Comfort nursing is breastfeeding the baby for reasons other than feeding or quenching the baby’s thirst. While breastfeeding’s primary purpose is to provide nourishment, some babies may like to suckle to soothe themselves. Since the objective is to calm the baby, it is known as comfort nursing.
A mother may resort to comfort nursing to soothe an upset baby or calm them when they are unwell and cranky. Comfort nursing may provide the same benefits as skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding. However, many mothers may avoid it lest the baby becomes habituated to it.
So is comfort nursing okay? Read on to learn about how comfort nursing works, should you try it, and how to stop comfort breastfeeding.
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.
Some babies may not suckle at all, and their lips may not cover the breast’s areola. A hungry baby is usually alert while breastfeeding, which is unlikely to be the case when the baby is comfort nursing.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
If your baby shows no problems and requires comfort nursing to fall asleep or comfort, they only need the sucking action to soothe themselves. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends offering pacifiers to babies who want to suck beyond nursing (8).
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.
If your baby is not satisfied by a pacifier, seems unwell, and becomes extremely cranky when denied comfort nursing, speak to a doctor. There may be underlying issues, such as an illness, which may cause the baby to be clingier in general.
Comfort nursing is a common event during infancy and seldom a cause for concern. While you may continue breastfeeding during toddlerhood, the child is less likely to demand comfort nursing once older. Babies are constantly growing and learn of new ways to soothe and comfort themselves. If your baby is not growing well or seems to have other emotional issues leading to frequent comfort nursing, speak to a pediatrician.
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
8. Pacifiers: Satisfying Your Baby’s Needs; American Academy of Pediatrics