sway again.
Once they’re comfortable and calm with you holding them and tapping their bum, they’ll start to fall asleep. After a few moments, put them into their cot and roll them onto their side with them facing away from you and continue to gently tap their bottom.
Again, safe sleeping guidance states that babies must be put down to sleep on their back and if they’re confidently rolling from front to back and back to front when awake, then it is safe to let them find their own sleeping position.
What I’m suggesting you do is roll your baby onto their side just while you are tapping their bottom in the cot once they are asleep. I then recommend you wait 5 minutes or so in the room with your baby and roll them gently onto their backs if they haven’t done that themselves already.
When they wake in the night, then try to calm them using the same method but of course, feed them if it has been a substantial time since their last feed or they are in any way very upset and can not be consoled.
It is, of course, a lot easier to put a baby down for a nap and for bedtime at the end of their age-appropriate awake time. If you’re unsure what I mean by that, I simply mean the amount of time your baby has been awake since last waking.
Please find the information you need about awake times on the below guide. An overtired baby is often a lot harder to get to sleep, so try and time naps and bedtime at the end of your baby’s awake time.
Breastfeeding Toddlers – 18 Months +
If you’ve decided that you would like to stop breastfeeding your toddler to sleep then use the same principles as above; adding sleep associations etc. I would strongly advise that you ask your partner or a well-loved member of your family to help you with bedtime.
Some toddlers may be happy being cuddled or rocked to sleep by someone other than Mum and if you have never tried that approach then try it and see what happens. I would recommend though, that you communicate this to your toddler, that you say “Daddy is taking you to bed tonight, no booby tonight” and offer them a feed before they go up to bed.
The more your toddler falls asleep without the breast in their mouth, sucking, then over time, they’re less likely to wake up so much at night. Of course, once your little one is used to not feeding to sleep and is now well adjusted to having that other person put them to bed, the next thing to overcome will be to wean them off that support at bedtime.
That will be much easier for them as they understand more and more. You can say things like “Daddy/Mummy will cuddle you to sleep tonight and then tomorrow she will sit next to the bed” and over the course of a few nights you will move away from the bed.
When your toddler wakes in the night, again, get Daddy or a well-loved family member to go in and settle them back down to sleep. A quick shush or a cuddle may suffice as long as they are comforted and responded to.
Once they’re old enough to understand, then something like the Gro Clock may be useful as a cue for them to know, a) when it is morning and b) when they can have a feed and you can again communicate to them “no booby until the sunshine comes up”.
Ultimately, listen to your gut, you will know what your child can understand and communicate and you will also know if they’re not ready for this big step. Please know that I can support you in a remote 1:1 way if you need more support with this.
FAQ’s About Breastfeeding to Sleep
What if my baby still doesn’t settle and is beyond being rocked/tapped on the bottom?
If your baby is getting worked up, you have been trying for a while, then feed to sleep and try again another night. You are not a failure, you haven’t done anything wrong. Your little one just may not be ready, just keep trying!
When is best to introduce this technique?
As it’s so gentle, you can introduce it any time of the day, either at naptime or bedtime. Bedtime may be easier for them to fall asleep, however, your baby will naturally have higher levels of melatonin and the “pressure” to sleep will be higher. Once you have tried it, keep going to maintain consistency for your baby.
What shall I do after a night feed?
It can be very hard to keep a baby awake during a nighttime breastfeed, so please don’t worry about keeping them awake. What I would advise is to break their latch when their sucking becomes slow and fluttery as it’s likely they are asleep at that point.
Cuddle them close against your breast once you have broken their latch and then put them down, if they wake straight away, then try and swap, tap their bottom etc.
What if my baby needs winding?
Remember that once a baby is mobile, i.e. rolling around, lifting their head then they will start to naturally wind themselves. However, if you’re still at the stage of needing to wind your baby, then it may be too soon for the above to be effective, but that does not mean you shouldn’t try. If your baby needs wind after they have fed and falls asleep whilst being winded then please don’t worry about this!