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 post, I focus on how to stop nursing a 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 even worse. I know the CIO works for some people, and that’s OK. But if you want other alternatives, you find them here.
How To Stop Nursing Baby To Sleep
1) Very gentle method
While 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 their 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/her 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 to fall 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. Yay!
If your 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.
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 it is that 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.
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 for 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 next to you in bed, if you can accept co-sleeping. (Remember that if your baby falls asleep in the stroller, he or she should be moved to a safer sleep environment before you go to sleep.)
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 continue to 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.
If you have reasons to believe that your baby is waking up because he or she gets too warm or cold at night, consider buying a baby sleep sack, like this one. (Link to Amazon.)
If you have any questions, comments or tips to share regarding getting your baby sleep without nursing, please share by leaving a comment below.