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Breastfeeding to sleep and other comfort nursing

Comfort nursing, also known as non-nutritive sucking, does not only refer to an infant’s satisfaction from breastfeeding, but it rather focuses on the mother and child bonding. Nursing quenches an infant’s need for soothing, familiarity and educational parent-child exchanges as well security reassurance and bonding.

Through nursing an intimate bond between infant and mother is established. And the passage of breast milk during nursing allows for the transport of maternal hormones that promote comfort to an infant.

Babies possess unique abilities that include familiarity to his mother’s scent (otherwise known as pheromones), the ability to hear and interpret his mother’s heartbeat and tone of voice and the ability to memorize his mother’s face. All of these are enhanced through nursing. It provides the infant and mother time to get familiarized with each other’s personality as they engage in eye-to-eye contact. Furthermore, nursing fulfills the need for skin-to-skin contact and enhances the baby’s sense of satisfaction.

RELATED: How can I get more sleep with a newborn baby?

Benefits of breastfeeding to sleep

Nursing a baby to sleep allows a longer period for both mother and child to enjoy each other’s company. And having been comforted with a satisfying meal, a baby can easily get to sleep, while his mother may comfortably rest with him. In the Philippines, the practice of nursing a baby to sleep is traditionally observed. A lot of parents usually sleep with their babies in their own room, allowing the mother to easily attend to his needs to be breastfed.

Consequently, the mother satisfies her sleep needs while breastfeeding. To some parents, the said practice is seen as inappropriate and is being discouraged. One reason behind it may be the risk for otitis media, the inflammation of the middle ear, which is linked to improper feeding of an infant.  A mother may inadvertently sleep during feeding, leaving her breastfeeding baby unattended. In some cases, breast milk may escape the baby’s mouth and flows directly to his ear, risking the child of an ear infection. To prevent such occurrence, it is suggested that mothers assume an upright position when feeding the child (both breastfed or bottle-fed ones). Furthermore, parents should not leave their baby with a propped feeding bottle.

Benefits of skin-to-skin contact

Increased oxytocin releases in both mother and infant. Regular, high oxytocin levels not only comfort both of them but also increase their sense of satisfaction with motherhood. Higher levels of oxytocin, especially when created through frequent or prolonged body contact, encourage other kinds of positive hormonal interactions to occur as well.

These provide physical rewards to protect the desires for maintaining close family relationships. In premature newborns, skin-to-skin contact leads to superior temperature control, lowers heart rates and life-saving oxygen regulation. Long-term benefits of regularly high oxytocin levels include a reduction in heart disease risk factors for mother and child.

RELATED: How dad can help mum to breastfeed

Nursing an infant to sleep is generally beneficial to both mother and baby. And as long as the infant is safeguarded from the possible risk associated to its practice  no evidence is seen to support abolishing the practice.

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