How To Break Breastfeeding Sleep Association?

Nursing your baby until they fall asleep in your arms is a magical moment for any parent. You can share a tender and warm connection with your baby which is calm and restful. However, nursing your baby to sleep can build a strong association between breastfeeding and sleeping.

This could cause issues later on down the line. Have you ever wondered how to break breastfeeding sleep association with your baby? Thankfully, we have the answer!

How To Break Breastfeeding Sleep Association

We have put together this handy guide to help parents by teaching them how to break their child’s breastfeeding sleep association. Keep reading to find out more. 

How Do You Know If Your Child Has A Breastfeeding Sleep Association?

Just because you sometimes breastfeed your baby to get them to sleep does not necessarily mean that they have breastfeeding sleep association.

If your baby is able to self-soothe when they wake up during the night, and is able to fall asleep sometimes without being nursed, then they don’t have a breastfeeding sleep association. 

However, you should still be careful about how often you breastfeed them to sleep as they could develop the association at any point while they are being nursed. 

How To Break Breastfeeding Sleep Association 

When it comes to parenting decisions, each family is different and there is no straightforward ‘correct’ way to do things. However, there are some clear disadvantages to nursing your baby to sleep. 

Whilst encouraging a regular bedtime routine can be useful, nursing to sleep can cause your baby to rely on a sucking sensation before they are able to drift off. This can lead to over-reliance on dummies and thumb sucking.

Not only are these difficult habits to break, they can also cause problems with dental development. 

If you breastfeed your child to sleep then they will struggle to get to sleep if you are not around and another family member has to feed them with expressed milk or formula. It also makes it more difficult for your partner to get involved in night feeds, putting more pressure on you.

If you feel like your baby can’t fall asleep without you this can lead to an unhealthy attachment and a breastfeeding sleep association which can increase your emotional toll. 

If you have other children, then breastfeeding your baby to sleep every time could prevent you from being able to put your other children to bed. This could lead to them becoming jealous and resentful, and could impact your time with them. 

So how do you break breastfeeding sleep association?

Remember The Process Is Gradual 

If your baby has developed a breastfeeding sleep association then it can be broken, but it will take time and you will need to do it gradually. 

You could start with nap times rather than bedtime, as your baby is likely to be even more tired when they are due their first sleep of the day. This means that if you start to withdraw from nursing them to sleep they are still very likely to drift off from sheer exhaustion. 

Bedtime Routine

One thing you can do is ensure that there are other steps to your baby’s bedtime routine. It could be giving them a bath, giving them a baby massage, singing to them while they are in their crib, or reading a story.

Adding these additional elements means that you can gradually remove breastfeeding from the bedtime routine and they will still be able to get to sleep.

Feeding your baby at the start of the bedtime routine rather than the end also helps to further dissociate breastfeeding from sleeping to hopefully break the breastfeeding sleep association.

Put Them Down Drowsy

Your baby is likely to get drowsy and sleepy as they breastfeed – it makes them feel warm and calm and reduces hormones which make them feel tired- but try not to let them fall asleep. 

If you put them in their crib when they are drowsy rather than asleep, they will still take a few minutes to drift off and will need to be fed to sleep every time, promoting a breastfeeding sleep association.  

Find Other WaysTo Soothe Your Baby

Self-soothing is a skill that can take some time for a baby to develop. In the meantime, you can find alternatives to breastfeeding to help soothe your baby. 

You could try singing to them or playing relaxing music or white noise. You could also talk to them, or read a story. 

Even if they are too young to understand the words, the sound of your voice can still have a calming effect. Some babies are soothed by physical touch- you could stroke their head, rub their back or their tummy, or gently massage their feet. 

Make Sure Both Partners Are Putting The Baby To Bed

If you are raising the baby with a partner it is important that you are both involved in the bedtime routine. This stops the baby from becoming too reliant on one parent and gives them more scenarios in which they feel comfortable falling to sleep and avoids sleep association. 

Take it in turns, do some nights together, and if you have family members visiting then let them put the baby to bed. This is also useful as it means the baby will still be able to get to sleep even if they are being looked after by someone else on some nights. 

Obviously, this becomes more difficult for the breastfeeding mother. However, a good way to break breastfeeding sleep association is for the alternative parent or caregiver to put the baby in their cot after they have been breastfed.

Avoid Overstimulation 

Just like adults, some babies find it harder to sleep than others. If your baby struggles to drift off then you might want to work on reducing their stimulation in the hour or so before bedtime. 

This could involve getting back home at least an hour or two before bedtime, avoiding television before bedtime, and avoiding any vigorous movement or exciting games. 

Final Thoughts

It might take a while and you will need to take it slowly, but it is important to remain consistent if you are committed to breaking breastfeeding sleep association. 

If you have a bad week where you and the baby are tired and grouchy it might seem easier to just nurse them to sleep for a few nights, but this could undo all of the progress you have made. 

Even if the steps are small, keep moving in the right direction. Slow progress is still progress and you will get there eventually.

Joyce Bailey
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