How To Get Out Of The Nursing To Sleep Cycle

by | Jan 8, 2023

Breastfeeding your baby until they fall asleep is completely normal and often needed, especially during the first few months of your newborn’s life. This nursing to sleep, or feed to sleep, cycle can be a magical time and one that includes vital skin-to-skin contact and bond building.

However, as your baby grows, you may want them to learn how to soothe themselves to sleep, and not to rely on nursing to relax enough to drift off into dreamland. Making this transition can be a challenge; there are a few things you can do to make this process easier for your little one and you. 

Why Feeding A Newborn To Sleep Is Important 

Daytime and nighttime breastmilk are actually different. The milk that moms produce at night contains higher levels of certain DNA building blocks which help promote healthy sleep. Day milk includes more activity-promoting amino acids. Breastfeeding your newborn at night actually helps them to wind down and relax. So, it’s part of the perfect recipe for sleep. 

Babies at this new stage of life are awake for a very short amount of time – sometimes just an hour or two at a time. Breastfeeding takes up a chunk of this wake window, so it’s perfectly natural to get into the nursing to sleep cycle during this newborn phase. 

3 Signs It’s Time To Stop The Nursing To Sleep Cycle 

  1. Comfort Sucking

If your baby sucks without swallowing, this is called comfort nursing – they’re breastfeeding as a way to soothe themselves, not to feed. While there’s nothing wrong with occasionally comfort nursing in times of stress and change (such as teething), this can become a habit that will hamper your baby’s own ability to self-soothe.

  1. Refusing To Sleep Without Nursing

You may want to transition your baby to bottle feeding to give yourself a bit more freedom. If your baby is refusing to comply with this change, and they don’t fall asleep without the breast, it’s a sign that they’re dependent on breastfeeding as a habit to fall asleep instead of food. 

  1. Short Sleeping Windows For Their Age

As your baby grows, they’ll be awake and asleep for longer stretches of time. Your little one continues to only stay asleep for around 45 minutes at a time, and insists on being comfort nursed back to sleep every time.

5 Tips To Break Out Of The Nursing To Sleep Cycle 

It may be automatic to just breastfeed your baby to sleep. However, you could be setting yourself up for many sleepless nights when your baby could be sleeping longer or even through the night. 

Break the nursing to sleep cycle by:

  1. Moving Their Nighttime Feed Up

Stop making their last feed the last thing they do before they go to sleep. Breastfeed your baby before their bath and do it in another room, not their nursery.

  1. Soothing Them In Different Ways

When your little one wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to comfort nurse as they usually would do, offer them something different. There are many ways to soothe a baby to sleep that does not involve feeding them. Cuddle them, rock them back and forth, change their diaper (if it needs to be), sing to them, or put on some white noise. Also, don’t go to your baby immediately if they wake up in the middle of the night. Give them a chance to lull themselves back to sleep. 

  1. Creating A Nighttime Routine

Along with moving their last feed earlier in the evening, you can add other relaxing activities to help them get ready for sleep. This can include an evening stroll (fresh air is calming for babies, too), a bath with lavender baby products, a baby massage, and a lullaby. 

  1. Increasing Daytime Feeds

When you decrease your baby’s nighttime feeds, you’ll need to ensure that they’re getting enough calories during the day. 

  1. Being Consistent

Your little one may not be on board with these changes – the older they are, the more they may protest. Don’t give up though; it’s important to stay consistent with this new routine. 

3 More Ways To Promote Better Sleep 

  1. Stay Consistent With Their Naps

Let your baby nap during the day – the number of naps they need is based on their age. Daytime napping actually makes nighttime sleep easier. When your baby doesn’t take naps, they become frustrated and overly stimulated, which makes it more difficult for them to wind down at night. 

  1. Create A Calming Environment 

A cool, dark environment away from distractions (such as lights and loud noises) is the optimal space for sleep. You can consider using a fan for both white noise and keeping their nursery cool. 

  1. Put Them In Their Crib When They’re Drowsy, Not Asleep

This means that your baby is awake but relaxed and their wake window is nearing the end, so they’re due to sleep. Put your baby in their crib, and then walk away. I love putting babies in sleep sacks to increase their feelings of security and comfort. The first few times you try to put them down drowsy, they may get fussy. What do you do then? All of our recommendations are specific to the baby’s developmental age. Our online course and consultations provide a breakdown of recommendations with details.

Remember, mama, stopping the nursing to sleep cycle is not harmful to your baby – it’s a natural part of your baby’s growth. As your baby’s wake windows begin to increase, you have more room to develop a structure and a routine around their feeding and sleeping patterns. Develop a pattern that’ll benefit both you and your little one.

Meet Hillary

Hi! I’m Hillary, the Mama behind Baby Settler. These days you can find me with my four children and husband… probably outside, and helping Mama’s and families. I also have a lot of letters behind my name which translate, I’m also a Labor & Delivery nurse and Lactation Consultant.

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