Comfort Nursing: Pros, Cons, and How to Stop
- Comfort nursing is a term for breastfeeding babies that nurse for non-hunger reasons, such as comfort.
- Comfort nursing isn’t a negative thing, and many babies and parents like the bonding aspect of it.
- Still, there are cons that make parents wonder if it’s healthy or want to limit or stop comfort nursing completely.
- The most important thing to watch for with breastfeeding babies is to ensure that they’re getting enough nutritionally, gaining weight, and growing as they should.
- The good news is that most toddlers will naturally grow out of the comfort nursing phase, so it’s not something you need to worry about.
If you have a baby who nurses frequently, it can be hard to tell sometimes if it’s because they’re really hungry or if they just need to be soothed. Often called comfort nursing, breastfed babies will nurse for reasons other than hunger at times.
Typically, these reasons are comfort-based, as the name indicates, and allow your baby to feel soothed or help them fall asleep faster.
While comfort nursing isn’t bad, there can be pros and cons, and times you want to limit or stop the behavior entirely. Understanding comfort nursing a little better will help you know when to reign it in.
What Is Comfort Nursing?
Comfort nursing is when your baby breastfeeds for reasons other than hunger, like to help him fall asleep, calm down after crying, or enjoy bonding time with mom.
Research shows11. Festila, D., Ghergie, M., Muntean, A., Matiz, D., & Serbanescu, A.. Suckling and non-nutritive sucking habit: what should we know?. Clujul Medical. 2014;87(1), 11–14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462418/ there’s nothing wrong with this behavior—it’s natural for babies to engage in comfort sucking. Still, there are times that non nutritive sucking can cause more harm than good.
Is it normal for babies to want to nurse even if they’re not hungry?
Absolutely, yes! Babies get the most attention from their mom during breastfeeding.
Even bottle-fed babies will try to eat when they’re not hungry because it’s one-on-one time with mom! It’s also soothing, and the motion of sucking helps babies relax22. Karp, Dr. H.. Why Do Babies Like Dummies & Sucking? Happiest Baby EU. 2020. https://happiestbaby.eu/blogs/baby/baby-sucking#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20sucking%20is%20one,after%20shots%20and%20blood%20tests..
Teething babies cannot get enough chewing and sucking on things; the stimulation helps to soothe tender gums and cut new teeth. Babies satisfy that desire and relieve pain from comfort nursing while teething.
Why does comfort nursing happen?
Breastfeeding does a lot more for your baby than just meeting his or her nutritional needs.
Non-nutritional benefits of breastfeeding include:
- Offers skin to skin contact
- Establishes trust and attachment
- Strengthens the emotional physical bond
- Induces sleep
- It’s inexpensive
- It’s easy and convenient
- Babies find breastfeeding relaxing, comforting, and warming.
- Relieves your baby’s pain.
If your baby nurses often and you need to figure out if it’s comfort nursing or another issue, here’s how you can tell.
How to Tell if Your Baby Is Comfort Nursing or Not
In the newborn stage, make sure your baby is growing and gaining weight as they should. The biggest concern is they’re strong and healthy, which rules out that your baby isn’t getting enough milk.
Signs your baby is comfort nursing:
- Your baby is getting enough milk but continues to suck for long periods.
- Feeding times last for an hour or more.
- Your baby eats frequently, and it feels like one breastfeeding session merges into another.
- Your baby’s sucking motion is short and shallow.
- Often babies will do several types of sucking—including flutter sucking. Many variations of sucking motions are a common sign of comfort nursing.
Next, a word about flutter sucking.
What is flutter sucking?
When nursing a hungry baby, he’ll start with strong pulls of milk, followed by short, shallow flutter sucking, with long pauses in between, toward the end.
This is important to ensure that you’re producing enough milk. Knowing the signs your milk is drying up can help. If your baby is latching and unlatching repeatedly during feeding, it could be happening for other reasons.
There are a few other misconceptions about flutter sucking. It’s not the same as a jaw or tongue tremble33. Do You Know Why Babies Jaw Quiver & Tremble?. Lunara. https://lunara.llc/infantpt/jaw-trembling. Your baby doesn’t get higher-fat milk from it (another misconception).
Remember, minimal amounts of milk get transferred during this kind of nursing, so it doesn’t do much to help increase your milk supply or encourage your baby to gain weight. What flutter sucking provides, like comfort nursing, is help falling asleep, and loving warmth from mom.
What Are the Pros of Comfort Nursing?
Research shows44. Harrison, D., Reszel, J., Bueno, M., Sampson, M., Shah, V. S., Taddio, A., Larocque, C., & Turner, L.. Breastfeeding for procedural pain in infants beyond the neonatal period. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016;2020(10). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd011248.pub2 breastfeeding has tremendous benefits like reducing pain and inducing sleep, which has changed how parents and pediatricians feel about comfort nursing.
You may have heard older generations warn against comfort nursing, saying things like you’ll overfeed your baby, he’ll never learn to fall asleep on his own, or he’ll have attachment issues later.
Rest assured that it’s not problematic for your baby or yourself to comfort nurse them whenever and as often as you choose.
Here’s what we know about comfort nursing:
- In terms of babies developing unhealthy attachment issues and being overly needy towards their mothers, that simply isn’t possible; babies aren’t capable of understanding or manipulating you or their environment enough to figure that out.
- Your baby is responding to their deeply ingrained biological instinct to seek comfort and safety from their mom whenever they feel big feelings or want attention.
- Millions of parents offer their children pacifiers when they’re upset, hurt, or trying to fall asleep; why not comfort nursing? If you think a pacifier is an acceptable coping mechanism to comfort your baby, then so should be comfort nursing. It’s an easy, natural solution for when you don’t have a pacifier.
- The sucking motion releases sleep hormones in your baby, which can help him establish his circadian rhythm and sleep on a regular schedule.
Comfort feeding is a normal, healthy bonding activity between mom and baby, and it’s an important part of secure attachment55. Li, P.. Secure Attachment: 9 Signs, Effects & How It Develops. Parenting For Brain. 2023. https://www.parentingforbrain.com/secure-attachment that allows your little ones to grow into healthy, well-rounded adults.
Can comfort nursing increase milk supply?
One way to increase your milk production is to nurse more often. However, like flutter sucking, typically your baby isn’t taking big swallows or nursing well enough to increase your supply.
While any amount of nursing is likely to stimulate breast milk flow and give your baby sustenance, there are other more recommended ways to increase your milk supply66. Low Milk Supply. WIC Breastfeeding Support – U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov/low-milk-supply#:~:text=Pumping%20or%20expressing%20milk%20frequently,your%20milk%20to%20let%20down..
What Are the Cons of Comfort Nursing
While you needn’t worry about your child becoming overly attached, or unable to fall asleep alone, there can be other reasons why moms get tired of comfort nursing.
When does comfort nursing become a problem?
Comfort nursing is a problem if your baby isn’t getting the nutrition he needs. However, that’s usually due to an underlying breastfeeding issue that you should discuss with your doctor immediately.
Pay close attention to signs that your baby chooses comfort nursing over regular breastfeeding sessions.
You might decide to restrict comfort nursing if your baby spends too much time at the breast, especially if he rarely seems content or satisfied after eating. If your baby’s constant comfort nursing makes it hard for him to get a good latch or is causing a lipstick nipple latch, try limiting the behavior.
Finally, it’s perfectly okay to take a break or seek help if you feel overwhelmed by breastfeeding, particularly if your baby’s comfort nursing is causing you to dread or you resent it.
Will comfort nursing make it harder for my baby to wean from breastfeeding?
This could be true—but only because children who comfort nurse are typically so well-bonded with their mom that they will often nurse for longer periods into their toddler years.
Weaning older children is always more difficult because they are deeply attached to the activity of breastfeeding for comfort and are mostly likely used to nursing for bonding and attention.
Still, this doesn’t mean it will be that hard, either. Babies nurse less and their desire naturally lessens as they grow up.
7 Tips on How to Stop Your Baby From Comfort Nursing
When you and your baby aren’t getting enough sleep because he’s waking up to nurse several times a night, comfort nursing can be problematic. If your baby’s comfort sucking has become too much, or you want to stop middle-of-the-night breastfeeding sessions, there are the some simple ways to stop.
Here’s how to cut back on comfort nursing:
- Reduce feeding times by 5 minutes. Depending on how your little one adjusts, aim to lessen nursing time by 5 minutes every other night. Use alternative methods to soothe and help make the transition easier.
- Stop nursing your baby to sleep. Try a feeding schedule in which your baby eats right after waking up. This will help your baby stop the sleep associations between breastfeeding with falling asleep.
- Gradually wean off nighttime feedings. Another benefit of the nursing schedule is that as your baby grows and eats more solid foods, you can eliminate nighttime feedings first.
- Schedule in comfort nursing. If you don’t want to stop the behavior but limit it, try scheduling it when it works for you. This meets your and your baby’s needs while making the transition feel less drastic.
- Check-in at set times. Babies often get up frequently during the night because we’re too quick to step in and disrupt them. Use a baby monitor, and set specific times to check-in.
- Comfort your baby in other ways. Offer plenty of skin-to-skin contact; rocking and singing are all excellent ways to provide that same sense of safety and connection without breast milk.
- Let it happen naturally. Toddlers grow out of this behavior as they find new ways to self-soothe and bond with their parents.
Each mom and baby needs to find their happiest balance when it comes to how much nursing is okay for them. And remember, all of these phases in your baby’s life pass, and they do so quickly!
If you’re frustrated or overwhelmed by your baby’s comfort nursing, remember that you’ll get through it. Try the tips mentioned and prioritize good sleep so you can feel satisfied, not stressed, by your breastfeeding routine.
- Festila, D., Ghergie, M., Muntean, A., Matiz, D., & Serbanescu, A. (2014). Suckling and non-nutritive sucking habit: what should we know? Clujul Medical, 87(1), 11–14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462418
- Karp, Dr. H. (2020, October 9). Why Do Babies Like Dummies & Sucking? Happiest Baby EU. https://happiestbaby.eu/blogs/baby/baby-sucking#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20sucking%20is%20one,after%20shots%20and%20blood%20tests.
- Do You Know Why Babies Jaw Quiver & Tremble? Lunara. (n.d.). https://lunara.llc/infantpt/jaw-trembling
- Harrison, D., Reszel, J., Bueno, M., Sampson, M., Shah, V. S., Taddio, A., Larocque, C., & Turner, L. (2016). Breastfeeding for procedural pain in infants beyond the neonatal period. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2020(10). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd011248.pub2
- Li, P. (2023, September 20). Secure Attachment: 9 Signs, Effects & How It Develops. Parenting For Brain. https://www.parentingforbrain.com/secure-attachment
- Low Milk Supply. WIC Breastfeeding Support – U.S. Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). https://wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov/low-milk-supply#:~:text=Pumping%20or%20expressing%20milk%20frequently,your%20milk%20to%20let%20down.
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