Is nursing baby to sleep a good idea? I mean, we mothers know that babies often fall sleep nursing. After all, the breast is a great source of comfort to them and is a place they feel safe and familiar. In addition, the fat in mom's milk helps make baby sleepy, and the warmth of her arms and sound of her heartbeat are relaxing too. All of which add up to the perfect environment to succumb to sleep.
And we all know babies who seemingly will not fall asleep unless they are nursing. At least, nursing is what they prefer. Nursing baby to sleep does work, but is it really in baby's (and the parent's) best interest?
Some insist that if a baby is allowed to fall asleep on the breast, they will never learn to sleep on their own or without mom's help. This may or may not be true, depending on the baby. Some moms do not have a problem with this. As one mom put it, "I nursed my baby to sleep until he weaned. I figured, I would never have that time back, so I just enjoyed it." Many nursing mothers feel the same way.
Moms, rest assured that you can follow your heart on this issue. If you nurse your baby to sleep, stop feeling guilty! This is a perfectly normal way to encourage baby to fall asleep. Sleeping without nursing is a developmental milestone your child will surely reach when he or she is ready. So, if nursing baby to sleep works for your family, go ahead and continue doing it.
If, however, you are not happy with the arrangement, there are steps you can take to transition baby to fall asleep without you. Instead of nursing baby to sleep, nurse only until baby is almost asleep, and then remove him from the breast. He may fuss at first, but if you are consistent he'll understand that you mean business. Elizabeth Pantley offers several tips for transitioning baby away from the breast in her book "The No-Cry Sleep Solution".
If you're concerned about tooth decay, rest assured. Babies get cavities despite nursing, not because of it. Nursing at night will not make your child more prone to cavities. In addition, many moms find that the act of breastfeeding at night helps them get more rest. Instead of fussing with an unhappy baby who needs to be rocked to sleep, they enjoy the ease of latching baby onto the breast and falling into a relaxing sleep.
Another tip that works for many moms and babies is "wearing" baby to sleep in a sling. You can nurse the baby until he's sleepy, remove him from the nipple and walk him in a sling close to your body until he's asleep again. Using this tool, you can even get other things done while "putting baby down" for his nap. Go for a quick walk outside or do some light housework. Baby will enjoy the familiar comfort of your body and the sound of your heartbeat and know he's safe with you close. Eventually you will not have to nurse your child to sleep at all. As with most things, do what works for your family.