How To Stop Feeding To Sleep: A Guide

How To Stop Feeding To Sleep: A Guide

There is nothing more magical than feeding your angelic infant until they fall soundly asleep in your arms — happy and warm with a belly full of milk. These are the sweet memories you’ll hold on to years later when your not-so-tiny baby is finally ready to leave the nest.

Despite how precious these moments may be, there’s arguably nothing sweeter than getting good sleep. But as your little buddy grows, they can become reliant on that pre-bedtime feed to catch any zzzs, making it especially difficult for the baby and anyone in the household to get a good night’s rest. 

How Do I Break the Cycle of Feeding My Baby To Sleep?

If your tiny tot can’t drift off to snoozeville without breastfeeding or having a bottle, they’ve likely gotten into a feed-to-sleep habit. While this routine isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can be a little taxing on you — especially if your infant likes to take their sweet time when eating. 

Want to break your sweet baby’s nightly feeding habit? Here are a few things you can try:

Make Nap Time and Feeding Time Two Separate Occasions 

One of the best ways to avoid your baby developing a dependency on needing to feed via the bottle or your boobs before sleeping is to create a daytime nap routine that doesn’t revolve around feeding. 

This helps put a stop to the association with feeding and sleeping, thus breaking the connection that is otherwise created. A good nap time routine typically consists of a few sleepy activities, such as a:

  • Diaper change
  • Soothing baby massage using our Nourishing Body Lotion
  • Snuggly story
  • Sweet lullaby
  • Kiss on the forehead before dimming the lights and turning on white noise

Eventually, your baby will learn that nap time and feeding time are two separate occasions and won’t expect a feeding when it’s time to snooze. 

Once your tiny tot becomes accustomed to the routine and can catch zzzs without getting fed at naptime, you may find it much easier to start implementing a new routine at bedtime, too. 

So start with naps, move slow, and be consistent — with a little hard work and a whole lot of patience, your sweet baby will no longer need to feed in order to sleep.     

Speaking of bedtime routines… 

Feed Your Baby At the Very Beginning of Their Bedtime Routine 

Of course, you can feed your sweet snuggly baby before it’s time to hit the hay, but to prevent a feed-to-sleep habit from forming, it’s best to feed your little buddy at the very beginning of their bedtime routine versus at the end.

You see, babies repeatedly wake in the night and will struggle to drift back to la-la land if the conditions have changed. This means that if your tiny tot falls asleep during a feeding, they will want to feed again the moment they wake.

By teaching your baby to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, they will develop essential sleep skills so that they will only need you when they are truly hungry or having discomfort.   

So as soon as your little one displays their sleep cues, start your bedtime routine with a cuddly feeding — outside the bedroom is best. If they happen to fall asleep, gently wake your tot and proceed with the bedtime routine.  

Put Your Baby To Bed When They Are Drowsy, But Not Asleep 

At bedtime and naptime, it’s important to place your baby in their crib for sleep when they are drowsy— but not asleep. Your tiny tot’s last waking memory needs to be of the crib, not of you feeding them.  

That being said, keep an eye out for sleepy cues, such as yawning, droopy eyelids, and fussiness. While most new parents relish in their sweet baby’s every giggle, grimace, and grunt, often overlooked are these telltale signs that their little buddy is sleepy and ready to hit the hay. 

What Is a Feed and Sleep Association and Why Does It Happen?

A sleep association is any cue, condition, or behavior that helps you fall asleep. For an adult, it could be listening to ASMR, watching TV, or simply placing a pillow in a certain way. 

When we wake in the night, we recreate that sleep association by repositioning our pillow or turning the TV back on. If something is out of our “normal,” we may experience some trouble falling back asleep. 

Just like adults, children connect certain things or activities to sleep — such as nursing — and can come to rely on those things to slumber, which can cause some serious bedtime challenges. 

So with that in mind, a feed and sleep association is when an infant depends on sucking to fall asleep and simply won’t fall asleep any other way. It’s a very common sleep association and can be a tough habit to break — especially if your little one has grown accustomed to your nipple and enjoys feeding at a leisurely pace.

To break your sweet baby’s feed-to-sleep association, be intentional and consistent with your sleep training method. Just like when breaking any habit, time and patience are key.  

When Should I Stop Nursing My Baby To Sleep? 

While it can vary from tot to tot, sleep associations typically develop around periods of big developmental change. For example, during the infamous four- to six-month regression period —which is often caused by leaps in your little one’s physical development. 

When trying to soothe a fussy baby who is experiencing these inevitable growing pains of life, more often than not, exhausted parents will try to nurse their overtired tot. 

At the time, this may help their little one find calm and get back to sleep sooner rather than later, but if pre-sleep feedings become habitual, a feed-to-sleep association can quickly form. 

With that in mind, it’s perfectly fine to let your sweet baby fall asleep at the breast in the early days. As time passes, however, it’s important to pay attention to signs that it’s becoming a bit of a problem. If not stopped, a feed-to-sleep association can cause frequent awakenings and disrupted sleep for not just the baby but mom and dad, too. 

How Can I Help My Baby Sleep Through the Night?

To help your sweet angel snooze through the night, it’s imperative that you set them up for sleeping success with a great bedtime routine. Babies thrive on routines, so put together a simple, calming list of sleepy activities to do with your tot each night to serve as a cue to sleep. 

Here is an example of a good baby bedtime routine:

In addition to a great bedtime routine, creating the right atmosphere can also help set the stage for sweet dreams. Check the room temperature, dim the lights, draw the blinds, and turn on the white noise machine to set a relaxing tone. 

The Bottom Line 

Nursing your little one to sleep is a beautiful thing. However, if your sweet baby will only drift off to dreamland attached to your nipple or a bottle, you may want to consider helping them fall asleep in different ways. 

While a feed-to-sleep association is not necessarily a bad thing, it can lead to frequent awakenings and disrupted shut-eye down the road. Correcting this behavior before it gets out of hand can pave the way for happier bedtimes as your baby grows. 

At Little Yawn Collective, we’re here to empower parents and build confidence to establish bedtime routines that work. We know firsthand that bedtime can be complicated — that’s why we champion proven sleep solutions for kiddos so parents can feel confident about bedtime (every time).

Whether you’re breastfeeding, swapping to solid foods, dealing with a fussy tummy, or simply exploring no-cry sleep solutions to promote independent sleep, you can always count on us to have your back. 

Check us out today and see how we can help you create good sleep habits tomorrow. Trust us — you’ll be glad you did!  


Sources:

Sleep Problem from Feeding Until Asleep | Pedia Clinic

Breastfeeding FAQs: Sleep - Yours and Your Baby's (for Parents) | Nemours KidsHealth

What are sleep associations? | Nationwide Children's

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