With a combination of consistency, dedication, and gentle sleep training strategies, you can break even the strongest feed-to-sleep association to have your baby (My Newborn) snoozing through the night in peace and comfort.
Motherhood is a brand-new world filled with intense love, joy, and purpose – and yes, even anxiety and sleep deprivation.
“Am I doing the right thing?”
“Is my baby getting enough to eat?”
“Why is my baby crying? Is it hunger, overtiredness, a wet nappy, teething, or . . . ?”
“Why is my baby waking up so many times at night?”
These are all questions that run through the exhausted minds of new mums as they struggle to establish a solid feeding and sleeping schedule. Breastfeeding is the ultimate source of comfort for babies, and it’s natural for mothers to be reluctant to deny their babies food, so they provide on-demand feeding without knowing if their baby is truly hungry, or simply using the breast as a sleep aid. Mums may even savour the special time that comes along with night feeding, and may fear that eliminating night nursing will affect their baby’s ability to feed during the day.
But soon, these tired mums become desperate for sleep, and as the baby cries from the next room, they default to established habits because it’s the easiest thing to do. You may fall into this pattern as well, thinking to yourself “I’ll just feed as it’s the easiest way my baby will fall asleep”. Before you know it, one night turns to two nights, and soon, your newborn is now a toddler – and still using your breast as the ultimate pacifier to get back to sleep, each and every night.
What Is A Feed-To-Sleep Association?
Throughout our lives, we all wake up at various times during the night, whether due to our sleeping environment, street noise, sounds from inside our home, or any number of other factors that disrupt our precious sleeping time. The difference is, adults have the ability to effortlessly put themselves back to sleep without much thought given to it. By now, it’s fairly automatic.
However, as babies acclimate to the new world around them, and become accustomed to falling asleep in the warmth and safety of their mother’s arms, they begin to see feeding as an essential precursor to sleep. Breastfeeding is comfort – with the bonus of a steady stream of warm milk to fill the baby’s tummy! When they wake up alone in the darkness, they immediately become aware of the fact that Mum (and her breast!) is nowhere around, and become upset and unable to fall back asleep on their own. As time goes on, the feed-to-sleep association becomes stronger, and your baby will come to rely on feeding to be soothed back to sleep with each night awakening.
You may even feel a bit trapped, worried that whenever you leave the house, your baby will scream for hours because dad, grandma, or any other caretaker, simply can’t offer the one thing your baby has come to expect before sleep.
Beyond 6 months of age, babies who weigh over 8 kilos and are on 3 x solid meals in the day are able to sleep through the entire night without a need for nighttime nourishment. Therefore, this is the prime time to break the feed-to-sleep-association before they get older – and it becomes more challenging. If it is your preference to keep one or two feeds at night, then this definitely can be done, while teaching your baby to sleep on either side of the feeds. Working with an experienced Baby Sleep Consultant can give you the tools to help teach your baby how to do that.
How To Break The Feed-To-Sleep Association With Gentle Methods
When you realise it’s time to break the feed-to-sleep association, it’s important to move forward gently and slowly. Newborns sleep the majority of the day away, so it’s normal and natural that they will feel sleep come over them when lulled by the comfort of Mum’s breast. But as babies reach the age of 5-6 months, it’s time to take gentle steps to separate the process of feeding from the process of sleeping.
Establish a consistent bedtime routine.
This not only sets you up to break the feed-to-sleep association, but also encourages a special bonding time for you and your baby. Perhaps you begin with one last feeding session, then move onto a warm bath, a little quiet play time or snuggle time, and then finish with your baby’s favourite book or a calming lullaby. With a dedicated nightly routine, your baby will be able to wind down from the excitement of the day, and prepare their developing mind and body for sleep. And don’t forget to involve your partner in the process, too! This parenting thing is all about teamwork.
Set a designated feeding location outside of the bedroom.
By feeding in a location outside of the nursery, you’ll gently reinforce the idea that bedrooms are for sleeping and not for feeding. You can use this spot during the day as well, followed by a bit of play before the baby’s naptime.
Put your baby down while still awake.
The most important thing to remember if you’ve come to the stage where your baby’s feed-to-sleep association is disrupting your own sleep – and the rest of the family – is to put the baby to sleep while still awake. A good starting point is having drowsy, not completely asleep. Slowly working on your baby being more awake each time you put them down. This process helps to eliminate the feelings of confusion when the baby wakes up, and mum’s no longer there.
Give your baby a chance to self – settle and fall asleep independently.
Resist the urge to run into the baby’s room at the first sign of a whimper or a little bit of restless movement. Listen for a few minutes, and give your baby a chance to soothe themselves to sleep independently. This is where you might need to investigate the different types of sleep training methods and use your newfound techniques to settle your baby without resorting to the breast. If you need help navigating the different sleep training methods, contact me and I’ll happily explain what method(s) might suit your baby’s personality and your parenting philosophy.
It may be frustrating at first if your baby constantly nuzzles into you, searching for the comfort of the breast, but remaining consistent in your bedtime plan is the key to success. Provide gentle reassurance even amid your baby’s cries of protest, which will become fewer and farther between as they adjust to their new routine. There may be frustrations and setbacks along the way, but with dedication and effort, your baby will be on the way to peaceful nights full of restful sleep.
How To Establish Good Sleep Habits From The Beginning
There are many other things you can do to establish good sleep habits, which pave the way to a smoother process of breaking the feed-to-sleep association. You can carve out special playtime during the day in the baby’s room, so that your baby or toddler can begin making positive associations within their sleeping environment. It will be seen as a safe space that is calming and comfortable, and will enhance your baby’s feeling of peace and security as they drift off to sleep at night. Your baby’s sleep quality may also benefit from the soothing sounds of a white noise machine, or blackout curtains to prevent the morning sun from shining too brightly.
Avoid letting your baby become overtired, which seems counterintuitive, but for a baby it’s important to establish a routine that meets their age-appropriate needs for sleeping time. Learn the sleep cues to watch for – then put your baby down before they become overtired.
If you find yourself in need of expert assistance while breaking the feed-to-sleep association, you can bring in a Baby Sleep Consultant Sydney to provide tried-and-true sleep strategies and offer the best sleep training program suited to your baby’s unique needs. With gentle sleep training methods, babies learn to self-settle and put themselves back to sleep when they wake in the middle of the night, without needing the comfort of Mum.
Remain consistent with your efforts to put an end to baby’s reliance on comfort feeding, and you’ll soon be able to eliminate unnecessary night feedings, while your little one sleeps peacefully all night long. Soon you’ll have more smiles, giggles, and snuggles, and fewer tears (from both you and your baby)! Happy days (and nights!).