For many parents, the bedtime routine often involves feeding their little one to sleep - happy, warm, and content.
Feeding to sleep is natural, it’s normal, it’s healthy.
If you are feeding to sleep and it’s working for you as a family, then you do not need to change a thing.
Feeding to sleep is only ever an issue if it is becoming unsustainable - for example if they still wake the second they’re put down, if you’re finding yourself in a muddle when little one just stares back at you after the feed and they’re no where near asleep (which was me by the way!) and/or, if they are waking multiple times in the night and only settling with a feed each time.
Signs you might have a ‘feed to sleep’ association:
Most babies over 4-6months (and of a healthy weight) only need 1-2 feeds a night. If you are up feeding more than this and little one feeds at every wake then it’s likely they have an association.
If your baby refuses or only snacks lightly for their first feed of the morning they are likely getting too much milk overnight.
If your baby is having bigger feeds at night than they do during the day. This is called ‘reverse cycling’.
Strategies for Breaking the Cycle:
Introduce a Pre-Sleep Routine
Establish a calming pre-sleep routine that includes activities like a warm bath, gentle massage, or a quiet story. This signals to your baby that it's time to wind down.
Add Extra Sleep Associations
While they are currently feeding to sleep add in patting, shushing/singing -these are great associations because you can use them over the cot side when the time comes and they provide baby with verbal and physical reassurance.
Adjust Feeding Timing
You may want to shift the last feeding to a point in the bedtime routine that precedes actual sleep. This helps decouple feeding from the act of falling asleep. Or - you may prefer to do a small feed before bath and another before sleep.
If your baby relies heavily on feeding to sleep, consider gradually reducing the amount of time spent feeding and let them fall asleep on you, without the breast or bottle in their mouth initially.
Simply by changing position after a feed can slowly help them recognise that there’s an extra step after the feed and they will rouse slightly so that you can then transfer when they are slightly more awake and use those additional sleep associations such as patting/shushing once down in their sleep space.
Or, you may want to add in an extra step such as saying goodnight to teddies, putting them in their sleep sack etc and then let them latch on for more if they get upset with the view to remove as soon as feeding slows.
What time of day should you start trying this?
Many parents find it easier to start with naptime since they’re less exhausted and more likely to stick to a new plan than in the middle of the night.
Once you’ve mastered naptime, it should be easier to start implementing a new routine at bedtime too. Or you could just try it at bedtime initially until midnight and then after that, feed as they need. Depending on your little one's age, and if you're ready - then it can be easiest to go the whole hog and do everything at the same time to make a clean break and bring consistency.
It really is so different for everyone but just know that if you are feeling stuck and it’s really impacting night times then there is a change that you can make.
Feed to sleep is probably one of the most common aspects that I help families with because changing that can make a world of difference to sleep but you also need everything else optimised too - so make sure nap times are right for your baby, they’re getting plenty of fresh air, active time, full bellies in the day, the right sleep environment, they’re comfortable. It sounds a lot but this is stuff you will all naturally do anyway so don’t get too overwhelmed and just take it day by day.