This article is written by Hala Merola from Sleep Sweet Consulting. Hala Merola is a qualified sleep consultant who shares her expertise and advice on how to make the change from feeding to sleep.
Feeding to sleep, while biologically normal and developmentally appropriate, gets to a point where
some parents want to make a change for one reason or another. For some, feeding to sleep becomes
emotionally taxing and parents report feeling ‘touched out’ with the process. For others, they may wish
to make the change for the flexibility or freedom of having their child falling asleep without their
assistance. Either way, it is the parent’s decision when and if they would like to move on from this.
“The most gentle would be to slowly eliminate completely feeding to sleep”
There are so many different ways to move away from feeding to sleep. The most gentle would be to
slowly eliminate completely feeding to sleep. What this means is that you go from feeding completely to
sleep, to feeding until almost asleep, potentially 75% of the way, and then hold them /pat them/rock
them to sleep the rest of the way and then transferring as you normally would. Once your baby is falling
asleep this way successfully for at least 3 consecutive days, then you can move to the next step. From
here, you can feed until drowsy, so about 50% of the way, and again, assist until asleep and transfer.
Once they are falling to sleep this way comfortably for an additional 3 consecutive days then the next
step would be 25% of the way where they only receive a quick feed and then are assisted to sleep for
the remainder. A further 3 consecutive days would be needed before moving onto the last step where
you are only assisting to sleep and then transferred. This now means that you are no longer feeding to
sleep, and just holding them to sleep. When you’re ready to move on from there, you can then teach
your child to fall asleep without your assistance.
In general, we only make one change every 3 days at the earliest. Too many changes at once mean your child will be overwhelmed and most likely regress. Allowing only one change at a time gives your child an opportunity to learn what you’re trying to teach them. You can definitely stay at each step longer than the 3 days if you wish.
“Babies are generally always happy to be assisted to sleep, so even if you choose this method know that you’ll still be successful as you’re not removing yourself from the equation, just the feed.”
Another method to use is to move to an eat-play-sleep type routine. This routine asks you to feed your child when they wake rather than when they are due to sleep. This forms the association that feeds are upon waking rather than sleeping. Shifting the feed from the bedroom to sleep to leave the room when they wake and feeding elsewhere in a bright room (say the living room for example) sets the association that eating is for wake times rather than for sleep times and they are less likely to fall asleep when feeding as they are awake and alert.
This can be achieved virtually cold turkey without needing a period of adjustment as you would just be assisting to sleep another way (rocking, holding, patting) and we are sure that they aren’t hungry as their feed is just shifted elsewhere in the routine. Babies are generally always happy to be assisted to sleep, so even if you choose this method know that you’ll still be successful as you’re not removing yourself from the equation, just the feed. This method is generally one I tend to favour as my clients generally want something that is going to work fast but remains gentle.
Having your partner assist with settling is a great way of making sure your child isn’t feeding to sleep. Some parents like to completely tap out overnight and pass the reins over because usually feeding to sleep is associated with one parent over the other – typically mum feeds to sleep and dad doesn’t for example. Allowing for your partner to take over means that they are likely to remain consistent with a different settling method rather than only attempting for a certain period of time and then resorting to feeding if they feel like it doesn’t work.
“This doesn’t mean the Cry It Out method.” – Feeding To Sleep
If and when you are ready to remove your assistance completely from the equation, that is when you can introduce a method to teach your bub to fall asleep unassisted. There are many methods that can help teach your child to fall asleep without your assistance. Which would suit you depends on your parenting philosophy and your child’s personality. Self-settling methods vary greatly from hands-on methods to hands-off methods.
Methods that are hands-on work to teach your child to fall asleep with your presence. From there you can slowly remove your presence from the equation until your child is comfortably falling asleep without you. These are generally also called ‘no-cry’ methods though it is important to note that is impossible to make a change without some form of crying, as crying is your child’s way of communicating and therefore protesting the change.
Hands-off methods ask you to give your child some space allowing them to attempt to fall asleep without you. This period of space is their opportunity to try before receiving some reassurance from you. This doesn’t mean the Cry It Out method. This can potentially mean a pause before responding or only responding to certain cries over others. What hands-off methods aim to achieve is a child that is comforted through the change of falling asleep unassisted but a quicker transition to doing so because of the opportunity it creates.
“Remember that feeding to sleep is normal.”
Remember that feeding to sleep is normal. If you are happy to continue doing so, then you absolutely can. Only make a change when your current situation is no longer working for you or for your child. And if you do decide to make a change, hopefully, this article has helped you realise that you have many options to do so without the dreaded Cry It Out method.
Hala Merola is the face behind Sleep Sweet Consulting, a business born out of a passion to help parents with sleep so they can enjoy every other aspect of parenting. She has 2 children of her own and has shared the secrets of sleeping sweetly with hundreds of families. Her approach is a holistic one, where she focuses on every aspect that has the potential to affect sleep. She also focuses heavily on educating parents on her suggestions and recommendations based on sleep science and experience which are personalised to each client’s situation so that they feel empowered with information to tackle their sleep issues.
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