Updated: Aug 16, 2022
There are some people on the internet who would bite my head off for not encouraging you to feed your baby to sleep because it’s ~*BiOloGicAlLY nAtURal*~ to feed a baby to sleep.
While many babies do fall asleep while feeding - mine certainly did! - it’s not ideal to do this all the time.
For better nutritional outcomes, we want to encourage your child to have full feedings during the day, and feeding them to sleep is not how you attain full feedings.
Want better feeding outcomes for your child? Want better sleep outcomes for your child? Then keep reading!
The Eat-Play-Sleep routine provides predictability to your child’s day - which promotes a feeling of safety and security.
According to Secrets of Baby Behavior, “by six to eight weeks, babies show clear signs that they can predict what will happen during feeding, social, and naptime routines.
They will move their legs and arms and coo excitedly when they anticipate food or fun and turn or arch away when they know something not so fun is about to happen (like a diaper change for those who don’t like them).”
The eat-play-sleep parent-directed routine helps you identify your child’s needs more easily too. You’ll know about how often your child needs to feed and how often they need to sleep. For example, they just woke from a nap and they haven’t fed for about 2.5 hours - it’s probably pretty safe to assume that they’re hungry, so you feed them. After the feeding, your baby has some “play” time. Before you know it, they’re staring off and their eyes are getting glassy. It’s time to sleep! Time to start the predictable routine again.
Responding to your baby’s needs appropriately promotes a secure attachment between you and your child. When you have a predictable routine like eat-play-sleep, you can better guess what your child needs and when they need it, and even identify when something is “off”.
One more thing to think about - because hunger cues and tired cues often look incredibly similar, following the eat-play-sleep routine can help you identify which cues your child is displaying.
Not only does this routine help you respond appropriately to your child, but it also helps your child distinguish between daytime and nighttime and sort out any day/night confusion they may be experiencing. You follow the routine during the 12 hours of daytime, and they learn that nighttime is for sleeping (with a few feeds thrown in there for those younger babies, of course!). After offering a night feed, it’s back to bed!
The eat-play-sleep routine also helps hunger patterns stabilize and prevents chronic fatigue…two other factors that can really affect your baby’s overall wellbeing.
Eating upon waking allows your baby to fall asleep in other ways besides being fed to sleep.
If you want your baby to become flexible when it comes to sleep, allowing them other ways to fall asleep other than feeding is the way to go.
When your baby wakes up and you offer them a feeding first, a few things happen:
They’re fully awake since they just slept and can focus on getting a full feeding, which supports their growth and development.
When it’s time to sleep again, they can practice sleeping independently!
Not all babies will have the skill set to sleep independently right away, but practice makes perfect. You can also rock your baby to sleep, or gently pat their tummy as they fall asleep. Giving them more than one way to fall asleep allows for more flexibility with sleep overall.
Follow this routine in the first year of life.
The eat-play-sleep routine allows you to lead your child confidently through their day. It’s not strict or demanding. It allows for solid sleep and solid nutrition to occur simultaneously!
Here’s how to do it, step by step:
Offer feeds about every 2-3 hours during the day. Help your child stay awake and attain full feedings. You’ll want them to receive adequate nutrition to stay on their growth curve.
Then it’s time to play! Your baby’s awake time can include some tummy time, floor play, water or sensory play, reading books, and eventually playing with toys, moving around, and eating solids.
As your baby gets older, and as they begin to eat solids, your eat-play-sleep routine will turn into an eat-play-eat-play-sleep routine. You’ll have to add in some meal times for them!
Then, when it’s time to sleep again (grab our free Newborn Sleep Guide and refer to the awake windows section) allow your baby to have an opportunity to fall asleep without any assistance. If it works - GREAT! And if it doesn’t, help them to sleep another way, like rocking or patting. The more you practice with your baby, the better he or she will get!
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