Feeding and Sleep for Babies: What you Need to Know

If you are a parent, you know how precious sleep is. You also know how important feeding is for your baby’s growth and development. But sometimes, these two essential needs seem to clash and you are wondering what to do! Your baby may fall asleep while feeding, or wake up frequently at night for more milk. Don’t worry, you are not alone. Many parents struggle with the same issues when it comes to feeding and sleep for babies. You may wonder if you are doing something wrong, or if there is a way to feed your baby without sacrificing your sleep quality. How are parents to get sleep and effectively feed their baby? I will share some tips and insights on how to balance these two aspects of your baby’s care, and help you and your baby get some well-deserved rest.

Why Do Babies Fall Asleep While Feeding?

It’s normal for babies to fall asleep while feeding, especially in the first few months of life. There are several reasons why this happens:

  1. Feeding is relaxing. For newborns, feeding is not only a way to satisfy their hunger, but also a way to feel comforted and secure. The warm milk, the close contact with you, and the soothing sounds of your heartbeat and voice can all make your baby feel sleepy. So don’t be surprised if your baby drifts off while nursing or bottle-feeding.
  1. Feeding is exhausting. For newborns, feeding is also a lot of work. They have to suck, swallow, breathe, and digest all at the same time. This can take a toll on their energy levels and make them tired. Plus, newborns have very small stomachs and need to feed frequently, which means they don’t have much time to stay awake between feedings.
  1. Feeding is a habit. As babies get older, they may still fall asleep while feeding because they have learned to associate feeding with sleeping. This is called a feed-to-sleep association¹. It means that your baby relies on feeding as a cue to fall asleep, and may have trouble falling asleep without it.

Is Falling Asleep While Feeding a Problem?

Falling asleep while feeding is not necessarily a problem, as long as your baby is getting enough milk and growing well. However, it can become a problem if it interferes with your baby’s sleep quality or yours. We have a saying in The Mama Coach community that says ‘It’s only a problem if it’s a problem for you!” Here are some things that families have told me that have made them feel that the feeding to sleep association has become an issue or a problem.

  • Your baby wakes up frequently at night. If your baby has developed a feed-to-sleep association, they may wake up more often at night and need to feed again to fall back asleep. This can disrupt their sleep cycles and prevent them from getting enough deep sleep. It can also make you exhausted from having to get up multiple times to feed your baby.
  • Your baby feeds poorly during the day. If your baby falls asleep too quickly or too often while feeding, they may not get enough milk during the day. This can affect their weight gain and growth, and make them hungry at night. It can also affect your milk supply if you are breastfeeding. If you are worried about feeding and would like more support, you can contact me HERE for help and support!
  • Your baby has trouble napping. If your baby only falls asleep while feeding, they may have difficulty napping without it. This can make them overtired and cranky during the day, and affect their night sleep as well.

How Can You Feed Your Baby Without Losing Sleep?

If you want to feed your baby without losing sleep, there are some strategies you can try:

  • Keep your baby awake and alert while feeding. You can gently stimulate your baby while feeding by talking to them, stroking their cheek or chin, tickling their feet or hands, switching sides or bottles more often, or burping them halfway through. You can also try to keep the lights on and the noise level normal during daytime feedings, and dim the lights and keep the noise level low during nighttime feedings. This is what I call effective feeding!
  • Change your baby’s bedtime routine. If your baby has a feed-to-sleep association, you can try to break it by changing the order of your baby’s bedtime routine. Instead of feeding your baby right before putting them down, try to move the feeding earlier in the routine. This will help your baby learn to fall asleep without feeding, and make them less likely to wake up for more milk at night.
  • Offer other forms of comfort. You can cuddle your baby, rock them gently, pat their back, or use a pacifier to help them calm down without feeding. 
  • Be consistent and patient. Feeding and sleeping are closely connected for babies, and changing their habits can take some time and effort. You may need to try different strategies and see what works best for your baby. You may also need to deal with some crying or fussing from your baby as they adjust to the new routine. However, if you are consistent and patient, you will eventually see positive results.

Feeding and sleep are both essential for your baby’s health and happiness. By following these tips, you can feed your baby without losing sleep, and help both of you get some well-deserved rest. Remember, every baby is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Trust your instincts and do what feels right for you and your baby.

If you feel like you have tried everything and are still struggling with either sleep or feeding, please reach out for support and together we’ll create a plan to get your family sleeping!

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