Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
Even among breastfeeding advocates, there is always some debate over whether or not it is a good idea to nurse children to sleep, especially for naps. For infants, there's not much one can (or should) do to prevent it, despite the recommendations of Babywise-style eat-play-sleep adherents. Breastfeeding releases hormones that create tiredness in the baby (and the mother!). For more details on this, see my related article, "Breastfeeding Babies to Sleep," linked at the end of this article.
For babies under about 8 months, before which it unnecessary to consider the formation of habits, nursing babies to sleep is a natural and reasonable action. It is important to make sure that baby is getting enough milk at the breast so if the baby is always falling asleep at the breast without emptying both sides, and no amount of foot tickling or burping or side-switches seems to really extend the feedings, that may be a signal that the baby needs to be offered the breast more often so that all feedings are not at sleepy times. If laying the baby down once asleep is difficult, consider swaddling (see the related article on "Swaddling and Breastfeeding," linked below).
After 8 months is when it is appropriate to start looking at routines and habits, and that is when the issue of nursing babies down for nap begins to come up for debate. By this age, most babies naps have coalesced into two day naps and a stretch of nighttime sleep (as a reminder, nighttime sleep periods may still be punctuated by the need to breastfeed, but generally do not include awake/play periods for an infant this is "sleeping through the night"). Some babies may even be making the switch to one nap a day by this point, although that is a bit early for many.
Thanks to sleep deprivation, most of the focus on whether to nurse babies to sleep revolves around night nursing. Naps, after the early months, often revolve, for moms, more on the ability to put the baby down and be able to use that time productively, or spend some special time with an older sibling. So
should you nurse your baby down for naps?
My advice for naps is simply to do whatever is easiest and fastest for you and achieves the most sleep for the baby. Unlike night sleep, nap habits are a temporary issue. Most children will give up naps sometime between age 3 and 5 (some do this earlier, but in general, I believe children should be napping most days until at least age 3).
For my personal experience on nursing my children down for naps (and not), see my related article Breastfeeding and Naps My Experience
Naps are important, and one of the somewhat rare times, I believe when moms have the freedom to truly use "whatever works" because naps are not a permanent issue. If desired, breastfeeding can be an excellent tool for this purpose.
Looking for good books on baby sleep? Here's two of my favorites:
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