Most breastfeeding mothers follow the same routine. After bathing your baby you put her in her pyjamas then quietly sit and peacefully breastfeed until she falls asleep. You put her in her cot and leave the room. Three hours later, she wakes again for a feed and falls asleep through her feed.
This might be the routine in your house and you may think that this is a normal, healthy enjoyable routine for both you and baby. However you may not have considered there is an underlying problem for the future and that your baby is developing poor sleeping habits that will interfere with you, your partner and your child’s ability to sleep.
Like adults, babies wake up several times through the night. Usually we easily fall back to sleep. However if you feed your baby to sleep on a regular basis, she will depend on this through the night to go back to sleep. This is the case whether you share your bed with baby or she is sleeping in her cot. Although sharing your bed with baby can strengthen your bond, it usually results in more awakenings through the night for both of you.
It is a fact that babies who are breastfed take longer to sleep through the night compared to formula fed babies. The main reason for this is due to breast milk being easier and quicker to digest compared to formula milk. Therefore your baby will become hungry quicker resulting in more awakenings through the night.
Also breastfeeding is comforting and calming therefore it makes baby establish a connection between feeding and sleeping. It only takes a few weeks of feeding your baby to sleep to make her unaware of any other way of falling to sleep.
This does not necessarily mean you should never breastfeed your baby to sleep as it should be regarded as an experience you both enjoy, although it should not be done every night. You may wish to still keep breastfeeding a part of the bedtime routine but do it earlier on to ensure that your baby is not directly associating it with going to sleep.
When you have finished feeding your baby, try singing a song, changing her nappy once more or reading a story. This will break the connection of breastfeeding and falling to sleep.
If your baby has already formed the above feed and sleep association, it is not too late to change. You will need to teach her some healthy sleep habits to ensure that she can fall asleep without the breast. Start by breastfeeding earlier than the usual bedtime feed and decrease the amount you feed her at bedtime. You will only need to make these changes at bedtime as once your baby has started to fall asleep independently they will be able to do the same through the night.
By applying this routine, you will also be able to get more sleep. If your baby is waking hungry in the night, why not involve your partner by getting them to help with the feeds using expressed milk? Find a routine that works best for all of you to ensure that you all get a good night sleep.