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Making It Work

Naps without Nursing

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 13 No. 5, September-October 1996, pp. 148-50

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


My son will be 18 months old when I return to teaching this fall. I plan to continue to breastfeed around this commitment. He drinks water and some juice from a cup and does well with solids. My problem is naptime; he usually nurses to fall asleep. He can fall asleep in a car, stroller, or on rare occasions, someone's arms, but it's doubtful he'd do that daily, and certainly not without a lot of crying. I can't bear the thought of him crying himself to sleep every day at naptime. How can I make this part of the day easier for both my son and my daycare provider?


My experience might help reassure you that your son may well be able to nap for someone else without nursing himself to sleep. My son is three years old and still nurses at bedtime, throughout the night (in our family bed), and just before getting out of bed in the morning. On weekends he might nurse once or twice during the day. He doesn't always take an afternoon nap on the weekends, but when he does, it is always after nursing.

Despite the fact that nursing is part of his sleeping ritual at home when I'm present, he readily naps when in the care of others. From the time I returned to work when he was six months old, to until he was two years old, he was cared for by a nanny. He not only napped well for her, but napped in his crib! At two-years of age he moved into my employer's on-site daycare center. There, he walks over to his cot at the end of my lunch time visit, lies down, and quickly falls asleep!

On the few occasions we've gone out for the evening and had a neighborhood teenager babysit, he's been slightly less willing to go to sleep, but, typically, he will go to sleep on the futon in the family room with the sitter lying beside him. He will not, however, go to sleep for Daddy, perhaps because being in bed with Daddy creates an expectation that Mommy should be there, too. I think the key may be to change his sleeping environment (e.g., a crib or cot at daycare, instead of the family bed) to create a new set of expectations that do not include nursing. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised, as I was, that your child will learn a new way to go to sleep in your absence, while still preferring nursing himself to sleep when you're with him.

Margaret Patterson
Silver Spring MD USA


First, you need to believe that your son can fall asleep without nursing. This is hard when you've never seen it, but your belief is very powerful. Our children rely on us to create their reality. You need to create a calm, confident belief that, with a careful transition, your son can learn to sleep without you just as he's learned to do so many things.

Establish a sleep-time routine and environment so that when you are gone only one part—nursing—will be missing. Then, nurse him until he is drowsy but lay him down awake. It may take some time for him to get used to this new routine Be patient and have faith. Change can be hard. If you are fearful and unsure, he will be, too. He will take your cues. Don't follow a time table, follow your heart. I did this with my twin boys. It only took one success to show both the boys and myself that they could do it. From there, it got easier for all of us, and I'm so proud of their accomplishment!

Beth Martell
Burlington VT USA


I remember struggling with this issue when my children were little. I returned to work when my daughter was ten weeks old and my husband took care of her for the summer. She usually fell asleep in the swing or in the stroller. When he returned to work after the summer, my daughter had to adjust to the new caregivers: my sister three days and my mother-in-law two days a week. My sister usually rocked her with a bottle of breast milk and my daughter would fall asleep. My mother-in-law would sit in the room with her while she fell asleep.

My son's caregivers had similar routines. The swing was used early on and then the stroller (even inside the house). He did eventually "learn" to fall asleep on his own with his caregivers but not until he was two. He is almost four years old, and when I am with him he nurses at nap and bed times.

Neither of my children were the kind you could put in a crib and let fall asleep. They both had to be parented to sleep in some fashion. You may be surprised how well your child will adjust to this new situation. Whether it's in a family daycare or a daycare facility, when he sees other children taking naps he will do what the other children do. Only you can nurse him, and he knows that. Just remember that since you have been home with him for 18 months there will be some adjustments to be made on his part. He is nearing an age when he can understand that you will see him at the end of the day.

Medallion Lee
Haddonfield NJ USA


I, too, returned to teaching when my daughter was 15 months old. She was very used to a nursing, car ride, or stroller nap pattern. Fears about how she would cope when I returned to work kept me up nights!

My experienced childcare provider assured me that she had dealt with this before. She told me simply that in a setting without Mommy (or her breasts or familiar nap time surroundings) children seem to adapt quickly to nap time "expectations" with little or no "trauma." Though she and I were prepared for the worst, I discovered she was right!

On day one, for the first time in her life, Emma simply lay down in a crib (a strange crib at that) and, with a few minutes of gentle coaxing and singing from Patty, out she went for 2 1/2 hours. She continued to do so each day afterwards, although she still will not do it at home! Good luck to you.

B. Kate
Ossining NY USA


If there is one lesson my children teach me over and over again, it is just how adaptable they actually are. Their demands are very different, depending upon who is caring for them. Both children (ages four and two) will not nap without "nuk-nuk" if I am home, and both children go down for naps without fuss or trauma when I am at work.

In The Discipline Book, Dr. and Mrs. William Sears have some good advice for transitioning into childcare situations. If you are able to implement them before your return to work, they could reduce or eliminate problems with nap time for your son. They recommend establishing a high level of trust and familiarity between your son and the caregiver prior to the time the two of them "go solo." Depending on your future childcare arrangements, this could be accomplished, for example, by incorporating the future caregiver into some family activities or by frequent visits to the childcare location.

Even without this prior level of familiarity, however, my 18-month-old son proved to me how attachment parenting pays off in providing the secure base which encourages the baby to trust and be independent. In a new "emergency" childcare situation, the caregivers marveled at his adjustment. At nap time, one caregiver simply sat beside his bed and rubbed his back, talking quietly, and he drifted off to sleep without fuss.

Experienced and loving caregivers will not let a child cry to sleep every day at nap time. Reassuring yourself about the nap time (and other) practices of a childcare center or specific caregiver is another reason for visiting the center or getting to know your caregiver prior to the time when your son spends his day with them.

Pamela Wallace
Brentwood TN USA


I have been babysitting for over twenty-five years. During this time I've learned that children are different for the babysitter than for Mother. I suggest you find your sitter now. Select one carefully, checking every reference. Engage her services before school starts by about three weeks. Start with one hour the first day, gradually working up to a full day. If any problems occur during this "training" period, you can be reached easily.

You will develop trust in your babysitter as she finds a way to get him to sleep gently without nursing. One of my charges would only fall asleep lying on my chest (this lasted two weeks). Another would fall asleep snuggled tight in my arms with a bottle of mother's milk. Yet another needed his back patted. The gradual training period is essential; the baby and sitter need to develop their own patterns together. By the time school starts they should have their "routine" all settled. Good luck and relax.

Ms. Adams
Richmond Hill NY USA

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