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How to Stop Nursing to Sleep: Broken Down By Each Age

Learn how to stop nursing to sleep, no matter what age your baby or toddler is. I’m breaking it down by each age group so you can have a plan in place to stop nursing to sleep.

mom nursing baby to sleep

Breaking the feeding-to-sleep association can be one of the harder sleep props for moms to break. It’s one of the reasons so many baby and toddler sleep experts teach parents how to start an eat play sleep routine so they learn how to separate feeding and sleeping from the start.

But many parents get in the habit of feeding to sleep either out of ease, desperation, or another reason.

The problem with nursing to sleep is that babies wake up multiple times in the middle of the night. In fact, we all do! But when we wake up and feel our familiar bed and see our familiar environment, we can easily fall back asleep, without even realizing we woke up.

When babies are nursed to sleep, they fall asleep on the breast and typically in mom’s arms. When they wake up hours (or minutes) later, they find themselves in a completely different environment—without a breast or their mom!

They come to need the same thing (breastfeeding in this case) that helped them get to sleep initially to go back to sleep each and every time they wake up in the middle of the night. This can leave parents exhausted and moms feeling like an all-night milk machine.

If you’re wondering how to stop nursing to sleep, I’m breaking it down by each age group so you can troubleshoot based on your baby’s age.

Your strategy for how to get your baby to sleep without nursing will vary depending if you’re working with a newborn, baby, or toddler. Read on to find your baby’s age group and learn how you can stop nursing to sleep and establish independent sleeping habits.

mom breastfeeding baby

Babies Under 4 Months Old

If you want to establish good sleep habits from the beginning and want to know how to break the breastfeeding sleep association early on, it’s completely possible!

Newborns are very sleepy in those first few months and it is common and normal for them to fall asleep at the breast or bottle. Try to keep your newborn awake during feeds so they can get a full feed and not fall asleep while eating.

This will be challenging when they are first born, but should get easier as your baby turns 2 to 3 months old.

Practice separating feeding from sleeping by following an eat play sleep routine.

In those early months, your baby will fall asleep while feeding—that’s okay!

Don’t stress over it too much and just continue to separate feeding from sleep when you can. Even a quick diaper change after the feed can help.

Another important component of getting your baby to fall asleep independently is following their proper wake windows to make sure your baby doesn’t become overtired.

Up until about 3 months old, babies can only stay awake for about 60 minutes before they start to get overtired. An overtired baby will have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep—so pay attention to that clock.

If your baby is having a hard time falling asleep, you can use soothing methods such as white noise, firm touch, and a pacifier to help get them to sleep without defaulting to feeding.

If you need more help establishing good sleep habits with your 0 to 4 month old, check out my Newborn Sleep Program.

Babies Over 4 Months Old

Wondering how to get your older baby to sleep without nursing? It’s very possible! If you haven’t established an eat play sleep routine, it’s not too late to start teaching your baby independent sleep habits.

If your baby is addicted to nursing to sleep and over 4 months old, you can use a sleep training method to teach your baby independent sleep. My favorite method for this age is the Gentle-Three-Minute Drill.

I always recommend starting sleep training at night time first and slowly working your way toward naps. The drive for sleep is greater at night, so you’re more likely to see success and stick with it versus if you focused on naps first.

You’ll want to make sure other elements are in place before sleep training, including an optimized sleep environment and that your baby is on an age-appropriate sleep schedule.

Use white noise and nursery blackout curtains to optimize your baby’s sleep and set them up for success. I have a few other baby nursery must haves that help create a conducive sleep environment.

If you’ve been co-sleeping and want to transition your baby to their crib, now is also a great time to do that.

Make sure you are equipped with a plan before you start to sleep train. Being consistent will make all the difference in getting your baby to sleep.

If you want a guide on how to stop nursing to sleep for your 4 month old through 2.5 year old, I have you covered!

The Baby D.R.E.A.M. System walks you through the process of sleep training and how to stop baby from comfort nursing all night long as well as how to stop nursing to sleep for naps so your whole family can get better sleep. Check it out here.

toddler nursing

How Do I Get My Toddler to Sleep without Nursing?

At some point, nursing to sleep becomes even more of a hindrance to sleep and nursing to sleep stops working as effectively.

If your baby is waking up multiple times in the middle of the night to comfort nurse, it’s become a habit. We know most babies don’t need a night feed due to hunger at this age.

If you’ve been nursing to sleep long into the toddler years, it may be more challenging to establish new patterns, but it’s still possible! In fact, I believe it’s never too late to start setting up good sleep habits with your baby or toddler.

Many moms think they’ll have to wean their baby from breastfeeding completely if they want to stop nursing to sleep. But that isn’t the case. If you want to continue to breastfeed but stop feeding your toddler to sleep, you can!

For toddlers under 2.5 years old, the Baby D.R.E.A.M. System will be your guide to stop nursing your toddler to sleep. In it, I walk you through the most effective sleep training techniques to use for this age and stage.

If your toddler is out of a crib and over 2.5 years old, you’ll need a different approach. The good news is your toddler can understand way more than you realize at this age.

You can follow the strategy I lay out in my Toddler Sleep Training Guide. Just remember, consistency is key when working with this age group.

Make sure you spend plenty of time in your toddler’s room playing games and creating positive associations. It will help them feel safer and more at peace in their room at night.

mom nursing baby to sleep at night

How Do I Stop Comfort Nursing At Night?

In my experience working with parents, once they start using a sleep training technique to help their baby get to sleep for bedtime it’s easier to wean night feedings as well. Once your baby learns how to fall asleep independently for bed, they start to learn how to put themselves back to sleep when they do wake up in the middle of the night.

With time and consistency your baby will learn how to fall asleep on their own and won’t wake up to comfort nurse anymore.

After you tackle bedtime and stop comfort nursing at night, you’re ready to tackle naps! You can stop nursing to sleep for naps the same way you did for bedtime.

I developed the Baby D.R.E.A.M. System after working with so many families who wanted to know how to stop nursing their baby or toddler to sleep at night. It’s a step-by-step system walking you through how you can teach your baby independent sleep and eliminate night feeds. Find out more here!

Amy Motroni