I Still Breastfeed My Son To Sleep — He Is 2 Years Old
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  • Post published:29/08/2021
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People lose their minds when I tell them I still breastfeed my toddler to sleep. You can see it in their (not-so-subtle) facial expressions and the awkwardness of not knowing how to respond to something so left field.

We’ve heard it all before — rocking, cuddling, feeding, and singing your baby to sleep will create bad habits and more problems in the future.

Heaven forbid, my child may never be able to fall asleep on his own!

Well, preachers of this mantra can stick that rod where the sun doesn’t shine because it’s complete bullsh*t.

Breastfeeding my toddler to sleep makes my life easier.

Firstly, Let’s Start With the Facts

Breast milk produced at night contains significant levels of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. It also contains tryptophan and other chemicals that are known to aid sleep.¹

Despite popular belief, there is no scientific evidence that formula-fed babies sleep better than breastfed babies.³

Studies show mothers who breastfeed at night get an average of 40–45 minutes more sleep than parents of formula-fed infants.³

Breastfeeding helps prime and develop the child’s circadian rhythm, so they become more inflow day and night.²

And lastly, children who are breastfed at night have a significantly lower risk of dying from SIDS.³

Our Society Treats Children’s Bedtime Like a Punishment.

Why do we try to make this time of the day so stressful for children? It begins at just a few months old, putting them in their own room and enforcing routine-led sleep training.

Then as they get older, bedtime is a punishment for ‘naughty behavior’.

I’ve heard our friends say to their children, ‘Eat your dinner or you’ll go to bed’ and ‘Do you want to go to bed? Well, stop doing that.’

So it’s not surprising when it comes to their children’s bedtime, there are always tears, tantrums, and a fight to get them to sleep.

As an adult, I fall asleep best when I’m tired, relaxed, and feeling comfortable. If I’m feeling stressed, it can take hours to drift off.

So, it’s my understanding that an optimal bedtime for children should be the same — relaxed and comfortable. And that’s what breastfeeding to sleep does for them.

Still Think I’ve Created a Bad Habit? Here’s the Honest Truth.

What is the most challenging thing about breastfeeding to sleep?

If I’m home in the evening, I’m the one who has to put him to bed. He won’t accept anyone else, not even his Dad. Why? Because I bring him the most comfort. Sometimes, when I’m tired from a busy day, I’d rather mong out to Netflix than do his bedtime routine — but I still do it.

So, am I the only person who can put my child to sleep?

No. He attends daycare during the week and has no problem falling asleep for his lunch nap there.

When I’m late home or have a rare night out, he cuddles his Dad to sleep, and when the two of us are on a date night, he has a nanny who provides him with the comfort he needs.

Am I worried that he’ll always want to fall asleep with my boobs?

No. Do you honestly think he will want to be fed to sleep when he’s a teenager? I’m sure he’ll be cuddling boobs as a young adult, but they won’t be mine!

It’s not just breastfeeding that helps him fall asleep. It’s the warmth, love, and comfort I provide. One day, he won’t need so much of this from me and will settle himself easily.

‘Self-soothing’ happens when a child is developmentally ready. Unfortunately, Western society believes we need to teach a child this ‘tactic’ to fall asleep, and as soon as possible — hence why the sleep training industry makes millions each year on books and sleep-fixing gadgets.

Here’s Our Bedtime Routine in Action:

An hour before the sun begins to set, we make the home environment calmer by turning off the TV and music, keeping the lights low, and encouraging quiet, independent play and reading time.

As the sun sets, I ask to put his nappy and pajamas on. Most of the time I do so without a struggle because he’s tired and looking forward to ‘milkies’.

I then lie down in his floor bed with him to have a cuddle and breastfeed.

When he was a baby, bedtime feeds would last between 20–45 minutes. Now he is a toddler, he only feeds/suckles for approx 15 minutes, then rolls over and drifts off to sleep.

Not every night goes as smoothly.

Often, if he has an active mind or is not sufficiently tired, he’ll turn over and chat to me about random stuff before eventually closing his eyes. Sometimes he even goes to the bathroom for a last-minute poo!

But regardless — he doesn’t need a mandatory bedtime bath, blackout blinds, or other sleep gadgets. Breastfeeding helps him wind down at the end of an active day.

Who cares if he is no longer an infant?

In Conclusion: Breastfeeding To Sleep Is the Biological Norm, Something Women Have Been Doing Since the Dawn of Time and Doesn’t Need To Stop Just Because a Child Is No Longer an Infant.

The act of breastfeeding is not just about the milk. It’s about the closeness, comfort, and the ritual of meeting a child’s needs at the breast.¹

Parenting doesn’t stop when the sun goes down.

Whether you want to breastfeed to sleep or not, it’s obvious that children need comfort at night to provide them with the safest and smoothest transition into sleep — not forced bedtime hours, parent-led sleep routines, and loneliness.

As they age, their comfort and sleep needs gradually change. The claims of bad habits and back rods are myths fuelled by the lucrative sleep training industry.

If you want to explore breastfeeding beyond infancy and would like help with feeding at night, I recommend finding a highly experienced and educated Lactation Consultant. Here are some fantastic consultants I have used throughout my breastfeeding journey:

Meg Nagle — The Milk Meg
Maternal Instincts by Amberly
Sian Aldis — No Milk Like Mamas

SOURCES:

[1]Meg Nagle (November 2019) 9 Reasons You Should Keep Breastfeeding Your Child To Sleep.

[2] Sarah Ockwell Smith (January 2021) The Gentle Sleep Book: Gentle, No-Tears, Sleep Solutions for Parents of Newborns to Five-Year-Olds

[3] Sarah Ockwell Smith (June 2016) Why Your Baby’s Sleep Matters (Volume 1) (Pinter & Martin Why It Matters, 1)

[4] Pinky McKay (Nov 2020) 5 Fun Facts About Night Time Breastfeeds

Joanna Mitchell is a writer and frequent publisher on Medium who focuses on parenting, life, and family. You can find her on her website or Twitter. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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