Breastfeeding My Baby to Sleep

  • Post category:Sleep
  • Reading time:7 mins read

“I have always breastfed my baby to sleep, and this has worked quite well for us.  But now that he is seven months old, everyone is telling me that he really should be able to go to sleep on his own by now.  I have tried putting him to bed awake but it ends in tears for both of us.  I don’t mind breastfeeding him down for a while longer, but I worry about this habit in the long term – I might like an evening out when he is a bit older.  Is there anything I need to do now to make it easier later?”


Janet Wilson, Papakura – Trusting your gut feeling is such an important part of parenting! It sounds like you are feeling the way that is best for you, but are questioning yourself on the opinions of others. If you shut out the rest of the world, can you ask yourself if there even IS a problem?  Is there anything that can take the place of you and breastmilk at bedtimes?  If it is working for you and your family then it might not need to be ‘fixed’.

When we stop breastfeeding, for whatever reason and at whatever stage, we need to replace the comfort of the breast with something else – Other Mothering.  Is there something easier and less stressful, at the moment, than breastfeeding your baby to sleep?

In the early weeks, months and years of mothering there is nothing surer than change – what your baby is doing today may change tomorrow.  As they grow and develop at the breast they are learning and observing with you, in their happy place.  This stands our children in a great place to be able to take the proverbial big steps (going to sleep without breastmilk, going without you for increasing periods of time, walking…) when they are ready.  There are probably lots of things you can try, and there are certainly lots of books written about how to ‘make’ your child do A, B, C. There is, however, no book written for your child.   Follow your heart.  You ARE the expert on your baby.  Kia kaha!

Amanda Riches, Morrinsville – You sound like you are doing a wonderful job meeting your baby’s needs.  Many babies continue to breastfeed to sleep until they are two years old and even later. Slowly they seem to need it less and less until they fall asleep lying next to you or you just put them to bed one night without that last breastfeed.

If you are concerned about the future you can start introducing a sleep signal to use before breastfeeding to sleep, for example singing a song like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star then breastfeed or using a special toy/blankie that is used only for sleep times; place it between yours and baby’s tummy as you nurse to sleep then place it in the cot with him (my daughter had a fascination with my satin nightie so I made a cotton and satin blankie she now rubs between her fingers as she falls asleep).

Also many babies calmly and quietly fall asleep on daddy or grandma with no trouble but if mummy even thinks about trying to get baby to sleep without breastfeeding first, baby may strongly disagree and it turns into a battle with many tears. You can get your partner or mum to start attempting to rock baby to sleep every so often. Good luck and don’t let other people tell you what is right
and what is wrong because it sounds like you are doing what feels right for you and your baby.

Lisa Ross, Dunedin – It can often feel like our babies will never outgrow the needs they have now but they truly do, when they’re ready.  Often trying to push them to do something any earlier can cause the opposite – for them to cling to us more, need us more.  Often if we go with the flow and let them know we are there for them, in return they will let us know when they feel secure enough to move on.

Seven months is still very young and babies don’t understand very much at that age.  My baby who fed to sleep till far beyond seven months old, stopped long before she stopped breastfeeding completely and is a confident, independent, bright and easygoing eleven-year-old. Plenty of studies show that babies whose needs are met, become secure independent adults capable of forming healthy relationships.

Chris Gower-Rudman, Rotorua – A little bedtime routine is useful – even at this age.  Mum could do the dinner and bath thing before bed, as she may already be doing, and add a bedroom routine such as reading a story (looking at books) or singing a song before feeding baby to sleep. There is nothing wrong with feeding the baby to sleep except for the odd time when Mum may not be there to do it.

It is probably helpful to feed the baby in the room he is going to sleep in, rather than in front of the TV. This helps baby to associate other things beside just breastfeeding with going to bed and sleeping. It would be useful to have the baby’s father help with part of the routine so Dad and baby are familiar with it.

It is also a good idea to talk about what the routine is and if Mum is going to go out, tell the little one what is going to happen eg Daddy (or Grandma/Aunty Sue/teenage neighbour) will read you a story in your room/bed and sing you a song and hold your hand until you go to sleep.  If it doesn’t quite turn out like that, one night out of routine is not really a problem in the grand scheme of things.
Enjoy this cosy time with your baby.

Megan Lilley, Tauranga – I always breastfed my first daughter to sleep. It worked for her, me, and my husband. When I did return to some part-time evening work when she was eight months old, he was able to give her dinner, some expressed breastmilk and sit and read with her (or watch rugby) until she fell asleep.

Of course I had to always breastfeed her to sleep!  Although I was fine with this, I did think at the time – maybe I would try to do things differently next time. I was a bit envious of not just being able to put my baby to bed and walk away (like it seemed other mothers could do).

Second baby and guess what, I breastfed her to sleep every night till she was four-and-a-half, and apart from her being quite heavy to carry from the couch to her bed at the end of an evening, I loved every minute of it. It was our quiet time at the end of a busy day and who doesn’t love holding a sleeping baby/child in their arms?

Ten years after my first baby, and number three arrived (now two years old).  Yes, some days I do think “Oh I wish I could just put him to bed for a day sleep without having to lie down beside him till he drifts off,” but you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. I am his world and he falls asleep in my arms every day and night, touching my skin in his milky bliss. There are never any tears or tantrums. There is no stress. For the 14 other hours of his waking day he is dynamite and I struggle to keep up with his energy and behaviour. For the times that he is breastfeeding off to sleep he is perfect in my arms, loving, gentle, warm, sleeping and still. I treasure it every day and I would do the same again if there ever was a next time round.

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Two Styles of Mothering

  • Post category:Mothering
  • Reading time:5 mins read

Before my son was born I attended a ‘preparing for parenthood’ course with
my husband. It strongly advocated ‘parent controlled feeding and sleeping’ or
scheduled feeding. This sat very comfortably with my preconceived ideas
about what good mothering should be and I made the decision to feed my
baby three to four hourly from birth.
I loved my routine. Samuel settled well into it and seemed to progress as the
handbook said he should. I looked with disdain on those ‘ill advised’ women
who demand fed their infants. Couldn’t they see that if they responded to
every demand of the baby that they would inevitably create a demanding
child? It seemed common sense to me. I also didn’t approve of exclusive
breastfeeding. My decision to add two formula feeds into Sam’s diet allowed
his father to take an active role in the parenting and theoretically should have
meant that Samuel would sleep through the night at eight to ten weeks old.
Surely this was all in his best interests.
Samuel didn’t sleep through the night as we were led to believe he should. So
at eleven weeks of age we left him to cry for four hours on his own in the living
room, until he got the idea that he was not the boss. It took him three nights
and we were back on schedule. I helped him sleep more deeply by giving him
a solid night feed at twelve weeks. Of course it took Samuel no time to decide
that milk was easier to get out of a bottle than the breast and he had us fully
weaned at five months.
Four and a half years later my daughter was born. I had already decided that
as the routine had worked so well last time I was going to do the same again.
I don’t recall how it happened, Rachel was just a very content baby, and I
liked being with her so much that I seemed to feed her whenever I picked her
up. It was as if I was just saying, ‘hello, hungry?’ I found that I thoroughly
enjoyed breastfeeding her, and we seemed to bond more deeply each time
we did it. Rachel refused repeated attempts to supplement her feeding with a
bottle. In time I gave up. But I certainly never considered myself to be demand
feeding. Imagine my surprise when a friend, a La Leche League member,
pointed out that this was exactly what I was doing. I honestly had no idea. It
took a while for it to sink in. I had considered demand feeders ‘the enemy’. But
as time went by I began to see how much I had missed of my relationship with
Samuel because of my strict adherence to the routine. He is my son and I
adore him but from the moment he was born we have been at odds, with me
constantly forcing my will on him (I didn’t even let him decide when he was
hungry). And I really had lost the opportunity to have those precious innocent
months with him that I was now enjoying with his sister. I did the best that I
knew how for my darling Samuel, but it’s as if I held him at arms length and
I’m feeling the effects of that even now.
I was also upset to read research that contradicted so much of what I had
been told. I learned that breast milk supply is actually built up and maintained
by suckling and not by prolonged breaks between feeds. And that it is not
necessarily in a baby’s best interest to sleep through the night at eleven
weeks. And that babies who are exclusively breastfed are at a lower risk of
With Rachel, I had a great deal of pressure put on us by family and friends
who would ask, ‘Haven’t you weaned that baby yet?” But by then I didn’t care.
Rachel is a wonderful human being in her own right. Breastfeeding has added
a warmth and closeness beyond measure to our relationship. As for the
father’s participation in feeding; my husband’s support of my breastfeeding
has been invaluable. He would sit in a close embrace with the baby and me
and fully share our experience. So did Samuel. It’s been great for the whole
family. Add to that the enormous health benefits for both of us. I cannot
understand those who say that a chemist can come up with any better
nutrition than that which nature has designed.
I fed Rachel for 18 months. Now I am expecting another baby, and I have
already decided to exclusively breastfeed. As for a routine, baby and I will
work that out for ourselves and the clock, I suspect will have little say in the
To those who have never tried breastfeeding, or who are thinking about
demand feeding, I would suggest you give it a try. You really don’t know what
you are missing. And I thoroughly recommend contacting a La Leche League
Group. The caring support of like minded people, who won’t ask you, ‘Haven’t
you weaned your baby yet?’ is just wonderful.

By Jennie South, Christchurch
Originally printed in Aroha March/April 2003, Volume 5 Issue 2

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