You may have been told to avoid letting your baby fall asleep while breastfeeding, but it seems to be working out well for you both. We talk to experts as well as moms to find out if it really is a big parenting no-no.

Habit-forming or necessary comfort?

Your newborn baby sleeps most of the day, and he also seems to breastfeed for most of the day as well. Nursing and sleeping are almost synonymous in the early days, and once your baby becomes more alert, you’ll find that after a period of being awake, nursing to sleep is natural for both of you. You may wonder, however, if nursing to sleep is a good idea to continue.

Normal and appropriate

Many moms we spoke to believed that nursing a baby to sleep is a normal part of their parenting and they didn’t see a problem with it. “Nursing to sleep is so completely natural,” said Amy, mom of one. “It's how my little one falls asleep every night (and through the night). He naps just fine during the day without nursing while I work. My favorite thing is after he's fallen asleep and eventually unlatches he sometimes makes a contented little cooing sound or his little mouth still makes little sucking motions. It's a precious time for me, since I work I try to enjoy every minute I can get with him!”

Leigh Anne O'Connor, a certified lactation consultant, emphasized that nursing to sleep is an instinctive practice. “It is normal and appropriate for a baby to nurse to sleep,” she said. “At the breast is where all of Baby's systems are normalized — temperature, respiration and heartbeat. For a mom nursing to sleep can become her ‘superpower.’”

Explore other options

Other experts feel that nursing to sleep is fine in the early months, but once they exit the newborn stage, it’s often suggested to try to break that habit now, rather than down the line. “Many babies nurse to sleep and sleep through the night,” said Devon Clement, a certified postpartum doula and baby sleep consultant. “Many don't. If your baby won't fall asleep unless there's a boob in his mouth, it's a good idea to work on that sooner than later. Have your partner try to get him to sleep with rocking or pacifiers — this way your baby won't smell milk and wonder why he's not getting the good stuff!”

Certified lactation consultant Deedee Franke, RN, BSN, agreed that nursing to sleep is fine in the beginning of a baby’s life, but had a suggestion for when she is a bit older. “It is OK to nurse a baby to sleep,” she explained. “As a baby gets past 4 to 6 months, try to take Baby off the breast when he gets drowsy and place him down in a safe sleep position and place.”

Trust your instincts

The bottom line — your child will not go off to school still nursing to sleep. If you feel that nursing your baby to sleep is working for you and your family, then that is OK. If you feel like you need to help your baby fall asleep without nursing, that is OK too — as long as you aren’t pressured or bullied into it. “Parents need to learn to trust their instincts and know that it is comforting for a baby and a mom to be together,” said Leigh Anne. “So many mothers, in particular mothers who work outside of the home, secretly admit to loving nursing their babies and sleeping with their babies. It is a sad state of affairs that they feel the need to keep it a secret. Instinctive parenting needs to come out of the closet.”

More on breastfeeding

Breastfeeding photos: Moms with their babies
What does full-term breastfeeding really mean?
Make breastfeeding in public easier

Tags: baby sleep

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Comments on "Is it OK to let your baby nurse to sleep?"

SKM October 31, 2013 | 7:47 AM

I always wondered if it was okay to do this, I did it anyway for at least the first 6 months. It just felt right to comfort my child to sleep in a natural way that was soothing for her like nothing else. Glad to see I am not alone on the nursing to sleep, my family and partner acted like I was an alien for doing it.

Emma G October 03, 2013 | 2:09 AM

I've just weaned my toddler off bed-time nursing (most nights). The great thing about doing it when they are older is you get easy bed times for AGES, then you get to a point where you can say "I'm going to lie you down in your bed now so you can go to sleep" when they are all drowsy and they understand what is expected of them. We progressed so naturally from nursing to sleep to me even being able to leave the room whilst she's playing with her teddies I'll be doing the same with the baby I'm expecting later this month!

vforba September 20, 2013 | 6:28 PM

I had four kids and nursed everyone of them to sleep. Nursed for 1 year with the older two and nursed my last two to 20mos and 2.5yrs. Never had a problem with it. There are some babies that like to suck constantly and maybe then it's good time to offer a pacifier so your boob is not constantly be sucked on because occasionally it will cause irritation. But other than that I think there is no problem with it.

christina September 04, 2013 | 3:42 PM

I don't understand why its ok for the baby to fall asleep with a pacifier but not a breast. I will continue to nurse as I feel fit! That sleep consultant probably also agrees that crying it out is NOT.

Karen G September 04, 2013 | 3:39 PM

I let all my children nurse to sleep for as long as each wanted - well into toddlerhood. And I would do again and again. They were babies. (Yes, toddlers are still babies.) It was comforting and a wonderful way for them to transition from wake to sleep - with help from the calming hormones released by all involved during nursing. And each would gaze at me during those late-in-the-day nursings as if I was the goddess of the universe. (One only gets a brief time to enjoy that particular look.) And guess what? It apparently was NOT habit forming. All are now adults and bed-time nursings have long been a thing of their distant past. As for me, those special moments seem closer in memory than what happened last week... And I am grateful for the gift of it.

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