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Home > Baby Sleep Tips > 3 Ways to Stop Nursing Baby To Sleep – Gently, No Cry-It-Out

3 Ways to Stop Nursing Baby To Sleep – Gently, No Cry-It-Out

how to stop nursing baby to sleep
There are several different ways to teach a baby to fall asleep without nursing. Depending on your baby’s age, your family situation and how patient you are, you can choose different methods.
In this article, we focus on how to stop nursing baby to sleep in more gentle ways than leaving the baby to cry.
I will not explain the cry-it-out method here, simply because I don’t like it. Many parents trying it, find that it breaks their heart AND makes the baby’s sleep worse.

So here you’ll find alternative ways to stop breastfeeding your baby to sleep, all mom tried-out and proven to work too.


How To Stop Nursing Baby To Sleep


1) Very gentle method

how to stop nursing newborn baby to sleepWhile many newborn babies simply become so sleepy when they are breastfeeding that they can’t help but falling asleep, the fact that they do this over and over again in the beginning will teach them a new way to fall asleep – with your nipple in the mouth. After a while, this is suddenly the only way they can fall asleep. Or at least the only way they will accept to fall asleep. But this suckling-sleep association can be broken.

Here is what to do:

Every time your baby is about to fall asleep at the breast, you gently release your nipple and then press your baby’s chin to close his mouth. With a closed mouth, the baby will not try to suckle again as automatically.

The baby will be startled at first, probably wake up and search for the breast again. Let her suck and then take off your breast the same way when your baby is almost asleep. And let the dance continue until your baby falls asleep without the nipple. (It can be a real nipple, bottle nipple or pacifier).

This can be time-consuming, especially at first. But over the coming days, your baby will slowly learn to fall asleep without a nipple in his mouth. You’ll have to do this every time you breastfeed and your baby starts falling asleep, since your baby is now learning a new routine. And one day the nipple-sleep association will be broken.
Then you can start working on the baby falling asleep in someone else’s arms or in the crib.

If you baby doesn’t need the nipple to fall asleep, it will also be a lot easier for him or her to fall asleep when waking up at night, without needing your attention.

Related:  8 Important Tips For Safe Co-Sleeping with Your Baby

This gentle method to stop nursing a baby to sleep can be used for babies of all ages. Just remember that the younger the baby, the more likely he or she is to really be hungry when waking up, rather than just wanting to suckle.


2) Half-gentle method

In my experience, babies older than 8 months and who have started with solid foods, can definitely go a whole night without feeding. Not that they want to. But if you help them break the suckling-sleep association, they may very well start sleeping through the night without any other sleep training.

At around 8-10 months or older, a very efficient way to stop nursing a baby to sleep, is to simply let someone else attend to the baby at night; most often this person would be the baby’s dad or at least your partner. But if you are a single mom, you can also ask someone else who your baby is really safe with to help out.

If your partner has the weekends off from work, start on a Thursday evening. From that night on, it is not breastfeeding mom, but this other person (let’s say dad) who attends to the baby at night every time the baby wakes up. Dad takes up the baby, cuddles her, rock her, or whatever it takes to make her go back to sleep. Some babies can be put to bed next to dad and simply cuddle up and it is enough.

With no nipple in sight, many babies do go back to sleep unless they are hungry. As a rule of thumb, you can decide that if the baby has been sad for say 5 minutes together with dad, baby can come to the nipple.

And where is mom? Not in sight! Preferably in another room or at least as far away from the baby as possible in the room and with ear plugs. It is dad’s responsibility to wake up mom after the decided amount of time.

The first few nights, dad will most likely be exhausted, the baby grumpy and mom unusually alert, after getting some sleep for a change. But many babies, at least from the age of 9 or 10 months, will learn really quickly to go back to sleep without the nipple if taking the possibility to suckle away like this. After 3 nights, you should notice an improvement in how many times dad needs to wake up mom, and maybe even an improvement in how many times dad will have to cuddle the baby back to sleep.

Related:  If Your Baby Wakes Up Too Early, Here's How To Fix It!

When not allowed to eat and suckle, it seems like many older babies subconsciously don’t find it worth the effort to wake up and demand attention at night. It may sound strange, but it often works.

If you want to try this for a younger baby, you can, but don’t count on it to work as well, since a younger baby is more often hungry at night.


3) Cold Turkey (but no cry it out)

If you have tried the above methods and they don’t work, or if you don’t have anyone who can help you break the sleep-suckle association, you can always just stop nursing your baby to sleep. Just stop. (But do it on a Thursday night if you are working and have the weekend off.)

Prepare yourself on a few very exhausting days and nights and a furious baby, but rest assured that your baby will eventually sleep without the nipple. Don’t leave your baby to cry, but rather do everything you can to make the sleeping nice in other ways; like in a stroller on a walk or car seat or next to you in bed, if you can accept co-sleeping.

This method can be hard to endure, but at least you are not abandoning your baby (as you do with the cry-it-out method, in my opinion) if you stay close and show love .

Now, remember that there is always the option to let your baby nurse to fall asleep too. There are actually quite good reasons to let your baby breastfeed to fall asleep, and I explain a bit about that in this article.
Sometimes, by making the nursing at night as easy as possible, it won’t impair your sleep as much. Co-sleeping, learning how to breastfeed while lying down without pain, and wearing the right clothes for breastfeeding at night makes everything a lot easier. You can read about safe and practical co-sleeping here.

And here are more sleep tips for exhausted moms.

Good luck!

If you have any questions, comments or tips to share regarding getting your baby sleep without nursing, please share by leaving a comment below.

  • Michelle

    This sounds like a great plan but my questions is if I break the nursing sleep association and he sleeps through the night will it still be okay for me to rock him to sleep? His sleep associations are currently rocking and or nursing but at night he wakes up and nurses.

    • Michelle, yes, take one step at the time! I continued the rocking but the nursing and both my babies started sleep through anyway. I guess feeding was more attractive than rocking for them. 🙂

  • Tess

    My 19 month old doesn’t fall asleep on the boob, but it makes her almost fall asleep. I then rock her until she’s totally asleep and then put her in the crib. How can I get her to that “almost” sleepy mode without breastmilk? I’m trying to wean her by 24mos.

    • Hi Tess,
      At 19 months, a toddler is still so young but also very aware of her surroundings and what she wants. Can be a bit tricky if she does not at all agree with you on the weaning. 🙂 But the older she gets, being a “big girl” might tempt her to try to fall asleep without the breast if you convince her. In addition to that, you could try introducing a new routine, like lying on the bed together in a really cosy way and read a book and sing a lullaby. You could even let her breastfeed for a little bit and gradually reduce the time at the breast. When she approaches 24 months and understands what you say better and better and also wants to be “big”, you can also let her pick a lovey, a new pillow or whatever to be used instead of the breast. You can also start preparing her by playing games – she can put her dolls to bed, she can put you to bed and so on. If nothing works and you really want to wean, you can of course also simply stop. But there is a clear risk with a 19-month-old that this will turn into a bad power struggle. Trying to find a way to make the toddler cooperate is usually much nicer. Since you are thinking ahead 5 months – excellent! – you have plenty of time to take it in baby steps.

  • Melissa Dot

    I dont mind nursing my 4m old baby to sleep but I do find it difficult when he continues to use me as human pacifier and cant go back to sleep unless he is sucking on my nipple. I also need him to be able to take naps without breast as we usually out ans about during the day. what do u suggest I do to help him go back to sleep without the breast and to take naps independently?

    • Sarah Briggs

      I’m in the same boat as you Melissa, and it seems like every day/night gets worse and worse. By breastfeeding to sleep my 5 month old son has now learned to wake up every 2 hours at night and cannot fall back asleep without nursing. Naps are short or nonexistent. This article is great, I will try the half-gentle method but I’d like to hear what else Paula may have to say, and if anything has worked for you yet. If not, may I say…if your baby is anything like mine, it will only get worse the longer it goes on. Good luck to us both.

      • Tara Jordan Davis

        My son is 16 weeks old and will only go to sleep with my breast. He won’t let my husband put him down, won’t let me just rock him to sleep, and during the day he rarely will go into his rock n play for a nap. He pretty much wants to be held the whole time. My husband is very frustrated. Not sure why since I’m doing it all because our son won’t allow him, but it has to be very quiet all the time or else the baby will wake up. My husband doesn’t like being quiet and said he feels like he’s in shackles at home because he can’t be noisy. We have a huge house with plenty of rooms he can go make noise in. I wanted to punch him when he made the shackles comment.

        • Hi Tara,
          It is a tough adjustment to have a baby. I would guess you are both tired, which certainly doesn’t help. Your son is still very young and wanting to be held a lot is completely normal. At his age, babies also have quite short sleep cycles, so they tend to wake up or almost wake up much easier than adults and older kids. And when waking up, they have no clue how to get back to sleep. In addition, quite many babies have their first round of separation anxiety at around 4-month-old, so that might also play part. To help the situation, I would suggest a few things.
          1) Try putting your baby sleep through stroller walks. Many babies love the rocking in a stroller and if full and happy and a bit tired, but not exhausted, then he might fall asleep and thereby slowly learn how to fall asleep by rocking in additional to being held. If your garden is safe and in shelter from the sun, you can let baby continue to sleep outside. Buy a baby monitor so you can hear (and see) any noise if that makes you feel better. (You can check out a <a href=large range of different monitors at Amazon here. )
          2) Try slowly to help your baby adapt to sleeping despite some noise. Whenever there are siblings, guests, traveling or just being somewhere outside your home, it is extremely helpful for the baby to be able to sleep under different circumstances. If your son is very sensitive to sound, go slowly. Falling asleep outside is perfect, talking in calm voices in a room close to his, putting on some soft music or some white noise is good too. (You,ll be able to find white noise on Youtube or Spotify or you can even buy a white noise machine! 🙂 Again check for such machines on Amazon.) (There are a lot of babies out there that need help sleeping better!)
          3) Once your baby has learned to fall asleep in the stroller, consider bringing the stroller inside for naps. This way you and your hubby can take turn putting your baby to sleep and it will also be easier to help your son go back to sleep if he wakes up too early. The stroller can be moved to a different room for peace or even outside, where a lot of babies sleep better. Just make sure it is safe! Once your son starts moving around enough to maybe risk falling out of the stroller, you need to stop using it or keep it in your view 100% of the time.
          4) Try to find some sort of compromise and cooperation with your husband. The situation will be better naturally as your baby grows, but if you work together long-term to acknowledge that it is a bit difficult to need to be extremely silent around the baby and you work together to improve it without fighting about it, it will be so much easier! It is limiting in many ways to have a baby, and just accepting that is one important step. Another important step is to try to improve situations that are difficult for someone in the family – such as your baby needing absolute silence to sleep. I KNOW this is easier said than done, but really, the sleep situation is just one of many, many situations you will encounter as parents! Working together and compromising is a must to be able to be happy! I sound like some old lady now, I know! (But it is still true!)
          Hope this gave you at least a few ideas!

  • Mamamama

    My baby is 17 months and breastfed to sleep since he was a newborn, sometimes he sleep in his bed but usually we Cosleep. He is very independent in every other aspect except sleeping and I have to start working soon so we stopped cold turkey. He has a very strong character and it has become a power struggle. He ends up crying himself to sleep, sometimes lets me hold him and he falls asleep as I rock him or walk other times he doesn’t want to be touched and will fall asleep crying on the floor. How do I turn his bedtime into a pleasant routine and revert this situation so it’s peaceful for him?

    • Oh, poor little fellow! And poor you too! It is really hard when the bedtime – or feeding for that matter – becomes a complete power struggle. 18 months is a development phase and a lot of babies/toddlers become a bit fussy and insecure. Add to that their strong will and a power struggle over changing routines is quite likely!

      What is it exactly that makes him so upset? Is it not being allowed to breastfeed or something else? If you’ve already stopped nursing him to sleep, I don’t think I would go back to that. Instead, see if you can create a whole new bedtime routine that he actually enjoys and that makes him calm. At his age, cuddling and laughter can sometimes be a great way to break a power struggle. What if you would create a routine of putting on the pajama, then dancing slowly together to some lullaby, then cuddling up in bed to read a story? Or something else, that he really enjoys. Give him time, but not your breast. One of the keys is to figure out what happens right before he starts to become upset, identify that trigger and change it. The routine you have right now is making both of you in a bad mood and your son is old enough to understand and feel that now this bad time – the bedtime – is coming again.

      If he understands words well enough, you can tell him that he is a big boy and that it is time for a new bedtime. He can get to choose a new lovey in the store to mark the new times.

      Regarding the co-sleeping – I would not take that away at the same time as the breast. Especially since you are about to start working, which is a huge change for a young child.

      I hope this helps. Don’t be upset with him. It is not his choice to change this routine. 🙂 Be consistent and loving and patient. He is just expressing that he is convinced that your decision is really stupid one. He will get used it and a lot faster if you adapt whatever you can in the evening to make him calm and happy. Your own mood is very important here!

      • Dani

        Hi, I have a similar problem as the one of Mamamama. My son is 18m old, and he is still waking up 1-2 times during the night to breastfeed, or whatever the reason. My breast milk is decreasing immensely every day in quantity, and he cannot fall asleep as easily as before, so he’s suckling and suckling which is very painful for me. He’s crying it out if I don’t let him breastfeed, and he doesn’t let me cuddle him, or talk to him, he’s putting my hand away, telling me not to touch him. Sometimes he bits me on the nipple, for punishing me for taking it out. It’s very stressful for me to not let him suckle, but I don’t have nerves on every occasion, and sometimes we cry together. He understands come things, and he speaks some words, including his own word for breastfeeding- and he wishes it every time when he wakes up- and cries if I don’t let him suckle.

  • Aurelia Adamska

    Hi! Thank you for the article! My baby is almost 9 month old and only falls asleep if I breastfeed (naps and evening). I am going to work in a few months and she still wakes up a few times a night so I am definitely thinking to break this habit. I can’t stand CIO so I need something gentler. I did teach her that I remove the nipple before she completely falls asleep and it works most of the time. I shush her and pat her after that and usually it works. Sometimes I send dad too (that doesn’t work, she screams for me). I was thinking to move the breastfeeding earlier in the routine so she could fall asleep without it and send dad but I know there will be a lot of crying anyways. I don’t want to stop breastfeeding altogether, cause I want to continue doing it in the evenings when she joins daycare. Some moms tell me to leave it the way it is and she will adapt to the situation at the daycare. I think it’s a lot to take for a baby at once and I really would like to get some sleep before I start working. Do you think my plan will work? Any other tips please?

  • Nertila Kurti Tresa

    My baby is 7 months and she cant sleep without breastfeading. During the night she wakes up several times and if i dont breasfrad her she starts crying with the eyes close. She doesnt accept the pacifier. I dont know what to do. Yesterday i was exhausted…i wanted to cry all night…i have no energy during the day because i have to brestfead her every time she wakes up just to make her happy and to use my breast as a pacifier…pls help me

  • LCox

    Thanks for this. I’ve been trying the Pantley pull out method (#1 on your list) for about a month now and it just doesn’t seem to work for my almost 6mo old. He gets more and more agitated and really only lets me pull out my nipple or the pacifier after he’s completely asleep. If he were just waking to nurse 2 or 3 times a night, I’d just cosleep and be happy. However he wakes almost every hour, and from 4:30 to 6:30 am, he wakes every 20 to 30 minutes! I think I really have to break the sucking to sleep association more forcefully.

    A few questions – 1) Do you think he’s old enough at almost 6 mo to go cold turkey, as long as I still nurse him when he needs to eat (about 3 times I think)? Would that be too confusing for him?

    2) He sleeps on a floor bed – do you think it is sufficiently comforting to have a parent lying next to him during his crying for a pacifier/nursing (in order to avoid creating a rocking to sleep association), or should the comforting be more hands-on?

    3) If I go cold turkey, should I do so for naps at the same time for consistency? Or let him have his pacifier for naps so that he gets at least some decent sleep during the transition?

    4) How long should we expect cold-turkey to take? (He has vaccines in a week, so if it will take longer than a week, I figure I should probably delay until after those?)

  • Ashley Moncrief

    Hi,

    I am wondering if you know what I could do for my 6 and half month old. Sometimes she will sleep after I lie her down awake, but sometimes she’ll be so hungry that we have to nurse for her to get enough food. She’s just starting to eat solids (but not nearly enough to be full) and won’t really want to nurse until bedtime. Is there a way I can entice her to eat sooner rather than always right at bedtime?

    Thanks!!
    🙂 Ashley

    • Hi Ashley! Yes, certainly try feeding her 30 minutes earlier for example. I don’t know when she eats her solid foods, but I’ve started with lunch for that when my children were babies. You can check out my feeding schedule here: http://www.easybabylife.com/feeding-schedule.html. Just one other thing – I never really succeeded in getting my kids to stop nursing to sleep until they were 8 months old or older. Before that, they were simply too hungry and I tried to wean from evening and night feedings, it just became a stressful struggle. With our youngest, I just went with the flow until he was around or 10-months old. By then he was eating enough solids foods to not really need the night feedings anymore. Just a thought. Good luck and let me know how things go.

  • Katie

    Hi, We have 19 month old twin boys, who have always been breastfed to sleep at night. Once they’ve fallen asleep we transfer them into their cots. They wake up a lot still and I have to pick them up, and they will usually fall straight back to sleep, or they have a pacifier to help them go back, rather than using me! And usually by 10-11pm they end up in our bed as they won’t go back in their cots, which we don’t mind at all, however they still wake up in there quite a few times and cry for me. We’ve got to the stage now where they won’t always want to breastfeed to sleep, but they want to cuddle next to me, sometimes with their pacifier, to fall back to sleep. Sometimes they also stay awake for a few hours and won’t go back to sleep! They won’t let my husband settle them back, they just cry for me. I presume because they associate me with going to sleep.
    We feel a bit stuck and don’t know what to do! We just all need more sleep!
    As for naps, they have one nap at lunch and lie down next to me, cuddling me with their pacifier in, on the bed and stay there for the two hours that they nap. So I’m a bit stuck and can’t get any jobs done. They wake up sometimes, but I just cuddle them again and give them a pat and they go back to sleep. If I got them to sleep and put them in their cots they would only sleep for 45 minutes, which is not long enough.
    I know we need to try help them fall asleep on their own, but I don’t know where to start and how to begin! We already seem to have quite a few tears, and I can’t stand to hear them cry. Any ideas greatly appreciated!

  • Great to hear that you found something that worked for you! What specifically did you do? Any tips you can share with fellow moms?