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How do I get my baby to sleep: Understanding the relationship to breastfeeding

Updated on May 24, 2016
Please sleep.
Please sleep.

Help Your Baby Sleep

I'm going to tell you a little secret about breastfeeding and sleep and it may save your life. Okay, not literally, but you may be so glad to find out about this little secret, that you'll be jumping for joy. It is the one thing that, when my wife and I look back on the differences between raising our first son and our second son, we wish we had known.

The first thing you're probably wondering is how I, as a man, could have anything useful to say about breastfeeding. The answer is: I don't. At least, not on my own. My wife is the expert here and I'm just relaying a conversation we had that I thought would make a good, useful, short, easy-to-read hub for first-time and expectant mothers. After all, there's so much to learn as a first-time mother or first-time parent that it's basically impossible to take it all in. It's overwhelming. So I thought that instead of reading a laundry list of things you could do, you could just read this one thing and wrap it into whatever else you're taking away from whatever else you're reading. So, here it goes.

Babies do two things a lot: eat and sleep. Unfortunately, moms discover that it's easy to blur the lines between these two things. Don't. You'll regret it. One of the things new moms are likely to read in any of the myriad breastfeeding books is that moms should feed on demand. When the baby is hungry, you feed the baby. This is sound advice. However, because those feedings occur at all times of the day and night, new mothers often make the mistake of allowing their baby to fall asleep at the breast. Again, this is best avoided.

My wife and I made this mistake because we didn't know any better. You're tired. The baby is tired and hungry. And often you're there, feeding the baby, and discover that instead of going through a ritual to get the baby to sleep, it just falls asleep at the breast. Nice.

No, not nice. It's good for babies to understand the difference between eating and sleeping and develop an understanding of the distinction because it's through that distinction that they will develop the ability to fall asleep on their own. If you don't allow a baby to do this, the baby will connect eating and sleeping and will soon need to feed in order to fall asleep. And once the baby's inability to fall asleep on its own is reinforced, it's hard to reverse course.

The key for the breastfeeding mother becomes separating eating from sleeping and doing anything she can to make sure this happens. This is particular difficult at night when the object is getting the baby fed and back to sleep as quickly as possible. It's also difficult because the responsibility relies almost solely on the mother who's likely sitting in bed feeding the baby while her husband dozes off. If you're lucky, the husband will help be part of the solution and not part of the problem. To be clear, what you're trying to avoid is having your baby fall asleep while he or she is feeding.

While there are many things to know and do as a first-time parent and breastfeeding mother, follow this rule and it will help you immensely in helping your child develop good sleep habits.


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