Comfort Nursing: No, You’re Not Spoiling Your Baby
Learn the benefits of comfort nursing or dry nursing, as well as how to tell if your baby is nursing for comfort, or feeding.
Whether directed at you or another mother, surely you’ve heard something along the lines of,
“That baby isn’t even hungry, she’s just using you as a pacifier.”
Wait a minute, what is the point?
When did babies nursing for comfort become less important than their need for nutrition? They’re one and the same. Both are important parts of breastfeeding, and neither should be viewed as a negative thing.
Many breastfeeding moms find themselves, at one point or another, being “used as a pacifier.” Whether they’re comfort nursing with no milk production during the weaning process, or they’re comfort nursing baby to sleep, on some level it’s happened.
Hell, anyone that’s attempted to push through cluster feeding during the first few weeks of their baby’s life has dealt with comfort nursing, because it’s largely made up of that! While establishing your milk supply, there are many times where your baby is nursing, with no milk coming out. They’re telling your body to produce more milk, while simultaneously feeling the comfort that only Mama can provide.
What is Comfort Nursing?
The term comfort nursing is used to describe the act of breastfeeding taking place for any reason beyond simply feeding. It’s not always dry nursing, as letdowns can (and probably will) occur at some point as baby continues suckling.
Think along the lines of nursing a full baby to sleep, or letting your baby breastfeed because they’re scared or hurt. Anything beyond nursing for the sole purpose of drinking milk could be considered “comfort nursing.”
Does Comfort Nursing Stimulate Milk?
Comfort nursing, and even dry nursing absolutely stimulates more milk production. When your breast is emptied, the hormone Prolactin is responsible for producing more breast milk. Oxycontin is produced when your baby suckles, which aids in bringing the milk down and out of the breasts.
Simply put, the more you nurse, the more milk you produce, given that you aren’t suffering from any medical issues and your baby’s latch is good. Every time your breasts are emptied and stimulated, it’s sending signals to your body to produce more to keep up with your baby’s demands.
Related: Power Pumping 101: Can It Save Your Milk Supply?
How Do I Know If My Baby Is Comfort Nursing?
You can tell that your baby is dry nursing for comfort as opposed to feeding, when the suckling is quicker. It’s often described as a “fluttery” type of suckling.
When your baby is drinking milk, there’s a longer sucking pattern, coupled with a circular movement of their jaw.
Can I Overfeed My Baby?
No, you more than likely will not overfeed your breastfed baby.
Frequent nursing can be cause for concern, but it can also be completely normal. That’s why it’s so important that you trust your instincts, and trust the lactation consultants and doctors caring for you and your baby.
It may be nothing more than cluster feeding, or it may mean your baby isn’t getting enough milk. The one thing we know for sure, is your baby is not being overfed if they’re at the breast all day, every day. That’s a non-issue.
Benefits of Comfort Nursing
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Promotes Bonding Between Baby and Mother
Breastfeeding promotes a deep bond between babies and their mothers. This statement is often taken as a hurtful jab at moms who bottle feed, but it’s not meant that way at all. It’s simply a fact that we can choose to pick apart, or choose to accept and move on.
For what it’s worth, I bottle fed throughout my breastfeeding journey. In fact, my son only breastfed about 20% of the total time he drank milk. I was an exclusive pumper for the majority of the time, and I even supplemented with formula. I love educating women on the benefits and facts about breastfeeding, but I’m no sanctimommy about it.
Saying that breastfeeding promotes bonding between mom and baby doesn’t mean we can’t bond without it. There are a million ways to connect with our babies, and breastfeeding is just one of them.
But when it comes to breastfeeding, it’s deeper than just the act of feeding our little ones. It releases oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. It literally helps our bodies produce the hormones that make us feel lovey-dovey and connected. It’s actually really amazing when you think about it.
Increases Milk Supply
As mentioned above, comfort nursing increases milk supply by creating a bigger demand for milk. Every time your baby nurses, whether it’s for comfort or for nutrition, they’re sending signals to your body to create more milk.
In fact, when I used to have sudden drops in my milk supply, I would take a nursing vacation and allow my son to comfort nurse all day long, and it would give me a nice boost in supply!
Calms Baby Down
Nothing calms down an upset baby quite like comfort nursing. It’s pretty confusing that we’re so quick to accept that babies use and love pacifiers, yet we think there’s a problem when they “use” their mothers’ breast as a pacifier.
When baby cries, just stick a pacifier in and she’ll quiet down, right? But you better not let them nurse for comfort because that’s unnatural and holding them back from developing? Interesting!
When To Worry About Frequent Feedings
The only time you really need to worry about frequent feedings is when it comes to the mother’s mental health, and whether or not the baby is getting enough milk. Nursing frequently for comfort is not harmful in any way, and those babies grow up to be as well-adjusted and independent as bottle fed babies.
When your baby is nursing around the clock, it could be indicative of a problem, whether it be your baby’s latch, or the transfer of milk. If your baby is not gaining weight or you suspect there may be a problem, contact a lactation consultant ASAP.
Otherwise, if you’re certain they’re just seeking comfort sometimes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with allowing your baby to nurse as frequently as they like.
Related: Why You Should Add Breast Milk To Your Baby’s Next Bath
I Hate Comfort Nursing… What Should I Do?
First of all, let me say – ME. TOO.
There were many aspects of breastfeeding that I straight up hated. It wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. Sure, it was a bonding experience. I’m glad my son got the benefits of breast milk, and I’m proud of myself for all of the effort and discipline it took to produce milk for him for almost a year.
But that doesn’t mean it was enjoyable at all! In fact, I most definitely had the breastfeeding blues. Nursing around the clock and being needed every moment of every day was extremely hard on my mental health.
I want you to know that there’s no shame in offering pacifiers, switching to pumping or formula. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. After all, there are only two things that really matter when it comes to feeding babies:
- Is baby getting all the nutrition he/she needs?
- Is mom’s mental health being take seriously?
If you need to step back, there’s no shame! You don’t have to comfort nurse. You don’t have to nurse at all!
There are benefits to comfort nursing and I want to do my part in dispelling the misconceptions surrounding breastfeeding, namely, the idea that babies who breastfeed frequently or past a certain age are at a disadvantage compared to bottle fed babies. I’ll never understand the obsession with wanting our babies to grow up faster and faster.
It should be noted that there’s some controversy over when you should introduce a pacifier to your baby. Some experts claim that using a pacifier reduces the risk of SIDS up to 90%. Some will encourage you to introduce the pacifier to your baby immediately after birth, while others say it’s best to wait until baby is around 6 weeks old, when your milk supply is fully established.
So… Does Comfort Nursing Create Clingy, Spoiled Babies?
No, comfort nursing does not create clingy, spoiled babies. Absolutely not. The fact of the matter is, some babies just need more comfort and physical touch than others do.
As one of my friends says, “I raised all 3 of my boys the same way, and they’re all unique.” Meaning, you can implement the same level of discipline, the same routine, the same everything, and each child you raise is going to have their own unique personalities, regardless.
That’s why it’s important to stay humble, my friends.
While you may think you have everything figured out, and the way you’re raising your kids is better or more advantageous than what someone else is doing, we need to remember that every kid is different. You’re raising your child in the best way you know how, given their personality and circumstances. Stacey down the road is (hopefully) raising her child the best way she knows how, given their personality and circumstances.
Regardless, it’s been proven that babies who comfort nurse frequently are not in any way at a disadvantage compared to their bottle-fed peers. Breastfeeding builds trust, which gives babies confidence. That confidence carries over into childhood, even after breastfeeding has come to an end. These children feel secure in themselves and their abilities, and are just as well-adjusted and adventurous as any other child.
Does your baby nurse for comfort often? Was it something you struggled with, or was it easy for you? Let me know your experience in the comments!
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Hi, just a friendly suggestion to please change “oxycontin” to “oxytocin”. Oxycontin is a name of a pain relieving drug, while oxytocin is the hormone that you are referring to in the post. Easily confused but very different!
Hahaha oh my goodness, thank you 🤣 I promise I know the difference, I wrote a good portion of this on little sleep and while I was super pregnant 🤣 thank you so much! Who knows when I would have noticed that 🤦🏻♀️
I should show this article to my husband! During one of our early visits with our pediatrician, the doctor suggested that I should pump milk to help strengthen my baby’s “sucking muscles” and to help him know that nursing is “eating time” and he made it seem like using me as a pacifier was a bad thing. I considered switching doctors, because I’ve nursed one child already and never considered that comfort nursing was a bad thing! However, I agree that it can be exhausting and at times irritating to be confined to the couch while the baby goes through these periods of frequent nursing and I don’t feel like I can express my frustration to my husband without him repeating our pediatrician’s advice as if it will solve the problem. At our one-month checkup, our baby had gained back his birth weight plus a little extra, so I know it’s not an issue with my milk supply or his “sucking muscles”. Thankfully, the doctor never mentioned that advice again, but unfortunately, my husband still hangs on to the idea.
Can you share with me a little more of your journey with exclusively pumping and comfort feeding?