Is it really that bad to feed your baby to sleep?


We’re told that if we feed the baby to sleep (lull them off with a tit or teat in their mouth), they will never learn to self soothe. But it was working well for Annie Ridout, so she asked some other mothers what they thought…

I was in a bit of a muddle about whether it was ok that every time I put my seven-month-old baby to bed at night – and for at least one of his daytime naps – I was breastfeeding him until he fell into a sleep coma. So I decided to ask some other mothers what they thought about doing this.

I specifically wanted to know if the commonly shared belief – online, anecdotally and by healthcare professionals – that feeding a baby to sleep will prevent them from learning how to self soothe (get themselves back to sleep without the aid that got them there in the first place; a nipple or bottle teat).

So I asked The Early Hour’s followers on Instagram to share their thoughts and experiences. Below, in italics, is my original post – followed by the mothers’ views on whether it’s ok to feed your baby to sleep. As ever, the responses are wonderfully varied. Because parenting is different for everyone…

I have a sleep question. Do people actually wake up their baby before putting them down for a nap or at night, if they’ve fallen asleep on the boob/bottle?
If yes, has it helped – and how? If no, why not?

I’ve been feeding the baby to sleep since birth. He’s now seven months and I’m wondering if I should stop. But I can’t work out why I would… if I’m not there, he’ll also be rocked to sleep – or left to grumble then fall asleep on his own. (When I say ‘grumble’ I really mean ‘cry’. But not hysterically and not for long).

Would love to hear your thoughts/experiences/wisdom…?

javabere: I’m still feeding Gryff to sleep and he’s 17 months. I used to feed on demand all night but now he’ll let me feed him and once he’s asleep I can lay him down and he’ll sleep for a couple of hours until he wakes and then I just stroke his back until he goes back to sleep. I don’t really see why I would wake him up, it looks pretty cosy and peaceful for him even though it’s meant to be a ‘bad habit’.

bridgethurd: As long as he’s sleeping for long enough keep doing what works for you. I only had to stop feeding to sleep when my daughter was taking short naps as she couldn’t resettle herself.

emilystrangeness: If it works for both of you why stop?! It truly won’t last forever – and you can always try something different when you need to rather than feeling you have to.

keepingdixie: Breast milk is so full of sleep hormones that’s it’s practically impossible not to feed to sleep. It was designed to make babies sleep in fact and going against this might work for some but reality is it’s gonna be a world of pain for most mums stressing about it!

careitoutsleepconsultant: only an issue if an issue for you.

moussa: I also have a 7 month and feed to sleep despite the guilt and grief health visitors give me. I don’t know why they hate it so much but I agree if it works…why change it?

akindmama: We fed to sleep until he wanted to stop. Around a year he decided he wouldn’t sleep anywhere except his own bed!

dizziemascoll: I fed my sweet girl to sleep until she was nearly 2. I see it as an amazing gift!! For all those people that told me she would never sleep without it, a few months later she’s sleeping 10 hours straight in her own room without me and i’ve stopped bf due to pregnancy. If you’re happy and he’s happy do it as long as you can,

sarahleszinski: Isn’t self soothing/settling a myth though? Doesn’t a baby just give up but stay stressed when crying it out? My son is 26 months old and was fed to sleep until it didn’t do the trick anymore. And I still stay in the room until he sleeps. I would never leave him crying.

dollydaydreamsdiary: I guess it’s a case of what’s right for you. I personally believe a baby/child should know how to settle and soothe themselves, for their own sake. My worry is always, what if for some reason I can’t be there and then they are distraught because they think going to sleep without me is something they are unable to do, when it really isn’t. However, like I said at the start, it’s whatever works for you and yours. There’s no easy answer for us mums, is there?

dollydaydreamsdiary: By the way, I should add that with my 3 year old and 10 month old, they were never left to cry. I always made sure that when they went into their cot, they were happy and content little people. I’m definitely not one for crying it out.

southlondontot: My two year old will still feed to sleep if I let her. She did most nights (I don’t get out much…) for first 20 months. Mostly she does a story and has a cuddle, is pretty much asleep when she gets put in her bed and nods off. Other times she’s in bed and one of us (mum, dad, grandparent) is on the chair next to her bed. Feeding to sleep was the easiest and most relaxing way for us to do bedtime.

motherslovefashion: I would carry on! They grow out of it eventually and then you’ll wish the boob or a cuddle would still send them him to sleep! I fed to sleep for about a year but now my 2.5 year old is great at going to bed on her own. Whatever is best and easiest for you really!

nicole_pj: I found with my elder daughter that she gradually stopped falling asleep with the last feed and was just drowsy and would nod off when I put her down. My 5 mth old falls asleep when I start feeding and I cannot face waking her up just to put her to bed. I figure they all get there gradually and second time round I just want everyone to sleep!

nicole_pj: Sleep is most important, however we get there!

fifi_feefs: Nah, and even when I try he’s dead to the world anyway. I know he can get himself to sleep when he doesn’t do this (he usually only falls asleep on the boob at night) so I’m happy to continue letting him fall asleep at the end of a feed if he needs/wants to.

sarahleszinski: Self soothing isn’t a myth but perhaps some babies require more comfort than others.

notanotheronesie: I worried about this too and tried to stop, for a couple of weeks my husband put my son to bed and he was fine but we have fallen back into the old routine. It’s such an easy and natural way to get a baby off to sleep, now I figure I should enjoy these quiet, cuddly moments of motherhood. Written as I breastfeed my 9 month old to sleep

missalissabean: I still nurse to sleep, everybody seems to be telling me not to but it’s nature’s magical way! I am too lazy to mess with that.

juliaveira: I feed my 6 month old to sleep for naps and bedtime – it’s a lovely thing to do however I am thinking of stopping it in the next month or so as I want to prepare myself for going back to work/getting back to a few social evening things where I won’t be here to feed her to sleep. Does anyone have any gentle suggestions of how to do it?!

mariyoula: I breastfed to sleep till he was two and he wouldn’t fall asleep anymore. Didn’t see the reason before that.

notanotheronesie: I was about to do the same – get my husband to take him instead – then couldn’t remember why I was planning to do this, and what I wanted to achieve! So, like you, will stick with it for now.

leanoreleanorhen: Feeding my 15 month old to sleep right now. It’s such a lovely, special and brief time. With my older child I got fed up of it and wanted my boobs back around 20 months. I think as long as it is still working for both of you, carry on for as long as you want to. Just go with your gut feeling.

What do you think: is it ok to feed your baby to sleep, and if not – why not?