It is a common misconception that all the time the baby spends breastfeeding is the time they are drinking milk and growing. The concept of comfort feeding contradicts this.
While it is true that breastfeeding is a way for the baby to consume the needed nutrients, it is also often a time for self-soothing. This is comfort feeding. Babies tend to not let go of the breast even though they have been sucking for a considerable time and are seemingly full.
But is comfort nursing safe? Is it healthy, or is it something that needs to be nipped in the bud? This article will shed some light on such questions.
What Is Comfort Feeding?
The primary purpose of breastfeeding is to provide nourishment to the baby. But sometimes babies take breastfeeding as a means to soothe themselves. To them, their mother is the world and if the world is close to them while they latch on, so be it.
Comfort feeding, as the name indicates, is breastfeeding intended to soothe the baby rather than curb the hunger or quench the thirst of the baby. During comfort feeding, no milk or little milk is ingested by the baby.
A baby nurses for numerous reasons other than to fulfill his hunger or thirst. Babies call for comfort feeding when they are anxious, when they are in pain, when they want to fall asleep, when they want their mother close, and for many other reasons. But because it can be difficult to comprehend, mothers wonder why their baby is always hungry.
Related Reading: 9 Biggest Challenges Of Breastfeeding No One Prepares You For
6 Benefits Of Comfort Nursing
Way before pacifiers and other nursing aides were discovered, breastfeeding was the only means for a mother to soothe a baby whenever they felt insecure or needed some comfort. Comfort feeding not only soothes but also enhances the overall development of the baby- physically and emotionally, as well as socially.
Here are 6 benefits of comfort feeding-
1. Comfort feeding helps with social and emotional development
Comfort nursing helps a baby to feel safe and secure. It gives the baby a feeling of being loved and cared for. Comfort feeding increases the trust and bonding with the mother to a great extent in the early stages of life.
According to studies the strength of the early bonding influences the baby’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. The more intense the early bonding is, the happier, independent, and responsible adult the baby turns into.
2. Comfort nursing helps to relieve pain
According to a number of research studies, breastfeeding is the safest way to reduce the pain of a baby. It is more effective than many other comforting tactics. It is found that comfort nursing after vaccines helps to reduce the pain faster. Babies are happy and contended if they are allowed to comfort feed.
Comfort feeding, therefore, helps to soothe the baby with growing pains, an upset stomach, earaches, teething pain, etc.
Related Reading: 11 Things To Know If Your Baby Is Teething
3. Helps the baby to sleep
Cranky babies find it hard to sleep and not able to sleep makes them even crankier. Comfort nursing slows down the baby’s heart rate. This is an indication the baby is well relaxed and is ready to fall asleep. Therefore, comfort nursing makes even a cranky baby sleep fast. And we all know how essential sleep is for the healthy development of the baby.
4. Comfort feeding may boost breast milk production
If the breasts remains full, the rate of breast milk production will reduce evidently. This means the more milk is taken out more milk will be produced. During comfort feeding, babies suck the breast for a longer period. Even though the amount of milk ingested is relatively very low than active feeding, considering the duration of feeding, more milk is drained during comfort feeding.
Related Reading: 7 Signs You Are Overfeeding Your Baby (0-1 Years)
Thus, comfort feeding helps to boost breast milk production. Also, comfort feeding increases the letdown reflex another factor that contributes to draining of milk and boosting breast milk production.
5. Comfort nursing helps to soothe anxious babies
Comfort feeding helps to soothe an unsettled baby. Many reasons can make a baby anxious. Many factors can contribute to fear in babies. When the baby gets anxious, the level of the stress hormone, just like in the case of an adult, increases. This makes the baby distressed.
Along with the comfort, feeding comes with the skin to skin contact. And it is proven that skin-to-skin contact of the baby with the mother incredibly reduces the level of stress hormone level in the baby.
6. Jaw and mouth development
Breastfeeding has a major role in mouth and jaw development. According to studies, breastfeeding exerts beneficial orthopedic forces in the jaw of the baby. Studies also confirm that breastfeeding helps to expand the palate and upper jaw. This contributes to the formation of beautiful teeth.
If the jaw is not well developed it can increase the odds of developing crooked or overcrowded teeth. Also, babies who have stronger jaws can talk more clearly.
8 Concerns Of Comfort Feeding
Mothers who adopt comfort feeding are likely to receive a lot of criticism and many warnings from others. These warnings include:
- Being your baby’s pacifier is a bad idea
- Comfort feeding can spoil your baby as the baby is learning to take advantage of you
- Comfort feeding gets in the way of your baby’s ability to self-soothe
- Comfort feeding increases the chance of overfeeding the baby.
- If you continue comfort nursing at night, the baby will never learn to fall asleep on his own
- The baby may develop attachment issues later in its life as a result of comfort feeding
- Through comfort feeding, you are preparing your baby for nothing but a life of dependency
- If you rely on comfort feeding to soothe the baby what if the baby starts screaming for comfort in the middle of the supermarket or other public places when they feel insecure
However, all of the above-mentioned concerns about comfort feeding hold little weight as there is no scientific evidence that proves comfort feeding is harmful or has long-term psychological issues on babies
So, when should you be concerned about comfort nursing?
It is important to bring to the attention of a lactation consultant if the baby fails to gain the required weight in spite of breastfeeding all the time. This could be an indication of some underlying issues, either with milk production (not producing enough breast milk) or severe latching issues.
Also remember that if comfort nursing for hours is stressing you out in any way or stopping you from getting enough rest, try to teach your child how to self-soothe.
Related Reading: How To Stop Baby From Chewing Thumb – 9 Tips (0-1 age)
How Do I Know If My Baby Is Comfort Nursing?
First-time mothers need to understand the difference between comfort nursing and feeding.
In general, babies demand comfort nursing at times other than their regular breastfeeding sessions. The baby will probably demand comfort feeding immediately after a nervous or upsetting circumstance.
Babies demand comfort nursing right after any change in their environment, feeling unwell, or if something or someone scares them. Babies usually get nervous when they are in a new and unknown situation. Even strangers make them uneasy.
Now, here is how you know if your baby is feeding normally or is into comfort feeding.
During active feeding, the baby latches deep. The sucking will be firm and regular. You may even be able to hear the sound of the baby gulping milk, if you try.
Related Reading: 12 Signs Of Low Milk Supply You Should Pay Attention To
But when it comes to comfort feeding, the sucking will not be as strong as the active feeding. Some babies may not suckle at all. Instead of sucking babies tends to clamp down to the nipple during comfort feeding. While a hungry baby is usually alert while breastfeeding, a baby nursing for comfort will be more relaxed.
The baby also takes multiple long pauses throughout the comfort feeding. They even tend to fall asleep during the comfort nursing session. Unlike the actively feeding baby, the latching of a comfort nursing baby can be easily removed.
Likewise, the quantity of milk ingested by the baby during comfort nursing will be significantly low. That is why it is called nonnutritive sucking.
When To Stop Baby From Comfort Nursing?
Usually, there will be no need to stop the baby from comfort feeding. As babies grow they will find different means of self-soothing techniques. After all, breastfeeding is the first natural pacifier designed for the baby. There is no need to stop comfort nursing if
- The baby is otherwise feeding on adequate breast milk
- The infant is growing healthily
- The baby is showing no signs of developmental delay
You can think about stopping comfort nursing if the baby:
- Has poor latch
- Prefer scomfort-feeding instead of a normal breastfeeding session
- Fails to gain weight
- Is having more flutter sucking than breastfeeding
- Fails to attain developmental milestones
When breastfeeding your baby, remember that you do not need to spend a lot of time and energy figuring out the logistics. Breastfeeding is very safe, so it doesn’t matter if your baby wants to feed for long or more frequently. Whether it is because they are hungry or because they want comfort, their reason is valid.
Comfort feeding is a normal and common part of early motherhood. It is rarely an issue. Even if you feed your baby through infancy to toddlerhood, they most likely won’t continue the habit of comfort nursing to that time.
Yes, comfort feeding helps to increase milk supply. When your baby nurses for longer periods of time, you develop your let-down reflexes. These reflexes are what increases milk supply, with the Oxytocin hormone which causes milk from your milk-producing tissue to be pushed into your milk ducts.
As babies begin to eat solid foods, especially if they are being weaned early, they may start decreasing their feeding time. These babies are usually self-soothing, so breastfeeding soon becomes more of a time for comfort than a way to eat.
Babies who have other pacifiers or security objects are often weaned earlier than babies who don’t. However, while using a pacifier can have many negative effects, the baby using you as a pacifier is a much healthier alternative that can have many benefits.
When breastfeeding, your nipple and breast form and adjust to your baby’s mouth. However, when using bottles or pacifiers, the baby’s mouth is forced to adjust to the nipple. This can cause serious deformations on your little one’s face.