Nursing Baby to Sleep: When Should it Stop?

nursing baby

Photo credit: Aurimas Mikalauskas

Women of an older generation were sold to the idea that bottle-feeding was the way to go, and many still believe so: your decision to breastfeed is a personal choice that needs not be influenced by the persuasions of those who were told otherwise thirty years ago.

How long should Mom continue to Nurse Baby to Sleep?

Nature has provided for the best possible outcomes for both mommy and baby through nursing. Aside from the all-important close contact and face-to-face bonding that takes place, there are powerful physiological effects from nursing including a lowered heart rate and the release of hormones. The time spent nursing your baby is most important for establishing mutual attachment. When we try to impose the workaday world as we know it upon such precious times, we can face challenges that might even have a new mom questioning her “mom skills.” Neither mom nor baby should be shortchanged in the process.

What nursing provides Both Mom and Baby

Many medical journals support the long-term health benefits of breastfeeding. According to Montreal nutritionnist Marie-Josée Rainville, breastfeeding greatly reduces both childhood and adult illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and central nervous degenerative diseases. The brain is still forming for five years after the birth of your child, and there is support for breastfeeding enhancing your child’s intelligence in the first two years while the brain grows so rapidly. This is due to the transference of “smart fats” uniquely obtained through breast-milk, such as omega-3 fatty acid.

Feeding the nervous tissue in the brain also has proven to give babies better eyesight. There is less chance the baby will suffer from ear infections. Teeth align properly as they come in due to the sucking action, which also releases a hormone called cholecystokinin (CKK) responsible for the effect of sleepiness. Breastfeeding also aids in the child’s ability to handle stress better. There have always been arguments for the health benefits for a new baby from the fortifying nucleotides and amino acids contained in breast milk. It also happens that these concentrations are even higher at night time.

When we are not victims to the demands of the modern world with our ability to have the lights on all night long, we have an opportunity to recognize the grand design in the different times of the day. Our bodies follow what is called a circadian rhythm, which affects our ability to sleep. If you have found yourself constantly struggling to stay awake in the early afternoon, say, right around 2 p.m., you have your circadian rhythm to thank for that. Just as when the sun retires for the day, our bodies are also expecting to do the same. It is held that nursing your baby helps to establish this rhythm.

What is a Mother to Do?

It is possible you will find your baby shows you when he no longer needs to breastfeed. However, if you are anxious to finish with this process before your baby has reached that stage, there are steps you can take to wean your baby from nursing:

  • Make nursing a bedtime routine that occurs earlier and earlier, creating a separation from associating it with sleeping.
  • Be ready to follow-up with a story or a song or use this time to do a last diaper change.
  • Switching from breast-milk to formula will actually induce longer, uninterrupted sleep as breast-milk, by comparison, is easier to digest causing babies to become hungrier more frequently.

In the end, the decision is ultimately up to you. If nursing is not interfering with peaceful family happenings, then there is no need to cease. Remember, it is as much an associative process as it is a physiological one.

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