Sheryl Jesin

The joys of nursing to sleep


Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers!

This month’s theme is ‘the joys of breastfeeding.’  You’ll find links to other bloggers’ contributions at the bottom of this one

Picture this – you are on an airplane with your husband and your 20 month old toddler.  It is almost time for you son to nap.   You don’t have your son’s favorite book, or his blankie, or a warm bottle of milk.  You don’t even have a seat for him to sit on.  The last thing you or anyone near you wants is a screaming, overtired toddler in a small enclosed area with nowhere to escape.   How in the world are you going to get him to sleep?

This was me, a few months ago.  My husband, son and I were travelling back home from an amazing family vacation.   Our flight was at 1pm – prime nap time!  But within minutes of boarding the plane, my son was fast asleep in my arms.  My secret sleeping weapon?  Breastfeeding!

All new parents are OBSESSED with sleep.  Rightly so – they generally don’t get enough of it, and people around them can’t stop talking about it.  How many times as a new parent did someone ask you – is your baby sleeping through the night?  Or – is your baby a good sleeper?  I know that I was asked these questions probably on a daily basis.  Now that my son is 2 people just assume that he sleeps through the night (P.S. he doesn’t and I’m ok with it!).

Right from the start, it was difficult to get my baby to sleep in any way other than by breastfeeding.  I fought it in the beginning – I thought that you should feed a baby, put him or her  in a crib, leave the room,  and the baby would peacefully drift into dreamland.  Boy was I ever wrong!  This did not work, at all!  I was perplexed, and  I started to read lots of books, blogs and websites about infant sleep.  I read lots of “mainstream” info that stated NEVER nurse your baby to sleep.  You will create bad habits and your baby will never be able to fall asleep without you.  Luckily, I  balanced this with a healthy dose of attachment parenting info that explained that nursing to sleep is completely natural, normal and has been done since the beginning of time!  Breastmilk contains sleep inducing properties that helps babies fall asleep.  Plus, the act of sucking itself soothes and calms babies, thereby naturally inducing sleep.  And as an added bonus – when a mom breastfeeds, chemicals are released in her body calming her, and inducing sleep in the mom too (this came in handy on the airplane!).

A lovely lounge chair nap on our cruise

So back to our family vacation.  My son had a wonderful nap on my lap on our plane ride home.   And he also slept great during the whole trip!  Wherever we were, as long as mommy and her milk were with him, he’d fall asleep.  In the hotel room, in our room on the cruise, on a lounge chair on the deck of the ship, in the Ergo walking back to the ship from a morning at the beach – he’d always fall asleep peacefully, quickly and with no tears!  Breastfeeding has been his prime sleep association since birth.  He doesn’t need a favorite book, a blankie or a warm bottle of milk to fall asleep. However, these things do come in handy when I can’t be there and it’s time to sleep.  Because guess what – he can fall asleep without me, even 99% of the time he is nursed to sleep!

Who needs a crib? Not me!

Now, the fact that we co-sleep too also helped on the trip – no need to worry about a crib!  But the joys of co-sleeping…that’s a whole other post…

How has breastfeeding helped you deal with baby or toddler sleep issues?

Please check out some of the other Carnival of Breastfeeding posts:

43 thoughts on “The joys of nursing to sleep

  1. Breastfeeding and cosleeping have been LIFESAVERS the three times we have traveled since Kieran was born!!

    The two are really mutually beneficial in our house. At 27 months Kieran still nurses to sleep every nap/night, and he’s in our bed all night long. We wouldn’t have it any other way – especially on those hard nights of illness/teething/bad dreams/etc.

    Good luck with your new blog!

    • Thank you Dionna for leaving the very first comment on my blog!

      I agree – I can’t imagine making it though nights of illness and teething without nursing and co-sleeping!

  2. Remember the old remedy for insomnia? A glass of warm milk! No different for a baby.

  3. Breastfeeding and co-sleeping have absolutely helped us with sleeping. In fact, I just nursed my 19-month-old to sleep, unlatching him as I read this post. With a handful of exceptions, I have either used breastfeeding or babywearing to get my son to sleep for every nap and night of his life. And until my daughter was 2 1/2 it was the same for her, too.

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  5. Baby will only fall asleep by nursing, except sometimes in the car (amazingly I’ve mastered the technique of nursing him to sleep in the carseat while remaining buckled in myself!) Even for naps during the day, he pretty much always wants to nurse to sleep 🙂

  6. Breastfeeding and co-sleeping are a blessing to me. Not so much extra baggage that contains bottles, powdered milk, water, sterilizer, etc. Just diapers (which, we can always buy somewhere if the need arises) and clothes!

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  9. I’m just starting to think that my 35 month old might not need to nurse to sleep anymore but she certainly loves to and I like the rush of sleepy hormones I get too. Since she is my last nursling I’m not feeling in much of a rush to stop. I know I will miss nursing to sleep the most.

  10. I hate that parents always get the advice that you shouldn’t spoil your baby by nursing her to sleep. Your breasts are your secret weapon, why would you not use every tool in your parenting arsenal, especially when it works?

  11. When we went to Peanut’s 12 month appointment last week the pediatrician asked how often she wakes at night and I told him I have no idea. I just roll over and put her on and go back to sleep! I love co-sleeping and breastfeeding.

  12. I’m also one of those mamas who has a 2-year-old who doesn’t sleep through the night but doesn’t mind at all! 🙂

    I am so glad to hear traveling went smoothly for you and your nursling. The last time we flew with Mikko was at 7 months old and it went … pretty badly. So we’re taking a flight this summer (he’ll have just turned 3), and I’m hoping the nursing will help (assuming he still is then, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down yet!).

  13. Another mum who nurses her baby to sleep here. I always like getting support from other people who do it – as you say, there is so much opposition to it in mainstream baby advice books. I, personally, wasted months trying to get my baby to fall asleep in other ways but now I am much happier letting her nurse to sleep. If only I had known then what I know now…

  14. Thanks everyone for commenting! I love hearing about other moms and babies who love nursing to sleep. If only I had known how common it was when Dylan was little…would have saved myself so much grief!

  15. thank u!
    i have kept at it bf and co-sleep even when so many of my peers frown at me
    but everyone is always amazed at how happy and easy my belle is
    thank u for affirming that what i feel is right, is right for so many others too

  16. great post!!! he sounds exactly like my son! and breastfeeding on the plane works wonders.

  17. Thanks for this post. My son just turned 22 months and we are still nursing and co-sleeping. He nurses almost always before sleep/nap. I have to admit, it has been hard especially when I hear other moms talk about putting their babes down and they play and babble until they drift to sleep or how other have weaned…I’ve had weak times of thinking, “Am I doing something wrong?” But when I see how great he is doing and how happy he is, I know I am doing a good thing!

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  19. Well, I must say I wouldn’t know how to put my babygirl down if it weren’t for nursing! I do get teased a lot- “oh, you’re gonna bf her until she’s 18!”….and also most parents I know urge me to use cry-it-out. I could never imagine such a harsh way, we co-sleep and sometimes she likes to fall asleep with the nipple in her mouth, so I lay on the side…I did harbor feelings of guilt like I am doing sth wrong, not letting her develop self-soothing abilities…I am her human pacifier after all! I cannot heòp but wondering…when do they make the transition…of simply drifting into sleep?

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  21. Hi there,
    We had a great sleeper (we tried letting her soother herself with us contsantly there to check her and reassure her) – it worked out great (she went to slept on her own no problem) until about 8 mths for nights and naps. Then a few teeth, some separation anxiety and standing up in the crib and it was the end of her sleeping on her own. I know she can because she has done it before obviosuly, but now she will cry hysertically if put in her crib awake for naps/bedtime or when she wakes up at night (~ 2-3x now) – soothing, rocking, cuddling does not work. What works is nursing her. I worry that I am not letting her figure out how to sleep on her own and that if she did she would sleep more at night and be more rested. But let me say that she is a very happy (almost 9 mth old) baby – she is saying mama and standing on her own. She knows many signs and words. So she seems happy – she laughs and smiles all the time. I just worry if I am doing the right thing nursing her to sleep – there is so much out there mainstream that says this is wrong and I am setting her up for horrible sleep habits. I will be home with her until ~ 18 mths. Any advice??? Guilty mom.

    • I say do what works for you – if she is happy and and thriving and you are all getting some sleep, then why not continue to nurse her to sleep? You most certainly are not setting her up for horrible sleep habits. I have nursed my now almost 3 year old son to sleep for the vast majority of his life. He sleeps through the night and also goes to sleep for other people if I’m not around. Nursing to sleep has most definitely worked well for us, and if it is working for you, then ditch the guilt!

  22. I commented before when my son was 22 months in March; he is now 31 months. He has gradually weaned himself within the last few months, since my supply dipped mid-pregnancy. It was getting very frustrating for him to attempt to nurse when there was really nothing much coming out, so it seemed he wanted to stop but almost was kind of afraid to take that step. At that point, he had already stopped nursing during the day (except right before naps) and still nursing at night. I gently nudged him in the direction of going to sleep without nursing; I made it so snack time was right before nap and at night he ate a snack before brushing his teeth, plus LOTS of hugs, kisses, soothing, etc. During the process he was upset and cried many times, but did not completely lose it, in which case I would have known he was not ready and would have tried to continue nursing. As of now, it has been over a week, the longest he has gone without nursing. He rarely asks for it except reaching for my shirt at night when he is super drowsy, but a hug or cuddle usually calms him enough to drift off. And last night (even though he woke up twice in the night) he just fell asleep without any coaxing from me. I was shocked!

  23. I just came across this post, and I love it! We (me and my almost 6 month old) nurse to sleep at night. I related to so many of your points. We just flew to D.C. to visit family, and many people on the plane stopped by our row to comment on how good he was being. Yay for breastfeeding!

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  25. Great post! Espexially timely that I read it now because we are about to go on a cruise ourselves 🙂
    I have loved nursing to sleep for all of the reasons you mentioned… I must say that I DO wish that I could sneak away once she is asleep though. She is 17 months and I nurse her down on a pallat on her floor. It usually takes at least two hours to unlatch without her waking. (this usually means I have to lie down for all of her nap)
    When she wakes At night I nurse her back down or bring her to bed for the rest of the night. I am fine with the later if I can get a few hours of my evening doing so but lately I’ve been stuck going back to nurse her or i just guve up and fo to sleep. Technically I probably need the rest but I also need to have time to do chores, visit with my husband, or be creative. (And I think I’m going blind/getting a million wrinkles from staring at my iPhone for so many hours in the dark.)
    Anyways, I guess I am looking for advice from other moms: tips and tricks to get your older nursling to unlatch sooner? To stay asleep longer? (Not through the night necessarily – but for a good chunk of time.)
    I am also worried because clearly I can only do this because I have one child, what happens when I have another one?

    I was hoping she would just eventually stay asleep for longer periods on her own. She will do this eventually right? I’m not sure when to expect it. No one else I know cosleeps still and very few are still nursing at 1.5 years.

    Ok, this comment was a bit of a rant, sorry about that! Any words of wisdom would be awesome. Thx! 🙂

    • Hi Melissa! I have to say that I’m pretty lucky because I’m generally able to sneak away from the kids after I’ve nursed them down. It is nice to have a bit of time in the evening to unwind and do some chores, or hang with the hubby, as you mention. I try to make the kids’ beds cozy and warm and cover them with a blanket and put a pillow beside their bodies so it feels as if someone is still there when I sneak away. I promise you that eventually your little one will be able to sleep on her own for good chunks of time. My 4 year old can sleep most of the night by himself, even though my husband generally joins him for part of the night. When I was pregnant, my older one night weaned on his own and also got used to sleeping with my husband, so that made things easier. That being said, I still spend lots of time staring at my iPhone in the dark too…LOL…I downloaded the Kindle app so at least I get some reading in, rather than just mindlessly websurfing 🙂 I hope some of this info helps…keep up the good work mama!!!! I know it feels hard when you think you are the only mom in the world still co-sleeping and nursing a 1.5 yr old, but you are not!!! There are lots of us out there!!

    • It has taken me a while to respond but I want to THANK YOU for your words of encouragement and the camaraderie from afar! It has helped to feel less alone plus I’ve been having more luck sneaking away so that has made me able to enjoy (or just sleep) when I cannot. I appreciate your support!

  26. You mentioned that your son can fall asleep on his own even though 99% of the time he’s nursed to sleep. I’m wondering how you do this? My 6 month old is mostly being nursed to sleep, but as a result–she has a very difficult time falling asleep any other way. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

    • I definitely found that it got easier as the boys got older for them to fall asleep with someone else. My husband usually just cuddles with them and they fall asleep. I don’t have any great tips other than keep trying…and if it is seems too hard and it isn’t working, try again in a few weeks or a month or two!

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  28. Wow. Thank you ALL. Reading the comments of this post has made my day. My daughter, two in less than a week, is amazing and I can’t get enough of her, but lately her night nursing is so active I’m unable to sleep thru it. And I’m tired which makes me cranky with her during the day, then I feel guilty and it continues the cycle around and around. It’s very exhausting but I want to keep on.

    It’s great to know I’m not alone. 🙂

    • Hi there, I posted the first response here back in Dec 2010 in the same situation. Mine was a voracious nurser and showed no signs of self-weaning. She is now 2.5 years and over the last month or two I limited her nursing to before bed and in the morning (which she definitely protested). It was very exhausting especially being back at work when she was 18 mth. But before our visit back home to see the grandparents we talked quite a bit about her being a big girl now and not needing to nurse anymore when we went on our big adventure. We are 10 days into our trip and it has now been about a week now since I nursed her. She is taking it fairly well considering my feeble attempts before. Having family support and the time/energy to do it without trying to work too has really helped. She was not very happy about it the first day or so but she now seems to accept that this is now part of growing up and she was ready. Bittersweet, but I was ready too! Good luck!

  29. “The joys of nursing to sleep | Little Snowflakes” seriously got me personally simply hooked on your web site!
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  30. I know this post is pretty old, but I also LOVE nursing my baby girl. She has always been doing best when nursed to sleep. When I had to go back to work at 6 weeks, I was desperate since she wouldn’t take the bottle (of pumped milk). She finally took it last moment (they say babies won’t starve themselves, they’re smart like that :), but always preferred the breast. I quite my job to be a full-time mom when she was just under 5 mo. Best decision ever! It is definitely hard to be stuck on your side in bed with her for 2 hours while she’s napping (she does not let me get up without waking up and demanding the nipple back, no pacifiers for her, thank you very much! lol ), but I would not trade it for anything. According to my mom who was watching my baby while I was working, she is a different baby with me around – so much happier. She actually has super hard time falling asleep without nursing even now, at almost 6 months. But all those horror stories of babies “never learning to self-soothe”, seriously! I have never seen a 35 yr old nursing to sleep, so they learn eventually. When they are ready. Maybe it’s not at the parents’ convenience, but last time I checked we don’t make babies to make our lives easier or more convenient. Oh yeah, and my phone is my best companion during those long naps too! 🙂

  31. Also having a hard time with the nursing to sleep issue. Fell into the trap of worrying if she will self-soothe, especially when I go back to work, and that all ‘the books’ say I shouldn’t. So I’m nursing to sleep when I think she is asking for it, and encourage her to fall asleep herself when she’s doing ok. This seems to be working for us, she mainly prefers that I nurse her to exhaustion and then settle herself the last part. Have so many concerns about how it will go when she gets to daycare 😦 Your post made me feel that there are other women out there who also embrace nursing to sleep (I felt a bit like it was a secret I should be keeping, that others would judge me for nursing her to sleep at 3 months old), so thanks!

  32. I’m so glad I’m not alone on this. Yes, breast feeding is the secret awesome device for sleep and comfort for my 2 1\2 year old. But I’ve been feeling pressured to wean him off and when I did try he cried!! I felt bad but thought it was necessary… After reading this post and comments I think I just might leave the good alone for a while. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?? =)

  33. I agree with the article, and I have twins.

    Two years ago, I moved to our town in South Dakota. No bf,etc support group for 100 miles, no family for hundreds of miles, and no one here I would trust to watch my girls,as people have traditional child raising practices here. I have tried many avenues friends and play dates…none have worked.

    There were times when I really needed time for myself during their naps, but they insisted I share all naps, even after trying gentle approaches to weaning off nap sharing.

    I hope to have more children. How do you nurse children to sleep w/o having to share naps? Swings don’t work for long, they always wake up after every sleep cycle no matter where they are.

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