Can Feeding to Sleep or Nursing to Sleep cause night wakings?

Two things you can do to help baby sleep longer independently.

Lovebug, LLC

What happens with feeding to sleep?

When babies are little, eating is exhausting to them. It only makes sense that they fall asleep right in the middle of nursing because of this exhaustion. You think to yourself, "Great! I found a surefire way to get my baby to sleep!" And you are right. But you may have decided to change this habit for whatever reason - and that's ok. Feeding to sleep typically works wonders for the first couple of months, and for some babies, it's never the root cause of anything.

For other babies, feeding to sleep can impact how long your baby stays asleep and creates a strong dependency on the feeder. Feeding to sleep works to help them fall asleep initially. It doesn't help to keep them asleep for a long time. So if you are feeding to sleep and see your baby have short naps or many wakes at night, it's likely that feeding to sleep has become a dependency for them to fall asleep at every sleep cycle switch.

To change this association, I want you to 1) focus on the optimal timing of each sleep session and 2) change your routine a bit. I want you to follow this plan in that order - optimal timing first, and then changing your routine second.

I will point out that I address a few video lessons in the Lovebug app in this blog post. You will have access to all of the video lessons I address in your free trial of the Lovebug Pro plan.

You can watch the lesson on establishing a routine here if you do not already have one set in place.

Optimal Timing:

Your Lovebug app will guide you to the optimal nap & bedtimes

Ok - optimal timing. Why? Well, we want our baby's body to work with us. When we find the 10-15 minute perfect window of drowsiness, your baby is going to be more adaptable to a new routine. So, how do we find the perfect window? By using the Lovebug app, Lovebug manages your changing schedule for you. So follow your schedule. Suppose you are new to Lovebug or your baby's schedule is a bit - shall we say - sporadic. In that case, I want you to use the Lovebug schedule as a guide but pay attention to your baby's sleepy signs as you get closer to the nap.  When it's 20 minutes before their next sleep session, be hyper-aware of their sleep signals. Are they pulling their ears, rubbing their eyes, looking worried, have red eyebrows, or have an eye droop? You can watch the in depth video on how to spot your baby's sleepy signs here. If you see any of these signs, proceed directly to your routine. Many parents will wait for fussiness to start the routine, but your baby should be calm during their routine. If you see an arched back or crying, you've waited too long and TRY again next time - but maybe a bit earlier.

Along with the optimal timing, I want you to start implementing this new routine with the first nap of the day. I want to start with the first nap of the day because it's usually the most established, so your baby's body will be working with you. It will be harder to switch to a new routine as you get towards the later naps in the day because your baby's body hormones won't be helping as much. Also, your baby has probably accumulated some sleepiness during the day and will be crankier. The first nap of the day is usually the most established, and your baby just came off of their night sleep, so they are more rested, which means they are more adaptable.

Would you please try to do the new routine for all naps after that? It will be the easiest for your baby when you are consistent because they will be less confused. And, it must be said, it's ok if you can't do all the naps. If you miss one, that's ok, but think of it like, "I'm going to try 4 out of 5 times because the more consistent you are, the more your baby is going to thrive with the change and the more straightforward it will be to them. When we are inconsistent, it's confusing because they have no idea what you want them to do.

In summary - focus on using this new routine when your baby is in the optimal sleepiness window and start implementing the new routine with the first nap of the day.

Changing your Routine:

So let's talk about your current routine. If you are feeding to sleep, the feed probably comes at the end of your routine. We want to move it earlier in your routine. At the same time, I want to introduce some new associations that your baby can use to calm themselves to sleep. So while before, your routine was probably something like:

1) Change diaper,

2) put on sleep attire

3) feed

4) baby falls asleep

5) you turn on white noise and close curtains and TRY your best to lay them down

let's do this instead. Your new routine is:

1) dim lights and put on zen music

2) change diaper

2) put on sleep attire

3) feed until they are comfort feeding

4) optionally put in paci, turn on white noise, and start a light activity like a book

5) when their eyes glaze over, start rocking them. While they are shutting their eyes, that's when you are going to attempt to put them into their crib.

I'm not going to lie to you; this is one of the hardest associations to break, especially if you are nursing to sleep. When you nurse to sleep, your baby is also getting the warmth and smell of one of their favorite adults to comfort them as they fall asleep. Our job is to move that association to something else - in this case, a light activity like a book. That way, they feel warm and comforted by something else that can stay with them throughout their sleep session.

Commit to 3 days of this new routine plus optimal timing, and you should see some results.

How Lovebug will help customize to your family to help you eliminate night wakings:

What else Lovebug will do to help you get more sleep:

We encourage you to take advantage of your free trial, and watch the lesson series on feeding to sleep here.

Ready to apply these tips? The Lovebug app gives you tools to help! 
Start your free trial.

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