Does your baby want to stay latched on all night, or only stops crying when he’s breastfeeding? Learn how to stop comfort nursing at night!
Comfort nursing can come with a bag of mixed emotions.
You’re quickly realizing that, while comfort nursing works for other moms, you’re eager to do away with it once and for all. Nursing sessions are frequent and long, since your baby relies on them to sleep. And while he can likely sleep through the night, he won’t go back to sleep without nursing.
In fact, if it were up to him, he’d probably want to latch on all night (you even suspect he comfort nurses more than he actually eats out of hunger). He’ll only stop crying when he’s finally breastfeeding. Yet as much as he falls asleep while nursing, he wakes up right when you put him down in the crib.
It’s not easy when comfort nursing seems to be the only thing that can calm him down. He’s always attached to you, to the point that your partner can’t even soothe him back to sleep and give you a break. Giving him solids or using a pacifier don’t always work. How can you help him stop associating nursing with sleeping?
How to stop comfort nursing at night
If you’ve felt frustrated for wanting to know how to stop comfort nursing at night, you’re not alone. It’s okay to want a full night of sleep without feeling guilty for not wanting to breastfeed all night.
I hear you, friend.
At this point in your parenting journey, it’s hard not to crave a bit more sleep now that he’s an older baby. You’re past the early days of the newborn stage, yet still find yourself dealing with a night waking multiple times.
Don’t worry—with consistent and compassionate sleep training, you can help your little one fall asleep. As always, check with your baby’s pediatrician to see if he’s ready to sleep through the night. Then, take a look at these tips to help you stop comfort nursing:
1. Don’t let your baby fall asleep nursing
The first step in helping your baby stop comfort nursing at night is to break sleep associations between nursing and sleeping. Right now, he has a habit of needing to nurse to fall asleep, but that doesn’t mean he can’t sleep any other way. He simply has to experience what it’s like to fall asleep on his own.
If he starts to drift off and he still has more to eat, try to keep him awake. You can tickle him, change positions, talk to him, anything to keep him awake while he eats. You might even want to move nursing to the beginning of the bedtime routine—before you give him a bath, for instance.
Free resource: You can teach him to self soothe and sleep on his own. Whether you’ve tried to teach him in the past or are just now considering it, take a look at these 5 key mistakes to avoid. Join my newsletter and grab this important resource below—at no cost to you:
2. Nurse after wake ups
Another way to stop comfort nursing is to breastfeed your baby after he wakes up, not before falling asleep. As easy it is to put him to sleep by nursing, this also encourages the habit of nursing to snooze.
Instead, feed him after he wakes up.
His first feed could be right when he gets up for the day after nighttime sleep. Then, instead of feeding him before naptime, feed him after he wakes up from these naps. The only exception would be the bedtime feed, but as mentioned above, try to prevent him from falling asleep while nursing.
An added benefit to nursing after waking up is that he’ll be awake while his body digests what he consumed. No longer will he have fitful sleep and gas issues from lying down after eating. Now he can be alert and upright after a feed.
3. Check in at set times
So, you didn’t nurse your baby to sleep—in fact, you set him down completely awake. What do you do when he starts to cry?
Set a timer for five minutes after you close the door. If he’s still crying when the timer goes off, go into his room and reassure him that he’s doing a good job falling asleep and that you’re right in the next room. Keep this brief—30 seconds at most.
Then, set your timer again, but this time for 10 minutes. Should he still be crying at this point, check in on him again, repeating what you had done earlier. And finally, set your timer for 15 minutes if he’s still crying. Check in on him in 15-minute intervals moving forward if needed, until he falls asleep.
Do the same check-in process any time he wakes up when he’s not supposed to, from middle of the night to early morning wake ups. You’re giving him the chance to learn how to fall asleep on his own while still reassuring him that you’re right here, cheering him on.
Tip: Make his room conducive for sleep by adding white noise and hanging darkening curtains. Both can help lengthen his sleep.
4. Gradually wean from nighttime feedings
What do you do if he still relies on nighttime feedings for milk, and not just comfort? After all, he could be drinking breast milk in the beginning before he tapers off to comfort nursing. Cutting feedings cold turkey would mean one hungry baby.
The first change is to wake him up for feedings, instead of waiting for him to cry for them. Right now, he associates crying with getting fed, but you can beat him to the punch by waking him up to feed. As strange as it is to wake him up when he hardly sleeps, this helps him break that association.
Set your alarm to about 30 minutes before he typically wakes up for a feed. If he tends to wake up at 10pm and 2am, set your alarm for 9:30pm and 1:30am. You’re feeding him before he tends to wake up crying.
What do you do if he doesn’t have a particular pattern or regular times that he cries? Take the average of the times he has woken up the past few nights and stick to those times.
The next change is to gradually decrease the amount of milk he consumes at night, and adding that amount the following day.
Let’s say you feed him twice a night for 20 minutes each. On the first night, feed him like you usually do. Then the next night, decrease the amount by two minutes each nursing session (in this example, feed him for 18 minutes each breastfeeding session). On the third night, feed him for 16 minutes each, and so forth.
And finally, you’ll want to make up for that “lost” milk by giving him what you had decreased the following day. Since you fed him twice for 18 minutes each, you can increase two of his daytime feeds by two minutes. That way, he can adjust to taking in his calories during the day (and sleeping through the night).
5. Comfort in other ways
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I don’t know about you, but I felt compelled to stop my baby’s crying the minute I’d hear it. I almost felt like it was my duty to make him stop crying, that this was what moms are supposed to do.
But I realized that we tend to stifle their tears more than we show compassion for them. We get frustrated when they won’t stop crying, allowing our own negative feelings to affect them.
Nursing isn’t the only way we can provide comfort. We can do so by holding them and showing empathy for how they feel. By helping them learn to self soothe and sleep on their own. By being more patient and present, not angry or disappointed.
Your baby can also learn how to soothe himself in other ways.
For instance, you can give him a lovey for comfort and even for comfort sucking. One of my kids would suck on the corners of his lovey as an alternative to falling asleep while nursing. My other kids learned to suck their thumbs or hands instead of breastfeeding.
Comfort nursing works for many moms and their infants, but not for all, so don’t feel bad if you want to stop it. In fact, you might realize that you enjoy motherhood and have a stronger bond with your baby once you do.
The first step is to avoid letting your baby fall asleep while nursing, as this only reinforces the habits you’re trying to break. Instead, nurse him after waking up so that he doesn’t rely on feeding to fall asleep.
After putting him down awake, check in at set intervals until he falls asleep. Gradually wean him from night feedings so that he can take in his nourishment during the day and sleep all night. And finally, comfort him in other ways, from showing compassion to offering a lovey.
You can help your baby fall asleep—all without the constant comfort nursing he has grown used to.
Get more tips:
- 6 Month Old Waking Every 2 Hours? Here’s What to Do
- 4 Reasons Your Baby Never Seems Satisfied After Breastfeeding
- How to Stop Your Baby from Snacking on the Breast
- 5 Tips to Stop the Pain After Breastfeeding
- 6 Ways Dads Can Support Breastfeeding Moms
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