Does your baby fall asleep with the bottle or needs to be rocked to sleep. And does your little one wake up for a feed throughout the night? First of all, I want to let you know that you are not alone. This is one of the most common issues I see when I work with parents to teach their baby how to establish healthy sleep habits. So how do you break the bottle feeding or nursing to sleep habit?
Well up to this point, this is the only strategy that has worked to get your baby to sleep. If your baby isn’t feeding to sleep, then they’ll likely cry the moment you place them in the crib, right? And I don’t know a single mom who wants to let her baby cry to sleep.
So what’s the solution? How can you break the bottle feeding or nursing to sleep habit that your baby uses to get to sleep without the crying?
Reasons to break the Feeding to Sleep Habit
When you put your baby in bed at night, it’s fine to include the bottle or nursing session in the bedtime routine if your baby is under a year old. Babies under one year of age do need that one last top off feed for the night to ensure that their tummies are nice and full to be able to make it through the night. After 12 months of age, I recommend beginning the transition to the sippy cup.
But what you really want to avoid is giving her the bottle or continue nursing until she falls asleep or putting her in her crib with the bottle. You do not want your baby to fall asleep with the breast or bottle in her mouth because if she wakes up in the middle of the night, she thinks she needs that it again to sleep.
By this point, you’re more than familiar with this process. She wakes up. You come and feed her to sleep with the bottle or put it into the crib. Then she sucks herself back to sleep with the breast or bottle. And this process of waking up and feeding back to sleep can repeat itself multiple times throughout the night.
Feeding to sleep has become a sleep prop
Your baby has come to rely on the breast or bottle as a “sleep prop” in order to get to sleep. And here’s why that’s the problem. We all go through multiple sleep cycles when we sleep. When we come out of one sleep cycle and go into the next, everyone comes to the surface of sleep. As adults, we’ve had plenty of practice. We know how to get ourselves back to sleep without really even knowing that we’ve had those brief wakings.
But right now, your baby relies on the breast or bottle to get to sleep. So when she comes to those brief wakings, she’s going to more fully start to wake up. She’s going to realize that she didn’t’ have what she fell asleep with. The breast or bottle is no longer in her mouth. And what is she going to do? She’s going to begin to cry for you to come and put the breast or bottle back in her mouth. Because this is the only strategy that she’s known up until this point. She needs the bottle in order to fall asleep. So by breaking this old way of sleeping, and starting to introduce new, healthy independent sleep skills, that’s how we’re going to get to her fall asleep a lot more peacefully and begin to sleep all the way through the night!
Not only is that hard for her sleep strategies, it is also very damaging to her teeth coming in. So, what you can do is start the bottle a little earlier in your routine.
BREAKING THE FEEDING TO SLEEP ASSOCIATION
The first step to breaking the feeding to sleep habit is changing the bedtime routine. You could start with a bath, and then pajamas and then her feed and a story or two. The key is that you should be putting her into the crib awake and without a bottle or letting her fall asleep in your arms. So do what you can to keep your baby alert during the feed. Keep the lights on in the bedroom when doing the feed. That’s right! We want to make sure your little one is not getting drowsy and starting to doze off during that last feed of the day.
And we want to be adding a couple of activities after the feed to make sure she’s wide awake before going into her crib. I love reading a book or two after the feed to keep your baby alert and WIDE AWAKE.
Wide awake? Sounds a little scary right? What do I do if she cries?
Gentle Sleep Training
Well mama, it’s time to start sleep training! Don’t worry, if you follow the guidelines from Live Love Sleep, I will give you some strategies and a step by step plan to deal with the two weeks that it will probably take to get your baby on track, and learn this new strategy for getting themselves to sleep.
Here’s the good news. You don’t have to let your baby cry it out! Not only that, but you don’t have to leave the room. That’s right. You can stay with your baby if you like. We use much gentler approaches to teach your baby the skills needed to break the nightly bottle habit and begin sleeping through the night.
But your baby really does need to start connecting the steps that are involved in putting themself to sleep independently so that they are not relying on the breast or bottle. Otherwise, your baby will most likely keep waking and need the breast or bottle to get back to sleep. It could go on well into the second year so you really want to make sure you break this habit now.
You can go in and be present and comforting as your baby learns how to fall asleep independently. Your baby will learn a new way to fall asleep and they will start sleeping a solid night, which will be better for them. It may take about two weeks. But it is definitely for the best!
WHEN TO START SLEEP TRAINING
Parents often ask me WHEN is the right time to start sleep training. Babies are old enough to learn how to self soothe a little after 3 moths of age. So either your baby is currently going through the 4-month sleep regression or is over a year old, NOW is the perfect time to get started.
My general guidance is that once a baby is about 15 lbs or 6 months of age, then they are generally going to be able to physically sleep through the night. It’s just a matter of teaching them how to do so and how to transfer those calories from the nighttime hours to the daytime hours.
The good news is that if your baby still needs a night feed, you can still teach them these healthy new independent sleep skills while keeping one or two night feedings. I generally work a feed or two into my sleep plans when working with 3 -5 month old babies.
I have personally worked with hundreds of families who have tried on their own to break the bottle feeding or nursing to sleep association, but feel like nothing has worked for them. As a sleep coach, my job is to create a customized sleep plan that is going to work for YOUR BABY and YOUR FAMILY. Every baby is different and they all response a little differently. This is why we work together closely for the couple weeks that it will take your baby to learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep without the bottle so that you don’t have to figure this out on your own.
If you want to learn some easy, proven strategies for getting your child to sleep and stay asleep without requesting the bottle, I’d love to chat further!
To healthy sleep,
Founder of Live Love Sleep
Certified Baby and Toddler Sleep Consultant