Why Can’t I Just Feed My Child To Sleep?

Feeding-to-sleep is hands-down the #1 sleep prop there is (a sleep prop is anything a child uses to get to sleep, including you). Why? Well, let’s face it, when a baby is born we will feed our child and then they will almost always immediately fall asleep. Who’s going to complain about that?! The process works really well for our newborns…feed, then sleep. Now, you’re likely wondering why you wouldn’t want to always feed your child until they fall asleep when it works so well. Let me explain.

Let’s imagine you just had a precious baby girl. You’re happily nursing your new baby and things are going great. Because you’re recovering and working on your bond with your daughter, you’re happy to devote every second of your day nursing and caring for your new baby. Your baby’s sleep at this age of life is pretty simple. One minute she’s awake, then she’s drowsy while she’s feeding, then BAM! she’s out like a light! Not only is she out cold, but’s she’s quickly in a deep sleep. This is when she’ll make all of those adorable little faces, smiling, pouting, startling, laughing, etc. This is also when you can do things like make noises, talk loudly, and transition her somewhere else (ie her crib, pack-n-play, bouncer, etc). It can be a beautiful thing! So why am I telling you not to do this?!

Again, this process works great for newborns, or the first 3 months of age. The problem comes around the 4th month. At this point, your daughter’s sleep stops having quite so much deep sleep and it starts to now have more light sleep (about 50% in fact). The light sleep appears right after that drowsy stage, so now when she first falls asleep she stays in a light sleep for a bit. If you go to transfer her over to the crib now, you’ll likely wake her back up and need to start all over again. Many moms are often shocked to find out one day that transferring to the crib no longer works – I know I was! When that happens, you do one of three things: 1) pick your child back up and re-feed, 2) pick your child back up and rock/pat/bounce/walk, or 3) try to pat them back to sleep while they’re still in the crib (that was me – the patter).

This newfound “sleep milestone” (having sleep cycles that now mirror those of adults) often feels pretty terrible to the parents who have likely been seeing nice, long sleep stretches up until this point. To most parents, this feels like a step backwards, or a regression (hence the term 4 month regression), rather than a milestone! Now, this wouldn’t feel like that if your child knew how to put themselves to sleep. If you either taught your child independent sleep skills before this, or you got lucky and just have a child who is already good at doing this, then you wouldn’t ever see this “regression”. Unfortunately though, unless you’ve been through this before or are a sleep consultant and know what you’re doing, you’re not likely going to try super hard to create this scenario from early on because again life is good those first few months!

You’re not likely going to want to “rock the boat” of feeding-to- sleep. Nope, most don’t. Most parents are willing to take a gamble to see if they’re going to be one of the lucky ones who have a child who just sleeps like a champ without having to put any work into it. And when I say lucky that’s exactly what I mean. You know all those moms who like to tell you that their little Joey sleeps like a champ since he was 8 weeks old, or their little Mary has always been an awesome sleeper? Well, they’re either lucky or they’re lying! I was one of the lucky ones – once. I fed my first daughter to sleep every single night and she still started sleeping through the night at 3 months old. I’d like to say that I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t. I was young, naive, and lucky! I was not so lucky with the next 3 though, so I quickly learned that not all kids are created equally when it comes to sleep!

So what if you don’t want to gamble with your luck? What if you’d like to help ensure that you get a child who doesn’t go through any “regressions” at 4 months old? Well, today’s your lucky day, because I can tell you the secret to success! Ready? Well, it’s pretty simple. Stop transferring your child to their crib AFTER they’ve fallen asleep! The whole trick is that they have to already be in their crib BEFORE they’re asleep. Then you’re no longer trying to do a slow and steady transfer and ninja crawl out of the room when they’ve just fallen asleep. Now they will already be in their crib and can fall asleep without being moved or disturbed. They can also fall asleep seeing where you are or aren’t and where they are. As you might imagine, it can be a little disheartening to fall asleep safe and snug in your mama’s arms, only to wake up to a cold, hard reality that is your crib! And they will wake up eventually, because we all do.

Every time we transition sleep cycles (about 1.5hrs for preschoolers and up; about 45mins for babies and toddlers; about 20mins for newborns), we come to a light phase of sleep and take note of our surroundings. If everything is the same as it was when we fell asleep, then we will slip right into the next sleep cycle. However, if something has changed (like you were there and now you’re not), then it gives us a reason to fully wake up. And once they’re fully awake, how are they going to be able to get back to sleep? You guessed, they will need YOU once again to do what you did before (ie feed, pat, rock, bounce, lay with them, etc). It can be quite a vicious cycle all night long! Just another reason why our babies need to learn how to fall asleep on their own.

See, I told you it was simple! Simply said, at least. Putting this into action is another story! I know it’s easier said than done, but if you can pull it off, you can save yourself and your child a lot of long, sleepless nights and a lot of crying. For those of you thinking that I’m talking about sleep training a newborn, I’m not. I wouldn’t advise actual sleep training for a child less than 4 months old, however, I fully believe in “sleep teaching”.

Look, when our babies are born, they come out with a pretty clean slate. We help them create their normal, their routine. What if you took some time to work on things from early on? What if you didn’t allow your child to fall asleep feeding each and every time? Making some small, simple changes to what you teach your newborn early on can be the difference between you being a lucky mama or one that’s calling me in a few months or years to help you fix your child’s sleep issues. You don’t have to wait to see if you’re going to be one of the lucky ones. You can create your own luck with a little time and minimal effort.

*For more information about my Prenatal Sleep Package (includes pregnant couples and parents of babies aged 0-7 weeks), you can click here. It includes babies already born up through 7 weeks of age, because I don’t believe you need to start from day 1 in order to get good results. You can still work on your healing, bonding, and nursing your babies in the first 6 weeks or so, and then make some changes. Don’t worry, if you “missed the mark” on sleep teaching, you can still sleep train your child now. I have packages for newborns (8wks -4mos), babies (5mos-2.5yrs in a crib), toddlers/preschoolers (2.5-5yrs old in a bed), school aged children (6-12yrs old), and teens (13 and up). It’s never too late to teach good sleep skills! Feel free to set up your free 15min call today to see how I could help you and your family.

Visit our friends over at Positive Health Wellness for more great blogs and tips!

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