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Is it OK to let your baby nurse to sleep?

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Habit-forming or necessary comfort?

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.
Breastfeeding

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

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