Does Your Baby Feed to Sleep?
Does your baby only fall asleep while nursing? Does he wake up multiple times throughout the night for a bottle, only falling back asleep if you feed him?
Many sleep problems share a root of baby needing to nurse or drink a bottle to fall back asleep. This is called a feeding-to-sleep association and can make sleep truly difficult for your baby and for you!
A baby that depends on feeding to fall asleep will need that feeding again when she wakes up in middle of the night in order to fall back asleep. Her brain associates sucking and drinking with drowsing off and falling asleep, so she actually doesn’t know how to fall asleep without that sucking or drinking action.
We all have things that we depend on to fall asleep at night. For you this might be a pillow and blanket or a pair of earplugs. For your baby this can be rocking, being held or nursing. More on that in this post on sleep dependencies. It’s ok to have sleep dependencies, as long as they don’t involve other people! The issue with a feeding-to-sleep association is that you need to be involved in helping your baby fall back asleep every time he wakes up. Not fun.
If your baby is still young, start putting her down in her crib while she’s still awake, well after a feed and preferably after some activity time. Try your best not to let her fall asleep during a feed. Wake her if she falls asleep in middle of a feed and put her down awake.
If your baby is a bit older and you’re already stuck in a feeding to sleep association, here’s what you can do.
- Give your baby his final feeding of the day 30 minutes before bedtime, in a bright room such as the kitchen. If your baby starts to drowse off in middle of the feed, stop the feed. Wake your baby and resume the feeding only once he is wide awake.
- After the feed has concluded, make your way towards your baby’s room and begin your bedtime routine.
- Lay your baby down in his crib awake. Follow up with the soothing technique of your choice – except of course, feeding!
Some parents like to replace the nursing or bottle with rocking, patting or swaying. This can be a fine temporary solution until you are ready to wean your baby off of that new sleep association. Other parents prefer that their baby learn how to sleep independently right away and proceed with teaching their baby independent sleep skills.
If your baby knows how to fall asleep at bedtime without a feed, she will learn how to put herself back to sleep in middle of the night without one.