Nursing to Sleep: What we hear vs. what we should hear

Nursing to sleep

What we hear: 

Your baby is using you as a pacifier.
This is going to become a 'bad habit.'
It's wrong.
You're going to be the only one who can put your baby to sleep forever.
Nursing is a negative sleep association. 
This is going to become a sleep crutch.

What we should hear: 

This is biologically normal.
All carry mammals nurse to sleep in infancy.
Countless moms have done this before, and are nursing to sleep right now.
This is calming.
Your oxytocin is flowing well. 
This is beautiful.
This is nourishing. 
Nursing to sleep will fade away on its own when the time is right for my baby. 
This builds trust. 
Nursing to sleep encourages a hearty supply.
Sleep hormones from nursing to sleep allow my baby to fall asleep naturally. 
This will not last forever and be over before I know it... 


Are you treating your child like a prisoner?

By Darcia F. Narvaez Ph.D. 

Did you know that putting people in solitary confinement is the worst punishment we can mete out (and the USA puts more of its citizens in solitary confinement than any country in history)?

)? Spend much alone and you can become mad. The psyche breaks down.

Why is this? Thomas Lewis and colleagues point out that mammals, like us, need others to regulate our brains and bodies. We need others to feel right.  This is especially true for young children.

Remember Rene Spitz? He showed that young children left in hospitals for months on their own (except for food and diaper change) failed to thrive (he called it “hospitalism”). The children’s relationships with their parents were permanently impaired and the brain damage was done. You can see some disturbing film here.

No surprise, isolation leads to craziness in adults and physiological breakdown in kids. Not so sure?

Here is some evidence about what happens when a young offspring loses touch with a caregiver.

  • In babies, maternal touch regulates temperature and well being. For example, Luddington and colleagues (Ludington, 1980; Ludington-Hoe, Hadeed, & Anderson, 1991) have shown that a mother’s body temperature will automatically rise in skin-to-skin contact with an infant whose temperature is too low, going back to normal once the baby’s temperature is at a normal level.
  • When rat pups are taken away from their mothers for even a brief time, their physiological state changes to a ‘survival mode’ (summarized by Schanberg, 1995) which includes decrease in factors related to growth such as growth hormone release and DNA synthesis. Maternal touch stimulates normal growth through the mediation of Beta-endorphin.  All sorts of physiological functions break down and can become dangerously chaotic (respiratory, cardiac, endocrine, digestive, etc.). SIDS is a risk factor for babies who sleep alone (see this).
  • Schanberg and colleagues (Evoniuk, Kuhn, & Schanberg, 1979; Pauk, Kuhn, Field, & Shanberg, 1986) found that deep touch is important for growth (which they have mimicked with paint brushes) not movement, like rocking in a swing (although that is good too).

So there is a lot of data about the importance of touch, but what does that have to do with how parents might be treating babies like prisoners? Using playpens? Yes. Using carriers outside the car? Yes.

But mostly because they leave them alone at night. This is solitary confinement for babies. And can be destructive to the child’s developing brain.

Humans are the only mammals that separate their young from the mother. Not a good idea when you are born with only 25% of your brain and many miles of growing to go before you can adequately sleep on your own.  Americans are one of the few societies that have separate bedrooms for a child. It is considered cruel by many other cultures.

Depriving your child of you is like depriving them of love. It makes them ill.  It probably makes you ill too. Why cause all that illness? Sleep together in safe ways.

Atul Gawande, who wrote about prisoner solitary confinement, calls it torture. I think I agree with him. How can we do that to our children?

Peaceful Parenting Community 

CoSleeping Community

Related Reading by Dr. Narvaez at Peaceful Parenting: 

An 'On Demand' Life and the Basic Needs of Babies

Where Are All the Happy Babies?

The Dangers of Crying It Out

10 Things Everyone Should Know About Babies

5 Things NOT to Do to Babies

12 Ways to Nurture Babies at Conception, Birth, and Beyond

Are you treating your child like a prisoner?

Are you or your child on a touch starvation diet?

Conspiracy Thinking: Understanding Attachment and Its Consequences

Psychology Today: Circumcision Series

Learn More from Narvaez:

The Evolved Nest Institute

Kindred Media

Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture, and Wisdom

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