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The role of the Registered Nurse or Newborn Care Provider is to feed, soothe, bathe, change & provide all other gentle care to baby through the night.

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The Truth About Breastfeeding to Sleep

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When parents ask Heidi Streufert, RN, CLC if it’s okay to let their baby fall asleep at the breast, she usually responds, “I dare you to try to keep them awake!” 

“But seriously,” says Heidi. “I typically tell them that newborns will fall asleep while breastfeeding, and not only is this okay, but they will soon discover that the breast is a wonderful tool- nursing is so much more than a way to feed our babies!”

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When parents ask me if it’s okay to let their baby fall asleep at the breast, I usually respond, “I dare you to try to keep them awake!”

But, seriously, I typically tell them that newborns will fall asleep while breastfeeding, and not only is this okay, but they will soon discover that the breast is a wonderful tool- nursing is so much more than a way to feed our babies!  For parents who are concerned that this will set the baby up with “bad habits,” I explain that the only “rule” is that nursing should not serve as the only tool for putting baby to sleep.  Just as the pacifier, bouncer or sleeping in the car should not be the only ways baby knows to go to sleep.

Sometimes baby falls asleep at the breast, but sometimes baby nurses, plays a little while, then has a bath, and mom or her partner can swaddle baby, or sing, or rock, or walk baby to sleep.  Sometimes the baby falls asleep traveling in the car (no one EVER seems to suggest that THIS is a problem!), sometimes s/he slips off to sleep in the baby swing or the bouncy seat, and other times the crib.  The key is flexibility.  This sets baby up to be able to sleep in a variety of situations, rather than always relying on  just one association for sleep.

While establishing a good bedtime routine is important for babies during the first year, being too rigid can lead to its own set of problems. Babies who have a very strict sleep routine (for example always the same crib and only with a noise machine) may have difficulty with sleep issues later when it’s time to transition to a new bed, sleep on vacation, or take a nap at grandma’s house.

The piece was develped with the help of Heidi Streufert, a Maryland based RN, BSN and former 10 year La Leche League Leader and LMS team member. What are your thoughts?  Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

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