How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Nursing

Getting a baby to sleep without nursing may seem like a pipe dream for lots of moms. Here are gentle ways to help your baby sleep and break the breastfeeding-sleep association.

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When my daughter was first born, I had a plan in my mind of what I was going to do and how I was going to parent. I thought to myself that I would never allow any sleep crutches and would not let her get used to nursing to sleep.

But the day she was born she was so happy on the breast and it made her so tired. She easily became “milk drunk” and could fall asleep so quickly. I even had to actively wake her up while nursing, so my plans quickly fell through.

I remembered this was completely normal, and completely natural as well. So we got into this habit of nursing, sleeping, then waking up and having playtime.

A few weeks later I noticed her naps were not great and she was waking up several times during the night for nighttime feedings. I knew it was time for a change. Being the behavioral expert and sleep coach, I began putting my own tools to use and started working on getting her to fall asleep without nursing.

Here are my best tried and true tips (with my own girls and countless clients) on how to stop nursing your baby to sleep.

Create a Wind-Down Routine for Naps and Bedtime Routine for the Night.

Newborns and infants thrive off of routines. If a baby knows what to expect, he is less likely to protest the activity and feels safe and confident while doing it. This goes across the board, but especially when it comes to sleep.

Your bedtime routine can include anything. All that matters is that you do the same sequence of events EVERY SINGLE NIGHT (and before every nap). In the newborn period, our routine included a bath, lotion, fresh diaper, pajamas, swaddle, nurse, book, lullaby, into bed. We did that routine every night and sure enough after 2-3 nights, our girls were yawning and rubbing eyes by the time they got out of the bath.

Set up Their Environment for Success

Newborns are notorious for being able to fall asleep anywhere, but around 3-4 months of age is where we start to see a shift in this behavior. They become aware of their environment which ultimately means distracted by their surroundings. A distracted baby will resist sleep and even bite you as a result of trying to look around while nursing.

If you want a successful nap, then set them up for success by using blackout curtains and white noise. By blackout curtains, I mean a pitch-black Vegas hotel room dark (yes that dark, yes for all naps and overnight). Your baby’s circadian rhythm is largely influenced by light. The absence of light triggers melatonin, or the sleepy hormone, and helps your baby sleep longer.

White noise will drown out other sounds happening in the home/sleep space. Make sure it plays throughout the entire sleep period and doesn’t shut off.

Follow Age-Appropriate Awake Windows

This is the biggest issue I see when working with new clients. Their baby is awake for too long, making them over-tired by nap or bedtime. Newborn babies are happy to be awake for about 45-60 minutes before needing a nap, while a 4-month-old baby likes to be awake for about 1.5 hours. These windows increase with age so be mindful that your baby isn’t too overtired.

Utilize the Eat / Play / Sleep Rhythm

When a newborn is used to breastfeeding to sleep, it’s usually all they know and haven’t been exposed to another way of falling asleep. What can be helpful to shift the rhythm is start offering a feeding as soon as the baby wakes up from a nap or their night.

Feeding your baby first thing after waking decreases the likelihood that your baby will fall asleep eating since he or she just woke up, and won’t be hungry enough to nurse by the time the next nap comes around.

Be in Control of Nursing

If you are nursing your baby before bed, keep a close eye on their face. As soon as you start to see them falling asleep or their sucking is no longer nutritive, go ahead and unlatch them.

Your baby will either pull off and be content, at which point you can transfer them to the crib, or they will cry and be upset. If they are upset, tell them “if you are falling asleep I will put you in bed, if you want to eat you can finish” and then re-latch them.

You may need to go through this cycle a dozen or more times, but it will become clear to your baby that you are no longer allowing them to fall asleep on the breast. Eventually, your baby will learn to fall asleep without your breasts.

Make Sure Their Eyes are Open When Placing Them in the Crib

The goal is to put them in bed more awake than completely asleep on the breast. So make sure their eyes are open when being placed in bed and they are aware of where they are when falling asleep.

Gradually Wean from the Amount of Touch

When placing baby in the crib awake, you don’t have to just place them in the middle of the crib and walk away hoping they fall asleep. You can still provide assistance.

Once you lay them down, continue to hover over them, keeping your arms wrapped around them and perhaps your face is close to theirs. You can rub their head, pat their chest, whatever makes them feel comfortable.

If they fall asleep with their full weight being supported by the crib, even though you’re touching them, this is progress and a huge step in the right direction. Gradually reduce the amount of touch or pressure you are given every few nights until you are completely out of their room.

Utilize the Soothing Hierarchy

Once you have placed the baby down for a nap or bedtime and they begin to protest, avoid jumping in and going right back to nursing. See if you can get them back down giving less help than nursing.

Perhaps it is your presence, your voice, a pacifier, head rubbing/chest patting, or rocking that soothes baby back down. If this is the case, again it is a huge step in the right direction because you’ve gotten baby back to sleep without nursing!

Be Strong Mama

This transition away from nursing to sleep can take a while, and that’s okay. There is no rush to do it until you are ready. Every baby is different, and you may need to try multiple of these tips before succeeding. You may also want to consider cutting back on caffeine if you are drinking 3-5+ cups of coffee a day to make sure your baby is not affected by the caffeine.

Remember to stay as calm and neutral as possible since your baby can sense and feel your emotions. Feeling confident and at ease during the transition will help to transfer those feelings to your baby. The first several days may be rough, but be strong, mama. Before you know it, you may be able to put your baby down, say goodnight, and walk away. And maybe … just maybe … he will sleep through the night!


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46 thoughts on “How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Nursing”

  1. My sister-in-law was just talking about how her child is not sleeping. I’m thinking something like this would probably help her quite a bit. I am going to share this with her.

  2. I really need to try this! My baby currently has an okay routine to get him to sleep, but it always starts with feeding. It would be ten times easier if it dint need breastfeeding to set everything in motion

  3. I stopped breast feeding after about 2 weeks. And after about 4 weeks my baby was sleeping through the night just fine. I try and create sleeping habits. If I don’t attend to him in the middle of the night, he will soothe himself back to sleep!

    1. Wow that’s awesome! Both of my kids are horrible sleepers, unfortunately. We had to sleep train my son and my daughter still wakes up once a night at 3!

  4. Building a routine with a newborn is most definitely difficult. I think it gets better when a baby reaches 4 months old. Great tips! I also made use of some here.

  5. I would’ve definitely benefited from these tips when my oldest was little. He comforted nursed and it was the toughest one to drop. Eventually he stopped but man it was rough!

  6. I’m currently battling the sleep thing. He was doing good – going down and falling asleep on his own, but lately he has turned to onl screaming if he’s not laying with me or on someone else.

  7. Thank you for sharing your actual routine. It’s been difficult to find information about what people are actually doing to prepare baby for sleep. You said to use the same routine for sleeping, but are you using a bath, lotion and clothing change before every nap or just bedtime? My little one is four months old and takes short naps (another issue) and is just a puddle by bedtime (dad gets home around 7 every night and I try to keep her up to see him for a few minutes). She fights sleep at almost every turn, sometimes nursing doesn’t even help.

    1. I would say that there needs to be a routine for naps and a different routine for the night, so your little one knows what to expect. Short naps are not uncommon and my son had the same issue when he was a baby. Try the routines and be consistent – Good luck!

  8. Thanks for the tips, my little one is 7 months, And I’m now trying to break the comfort feeding habit as well as night feeding as I have work soon. Can you help me, as she doesn’t take the bottle (not because she doesn’t know how but just because she won’t) so I fear I’m depriving her but she eats her solids really well and is gaining weight, so am I okay to stop her night feeding?

    1. Hi Chrisma,
      I recommend checking with her pediatrician, but in general, if your little one is eating well and gaining weight, you should be okay to stop her night feeding. You can fill her up more before bedtime to ensure that she is full and can go longer periods without nursing during the night.

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