So many mamas out there remind me of myself when my girls were little bitty things. It makes me smile.
It also makes me want to give you all a hug because I know these struggles. I remember calling my breastfeeding coach, Vivien, and telling her I felt like a boob slave in the early days of being a new mama to my eldest.
But she, and her younger sister, too, would turn me into a boob pacifier. Neither one of them was interested in an actual pacifier, mind you. If you feel like a baby uses your nipple as a pacifier, you’re not at all alone. In fact, it’s very, very normal.
Non-nutritive sucking is something babies tend to do. I’ll discuss all that and more below for those of you who are curious about what to do when the baby uses mom as a pacifier.
First, know your baby is not a self-soother
Neither of my children was capable of soothing themselves. It’s nothing I did wrong, and it’s nothing you’re doing wrong either. We all have our unique personalities, and this is one of the traits we can have.
While you and I are adults now, surely you can tell if you are capable of soothing yourself or not. It’s just part of you, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
How do you know if your baby can self-soothe?
Simple. If you give her a pacifier or something to comfort her and she uses it, she’s a self-soother. If not, you, as the mom, are the pacifier, and there will be little you can do at this point to change your baby from this.
Enjoy it, though, because before you know it, you’ll be separating laundry and asking your kids to put it away, and they will whine like you wouldn’t believe!
You really can’t force your baby to take to another pacifier if she’s not a self-soother. You can offer it, but if she passes it up, don’t be like Gretchen in Mean Girls and try to make “fetch” happen because it won’t.
Secondly, there is nothing wrong with your boob pacifier
Breastfeeding is such a wonderful experience and a helpful tool. No doubt, I trotted those milk boobs out all the time to nurse, calm, soothe, and comfort my babies. Yes, you become person numero uno in the house for all things baby, but they grow up so darn fast that one day, you’ll be like me and you’ll watch them reading a book and doing homework, and you’ll long for those baby days. Crying! Ugh!
Anyway, I’ll tell you what Vivien told me back in those early days. She said that my baby needed me more now than she’ll ever need me. It always stuck with me. And it was genuine too. That small amount of time you spend breastfeeding or being a breast pacifier for your babies is negligible compared to the rest of the time you’ll spend. Try to ride with it if you can.
Babies and their natural inclination for sucking
Babies are really magnificent little creatures. They are born with primal reflexes for rooting and sucking. It’s all instinct. You’ll notice your baby will suck for 2 reasons:
- Nutritive sucking – this is what happens in breastfeeding. Each time your baby sucks on the nipple, they draw out milk and swallow it.
- Non-nutritive sucking – this is also called ‘human pacifier breastfeeding’ where your baby is sucking, but breastmilk isn’t being drawn out.
The latter of the 2 happens when the baby is on your breast and your milk isn’t coming through, between nutritive sucking (like a pause if you will before carrying on for more milk), and at the end of the feeding when she’s full but is comforted by the sucking.
Often, babies perform non-nutritive sucking as comfort nursing. And again, this is NORMAL. So many babies do this, and yours isn’t the only one.
Is it frustrating to constantly be on call? You bet! I remember when my eldest was a newborn, and she’d nurse for 45 minutes at a time. I’d get up to go pee or try to eat, and it felt like minutes later she wanted more. But that soon sped up, and she’d eat more quickly at each feeding, and the feedings began to space out. Just be patient!
A word about comfort nursing
The technical term for what is happening is comfort nursing. I definitely did this for both of my daughters. It was hard breaking them of the habit once they were bigger, but it’s not a bad thing to breastfeed a baby to sleep for comfort.
While not all babies will need this, a vast majority of them do. Trying to force your baby to go on your timeline again is like poor Gretchen and her “fetch” which is never, ever happening.
If you recall what I said before about nutritive and non-nutritive sucking, breastfeeding is not just a way to nourish but also to comfort your child. Sucking also releases cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone released both in your baby and you. This gives off a sleepy feeling.
Breastfeeding also delivers amino acids, sleep-inducing hormones, and other great things that can help your baby develop their circadian rhythm.
All that matters here is that breastfeeding is benefiting you and your baby. It’s beyond nourishing but also nurturing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Both of my daughters sleep in their own rooms now and the whole night through. Part of being a mom is knowing what feels right for your family.
Just because your best friend’s baby is self-soothing and has been in a crib in her own nursery since the age of 6 months has nothing to do with you. Every child is different, and every parent has their own way of handling things.
Comfort nursing: as normal as the sun rising
Comfort nursing is something that so many babies do. While not all of them engage in it, babies are prone to sucking on something. Hands. Pacifiers. Anything they can grab (which gets dangerous!).
It’s a healthy habit, this comfort nursing. But if it’s driving you nuts, just know that this won’t last forever. Baby will rely on you less and less as she gets bigger.
For now, know that what you’re doing is keeping your baby calm. This type of nursing decreases the heart rate and lets your baby relax. Baby feels safe this way, and soon, she will learn more about the world around her and be comforted by that too.
Is it a bad thing to nurse a baby to sleep?
Nope! Not at all. I nursed both my daughters to sleep every night when each of them was breastfeeding. You haven’t built up some sort of bad habit. What you’re doing right now is comforting and nourishing, and you should be proud of that.
Think about it this way…what do you do to relax? Maybe you soak in the tub, read a book, watch a good TV show or movie, enjoy a snack, call a friend, spend more than your husband wants you to at Target…you get the idea. Babies don’t have those sets of skills yet. For them, this is the same way to comfort. And that will change as they get bigger and become more independent.
When your baby moves from newborn into other phases of being a baby, it’s far easier for her to be distracted with things to explore. At night or during naps, this might be the only time for an eager explorer to get the best nutrition because they will fully be focused on nursing. This keeps up your milk supply, which is an excellent thing.
What you can do when baby uses you as a boob pacifier
For some of you, this will be a non-issue. But for others, you will wonder if you’re always on call for baby. Your breast pacifier is awaiting soothing, and you have a screaming child at 1 am…it’s your choice.
I chose the way of comfort nursing. It felt natural and normal for me, and it was what both my babies wanted. If I could go back and do it all again, I’d do the very same thing.
It is instinctual for babies to suckle at the breast. When they’re eating, you want to be sure the latch is good, so the milk flows and they get the nutrition they need. But when they’re not eating and just using you as a pacifier, it’s ok too.
You don’t really have any options to explore here. You just have to wait and see what kind of baby you will have and adapt to that. I know that’s not all that helpful, but why fight it? It’s like trying to fit a mattress into your car. It won’t fit, so find another way to work with it to get it home and into your bedroom.
You can’t force a baby to fit your lifestyle. That’s the American way, it seems, but in other cultures, this simply doesn’t happen. You can certainly get a break, though, when you feel burnt out by wearing baby. That helped a lot when I needed to move around and do chores, and all my babies ever wanted to do was suckle.
Additionally, American culture tends to frown down upon parents that co-sleep or comfort nurse and that’s silly. Babies won’t sleep through the night for a while. In fact, it is NORMAL for them to wake throughout the night. Some say that our caveman ancestors woke in the night and didn’t sleep through the night either. Could our 8 consecutive hours a night be a sham? Perhaps, but the jury is still out.
Just because your baby wants to comfort nurse doesn’t mean they are a bad baby or you’re a bad mom. Chuck that notion out straight away!
Babies are babies
Babies are babies, and they’re going to do what they do. All they know how to do from birth is what is instinctual. In time, they will build on that with everything they learn from you. Children that aren’t natural self-soothers will eventually build up ways to soothe themselves.
Take my youngest, for instance. She’s much clingier than her older sister, yet she’s developed habits for soothing herself. If she can’t sleep at bedtime, she turns on her bedside lamp and reads herself a book. Then she goes to sleep.
Other times, we’ll wake up and find her squished between us in our bed in the morning. It’s a crapshoot, but we smile and laugh because one day, she won’t come snuggling.
My eldest reminded me the other day of when she was first getting used to her new bedroom here in America after moving from China. She was in preschool, and she developed a habit of dragging her pillow, blanket, and stuffed animals into our room. She’d do this in the dead of night, making a space on the floor on my husband’s side of the bed.
He got up to use the bathroom and tripped over her. After a few nights of this, we helped her find ways to comfort herself at night, and she no longer came in. Now when she comes into our room when we’re sleeping, we know something is wrong. Like when the batteries died in the smoke detector in her room at 4 am, and we had to fumble around for the ladder in the garage and the batteries. Good times.
Anyway, being a mom is being a comforter, too, so just roll with it, and things will work out. When they do, you’ll get teary-eyed remembering these days, believe me!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.