Feeding Babies to Sleep: Is it really that bad?

You hear it time and time again: If you want your child to sleep better, don’t feed them to sleep.

Why is this such a common piece of advice?

Well, the way your child falls asleep can turn into a sleep association — something your child associates with sleep. In essence, if every night your child is falling asleep while you’re nursing them or feeding them, then it’s going to be hard for them to fall asleep without that feeding.

So when they wake up at 3 a.m., they’ll need a feed.

And when they wake at 4:30 a.m., they’ll need a feed.

And the cycle continues.

“But Katie,” I’ll often hear, “my child actually sleeps better when I feed them to sleep. How can that be a bad thing?”

Let me first say that feeding your hungry child is never a bad thing, and in order for babies to sleep well, they need to be well-fed. That’s always step one — take care of the physical needs of your child.

And secondly, if you’re okay with feeding your child to sleep and it’s working for them, there’s no issue with it.

Feeding to sleep only becomes a challenge when it’s an issue for you (you’re losing sleep or your sanity) or for your child (they wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep without it).

If you and your child enjoy it and sleep isn’t impacted (or you don’t mind if it is), then there’s no reason to lose the habit of feeding to sleep. At least not right away. Eventually, your child does need to have good, restorative rest, and if they’re waking up and unable to go back to sleep on their own, then that’s something you’ll want to address.

Yes, we want to be responsive to our children, but we also want to make sure they’re getting the sleep that their bodies need.

If you’re ready to stop the feed-to-sleep cycle but you’re unsure of where to begin, I provide a few tips in this video.

Video not showing up? Click here.

In Summary

-If you can feed your child to sleep and easily transfer them to their crib, and they stay asleep, then feeding them to sleep is fine. For now. Eventually, children will need to be able to fall asleep on their own without the reliance of a feeding session.

-If the above isn’t true — maybe your child wakes up the minute you place them down, or they wake multiple times a night and the only way they fall back to sleep is with a feed, then you may decide that this habit is one you want to break. 

-To end the feed-to-sleep habit, stop feeding your child before they fall asleep. If they typically fall asleep at the 3 oz mark, then stop feeding them at 2.5 oz or right as they’re getting drowsy. Then, you can put them down in their crib OR you can continue to hold them until they’re a little more sleepy.

-Same applies for breastfeeding. Gradually cut back on the time you’re breastfeeding so that they aren’t falling asleep while eating.

Sometimes it’s all easier said than done.

If you need support while you make this transition or want to chat about other sleep challenges your child has, let’s chat!

Message me on Instagram: How has ending the feed-to-sleep cycle worked for you?

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I’m Katie

certified pediatric sleep consultant

Fueled by equal parts caffeine and passion, I spend my days helping exhausted mamas get their babies the sleep they need. 

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