Comfort Nursing: Meaning, Benefits And Tips To Stop It

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Comfort nursing for babies is a term for the practice of breastfeeding for reasons other than satisfying the baby’s hunger or thirst. While the primary purpose of breastfeeding is to provide nourishment to an infant, some babies suckle to self-soothe. It is called “comfort-nursing” because it calms the baby down.

A mother may comfort nurse to soothe an upset baby or calm them down when they are cranky or unwell. Comfort nursing provides the same benefits as those from skin-to-skin contact during nursing. Read the post to know more about the benefits and techniques of comfort nursing for babies.

Is It Normal For Babies To Feed For Comfort?

Yes, it is normal for infants and toddlers to breastfeed for comfort. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nursing provides closeness to the mother. This maternal physical and emotional closeness provides psychological benefits, leading to mental calmness in babies (1). It is why babies may mostly seek comfort nursing in stressful situations, such as when experiencing pain, illness, or fear.

How To Tell If A Baby Is Comfort Nursing?

Babies usually seek comfort nursing at timings beyond their usual breastfeeding sessions. Your baby is likely to reach out for comfort nursing right after a stressful situation, such as after an accidental fall, when scared by something, or when experiencing symptoms of an illness. They may also demand comfort nursing before bedtime or naptime.

During comfort nursing, the baby is less likely to suck strongly and may even fall asleep soon after being placed at the breast. The quantity of milk ingested is very little to provide any nourishment. A comfort nursing baby’s latch could also be removed easily.

Are Flutter Sucking And Comfort Sucking Similar?

Flutter sucking is defined as non-nutritive sucking where the baby sucks at the breast but not for nourishment (2). A baby may have a weak sucking action or poor latch while flutter sucking. Therefore, comfort sucking is a type of flutter sucking, although it is not the only type of flutter sucking.

There could be several other reasons for flutter sucking, such as low milk supply, poor let-down reflex, or infantile orofacial problems. Some babies may also do flutter-sucking when approaching the end of a breastfeeding session.

A baby who requires comfort nursing may do so without interference to their breastfeeding sessions since comfort nursing occurs beyond breastfeeding to satisfy hunger. However, some infants may display flutter sucking even during regular breastfeeding sessions, causing nutrition issues. If your baby tends to show flutter sucking often, speak to a pediatrician or a certified lactation consultant.

What Are The Benefits Of Comfort Nursing For Babies?

The benefits of comfort nursing are often psychological because it is breastfeeding for reasons beyond feeding. Also, many benefits could be attributed to skin-to-skin contact.

Comfort nursing may provide the following benefits to the baby.

  1. Boosts overall development: Skin-to-skin contact while comfort nursing could benefit baby’s mental and physical health (3). It may reduce crying, improve body temperature maintenance, stabilize heart rate and breathing, and benefit immunity.
  1. Enables better sleep: A cranky baby could find it easier to fall asleep after comfort nursing. Adequate sleep is essential for a baby’s health and growth.
  1. Reduces stress hormones: Skin-to-skin contact with the mother could reduce the baby’s cortisol, the stress hormone (4). It could be particularly helpful in cases when the baby desires comfort nursing due to fear or anxiety.
  1. Helps in mother-child bonding: Experts state that infants grow and learn better when they have an emotional attachment with their parents (1). Comfort nursing could provide an opportunity for the mother and baby to bond, playing a significant role in the baby’s upbringing.

Besides these benefits, comfort nursing could improve the mother’s let-down reflex due to the baby’s sucking (5). The sucking action stimulates maternal prolactin and oxytocin hormones, leading to better milk supply and let-down.

Can Comfort Nursing Be A Problem?

There is no evidence that comfort nursing could lead to problems. Many mothers fear that their baby may become clingier or require frequent comfort nursing to fall asleep. However, experts state that babies who indulge in comfort nursing could be no different in terms of clinginess than other infants.

According to UNICEF, each baby is different, and some babies could be clingy irrespective of whether they are nursed or not (6). Many experts consider it a myth that breastfed babies tend to be clingier since they need nursing to comfort themselves (7). Therefore, you may continue comfort nursing on demand without being concerned about possible problems.

How To Stop Baby From Comfort Nursing?

There is no need to stop comfort nursing if your baby is feeding adequately, growing healthily, and shows no sign of developmental regression. As the baby grows older, they are likely to discover other ways to self-soothe. Most babies stop comfort nursing by themselves as they approach toddlerhood.

You may consider stopping comfort nursing if the baby:

  • Comfort-feeds instead of feeding during a regular breastfeeding session
  • Prefers comfort nursing over breastfeeding
  • Displays poor growth
  • Seems to show more flutter sucking than breastfeeding
  • Has poor latch
  • Does not seem to achieve developmental milestones or displays a regression

Several underlying factors or problems could lead to these scenarios. Note any other signs in the baby and consult a pediatrician. You may discuss with the doctor if you may continue comfort nursing.

Comfort Nursing For Soothing

Choose a one-piece pacifier that you may offer the baby during bedtime, naptime, and whenever they appear fussy. Offer pacifier only after breastfeeding is established, which is after the baby is four weeks old. A pacifier could help the baby dissociate comfort nursing with sleep and encourage self-soothing. Most children stop using a pacifier between the ages of two and four years.

Comfort nursing for babies is a common occurrence during infancy and not something you should be concerned about. It benefits the baby psychologically more than physically by reducing their stress hormones and inducing better sleep. It is recommended that you should not discourage your infant from comfort nursing because it has no relation to clinginess or other developmental consequences. Enjoy this time with your baby and treasure the mother-child bond that is strengthened by skin-to-skin contact when nursing.

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Key Pointers

  • Babies may seek comfort nursing when encountering stressful situations, such as pain, illness, or anxiety.
  • Comfort nursing is a type of flutter sucking in which the infant sucks at the breast for comfort rather than nutrition.
  • The psychological advantages of comfort breastfeeding are generally ascribed to skin-to-skin contact.
  • If you see that your baby is not meeting developmental milestones or regressing, consider stopping comfort breastfeeding.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Psychological Benefits of Breastfeeding; American Academy of Pediatrics
2. Breastfeeding Module; Florida Nutrition Training Guide; Georgia Department of Public Health
3. JoLyn Seitz, The importance of skin-to-skin with baby after delivery; Sanford Health
4. Skin-to-skin contact; UNICEF
5. Let-down reflex; HealthDirect
6. Busted: 14 myths about breastfeeding; UNICEF
7. Tessa Zevallos, Darle El Pecho: A Qualitative Exploration of Mexican Immigrant Mothers’ Experience With Breastfeeding; Illinois State University
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Arushi Agrawal

(IBCLC)
Arushi Agarwal is a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) who started as a mom. She works at Surya Hospital, Jaipur. Her struggles through the journey of breastfeeding led her to her mission of passionately creating awareness about the struggles of breastfeeding and the need for help. She envisions to make every mother's breastfeeding journey a memorable and enjoyable experience.

shreeja pillai

Shreeja holds a postgraduate degree in Chemistry and diploma in Drug Regulatory Affairs. Before joining MomJunction, she worked as a research analyst with a leading multinational pharmaceutical company. Her interest in the field of medical research has developed her passion for writing research-based articles. As a writer, she aims at providing informative articles on health and pharma, especially related to... more

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