Myth Busters: "Breastfeeding to sleep is a bad habit!"
This last week at group we were going to talk about breastfeeding with small breasts. But! I was the only one there with small breasts! So we decided to talk about something else. For those of you who are curious, yes, my breasts are small. So small I used to not wear a bra. Then I felt like I wanted to fit in, and now I don't really care! And yes, I breastfeed my babies just fine. :)
One of the mommas in class was wondering about sleep: sleep for her, sleep for baby. Sleep is a rather large and incredibly charged topic. So, let's be sure to stick with her main question: is breastfeeding a baby (specifically her four-month-old) to sleep going to create bad habits?
I always like to disclose my biases before I give my opinion or advice.
Here I am breastfeeding my then 18-month-old to sleep:
Here is my 4-year-old passed out without breastfeeding, and my 18-month-old, who initially fell asleep nursing, but is seen here not breastfeeding and still asleep:
And for the record: YES, I'm sleeping with them because a) I want to AND b) they needed me to AND c) because I needed to sleep too.
OBVIOUSLY, I don't think it's going to create a bad habit to breastfeed your baby to sleep. This post is not about sleeping with your baby--that is a topic we could address at another point. However, if you are wondering about bed-sharing you should visit this site from the Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame. And here is a great infographic from La Leche League:
Megan and I pretty much love talking about breastfeeding and how awesome mommas are. Mommas and their boobs are SO awesome that they contain the power of sleep! Breastfeeding helps a baby to feel loved and safe. Safe enough to sleep. Mother's milk also contains melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles. Many adults pay lots of money each year for melatonin pills in order to help them sleep...and moms just have it--in their BREASTS! Mommas are awesome! Breast milk is higher in melatonin during the appropriate circadian rhythm i.e. it is higher at night. Melatonin is also higher in mothers who have been laughing!
There is ZERO research to support the idea that breastfeeding a baby to sleep is a bad habit. In fact, emerging research suggests that babies who have their needs met (like breastfeeding to sleep) are more independent. Read this article from The Harvard Gazette if you are curious about this statement.
I no longer need to be breastfed to sleep. And I'm pretty sure Megan falls asleep on her own, too. My daughter doesn't breastfeed to sleep. Some days my son doesn't either. If I ever feel like I want to set a limit on breastfeeding my son to sleep, I will set the limit. But for now, it is how I am choosing to mother him. And if breast-feeding your baby/toddler/child to sleep is what you need to do for you and your family, then you should do it.
And in busting this myth, I actually added a bit to my nighttime bed routine. My husband, daughter, son and I spend the time connecting and giggling together before laying in bed to read stories, comfort fears, hold my daughter's hand, and for me to nurse my son to sleep. Because someday, they won't need me to do this. They will be grown up and falling asleep without me.
--Dr. Ann Croghan, PT, DPT, CLC, and CAPP-OB certified