Helping baby fall asleep without sucking


By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns ~~~


There is something you can do to prevent your baby from developing such a strong suck-to-sleep association that it becomes an absolute necessity for sleep, and a firmly ingrained habit that is very hard to change. Yes, it’s true that some newborns can fall asleep for every nap and night sleep while sucking at the breast or bottle, and then wean themselves from this need on their own, naturally and easily. However, unless you have a crystal ball, I can’t tell you which babies those are.  So to prevent you from struggling with a strong “suck-to-sleep” association that lingers until your child’s first or second birthday, you may consider this idea as necessary.

If you want your baby to be able to fall asleep without your help, it is essential that you sometimes let your baby suck on the nipple until he is very sleepy, but not totally-limp asleep. After the first few weeks of life, about one-third to one-half of the time, remove your baby from your breast or the bottle when she is done feeding, but before she begins the fluttery, on-and-off pacifying sucking that is non-nutritive but sleep-inducing. Before your baby is totally limp-limbed and snoring, remove her from the breast or bottle. You can then replace this with a pacifier if you wish.

If you are planning for some independent sleep, you can then transfer your baby to bed to finish falling asleep there. You will likely need to pat, rub, jiggle or shush her to help her fall asleep, but having her do this without the nipple in her mouth will show her that she can, indeed, fall asleep without it. The value of this idea is most clear among breastfeeding mothers who must nurse their toddlers fully to sleep for every single nap and bedtime – so to avoid that scenario, start with this idea early.

To prevent a complete dependence on sucking for sleep, at least several times a day, and several times during the night, remove the breast or bottle from your baby’s mouth and let him finish falling asleep without something resting in his mouth, or as recommended by the AAP, you can replace the milk source with a pacifier for falling asleep. (Just don’t put it back once your baby falls asleep, and it falls out of his mouth.)

This doesn’t mean that you should obsess about this idea since newborns easily and frequently fall asleep while sucking. It does mean you should be aware so that it is not the way your baby falls asleep 100% of the time.


Elizabeth Pantley is a mother of four, grandmother, and author of the bestselling book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns plus 8 other books in the No-Cry Solution Series, which helps Moms and Dads through all key stages of parenting.  Visit her at



  1. This makes sense, and I am very willing to try it with my 20-month-old, but how do I know when he’s almost asleep if the lights are off (making the room pitch black) and the sound machine is on (making it hard to hear any signs that he may be fading)?

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