*Just a little note to start with. When I say, “SHOULD breastfeed to sleep at night.” I am not talking about the babies who naturally just don’t fall asleep breastfeeding or those who find that it just doesn’t work for them. Don’t worry, your kid is still normal even if they don’t fall asleep at the breast. This post is for the millions of women who are criticized, questioned and told they are creating “bad habits” by feeding their babies to sleep…because you know what? Breastfeeding your child to sleep is the most natural, beautiful, gentle way to mother through breastfeeding…and this is why you should feel supported to continue.
1.The composition of your milk.
The composition of our milk is actually very telling in how our babies are wired to behave and what their basic needs are. Studies have shown that our milk has components in it which actually helps our child fall asleep (Sánchez C, et al.). The components they have identified (nucleotides) are higher in the nighttime hours. Our milk is literally made to help our children sleep. This is not a “sleep prop” or “habit” that your child is falling into. This is one of the important things our milk is here to do. Help our children relax and unwind to fall asleep peacefully.
2. It helps keep up your supply.
While you and I will make the same amount of milk within a 24 hour period, we actually have different storage capacities in our breasts. So this means that at any given time we could have completely different amounts of milk in our breasts. One child could get exactly what they need from a breastfeed every 3-4 hours while the next baby will need to breastfeed every 1-2 hours to get what they need because of this. Breastfeeding at night is the number one most important thing to continue doing (if your child is asking for a breastfeed) to keep your supply up. And that longer breastfeeding session that your baby does at night to initially fall asleep could be a crucial breastfeeding session for your supply.
3. The re-connection at the end of the busy day.
As your child grows you will be amazed at just how busy they get during the day! Many of us find that our older babies and toddlers will hardly breastfeed at all only to then make up for it in the nighttime hours. This re-connection is important to their developmental health and can be especially special for mothers who work outside the home during the day and have missed out on the usual frequent breastfeeding they do when they are home.
4. It’s easy.
It always makes me a bit sad to hear someone describe breastfeeding to sleep as a “bad habit”. As I mention in my book, “Could you imagine describing breastfeeding to sleep or throughout the night as being detrimental to your child’s physical or mental health?” (Nagle, M). My youngest boy who continues to breastfeeds to sleep almost every night is almost 4 years old. Yes he is “STILL” breastfeeding to sleep. It is the most relaxing and comforting moment he has all day and is definitely one of the most relaxing activities I do during the day. To describe this as a negative experience or the wrong choice is inaccurate and damaging to the mothers and babies who would like to continue feeding to sleep at night.
5. It is something you can do even if you child starts daycare.
One of the worries many of us have is, “But what do I do when my child goes to daycare?! Do I have to stop feeding him to sleep so he can transition easier to daycare?” Have no fear! 🙂 Here is a video where I answer this question (it’s good news for you and your breastfed to sleep baby)…
6. You can keep this ritual until your child weans.
Here is how it usually goes… it’s seen as perfectly acceptable and deemed “OK” if your baby falls asleep at the breast for the first couple of months. After that though it is labeled a sleeping “prop”, a “bad habit” or a “sleep association”. I like to simply call it…normal. The biological norm. What our boobs are meant to do. This does not have to stop because your child reaches the magical age of 3 months old. You may find that it continues to be a ritual you and your child cherishes for years to come.
7. As you child gets older other people will also be able to put them to sleep if you are not there.
This is a common myth and fear. And yes it is true that for quite some time you probably will be the only person who can put your breastfed child to sleep. This is because it’s how we and our babies are biologically wired. As they get older, when you are there with your child at their bedtime you can carry on as normal keeping this ritual of breastfeeding to sleep and when you are not there someone else can put them to bed. With all of my children they eventually reached a time where they were very happy to have Dad put them to sleep if I wasn’t around.
8. Research does NOT support the notion that breastfeeding throughout the night causes cavities. There is research that shows there are protective factors in your milk to help prevent cavities. You can read more about the most recent evidence based information here and what actually does cause them…
9. It is the simple, yet profoundly important act of mothering through breastfeeding at night.
Mothering through breastfeeding (meeting the needs of our child through breastfeeding) does not just stop at nap times, bed times and throughout the night. Mothering our children through breastfeeding continues to happen at all hours of the day and night. The act of breastfeeding is not just about “the milk”. It is about the closeness, the comfort and the ritual of meeting our child’s needs at the breast. This is why we have breasts…and why breastfeeding to sleep should not be seen as a habit that needs to be broken, but rather the biological norm. Something we have been doing since the beginning of time and will continue to do for as long as we breastfeed.