Comfort nursing can be a tool to promote a bond and closeness between mother and baby, and it can continue after breastfeeding stops for as long as you and baby both enjoy the process. Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
I comfort-nursed my baby until she was just over three years old, and it was only because she eventually stopped asking.
One mom’s story with comfort nursing
Comfort nursing is often described as babies going to the breast when they need comfort and not receiving a full feed.
But you don’t often hear of comfort nursing without nutritional value. You probably listen to it more like, “she’s just using you as a pacifier.”
And to that, I would say, “Yep.”
My feeding journeys and ideas around feeding certainly changed as I had children. I couldn’t breastfeed precisely like I imagined due to a prior breast reduction.
But with each subsequent pregnancy, I could breastfeed for more extended periods (which is common). For my third, I didn’t have to start supplementing until around six months of age.
My prior two babies stopped breastfeeding shortly after my supply stopped, but my third baby was different.
I co-slept with her, so she always had the breast available. She was comforted by it often, and maybe that was the catalyst. But as my supply dropped, she continued to nurse after every bottle.
Then she moved to only when she needed me.
If someone else were feeding her, she would do just fine. As she approached ten months of age and the “taboo ideas” of comfort nursing became more apparent, I would redirect her if she asked. And it didn’t take long for her to stop questioning.
But then she got sick around 15 months of age, and she was barely eating. She wasn’t feeling good, and I did more contact naps. Once she reached down, and at that moment, I wanted to be there for her, however she needed me to be.
She comfort-nursed, and we never looked back. It was usually at bedtime—only in public, once or twice, when she got extremely overtired and overstimulated.
I realized that I initially stopped comfort nursing because of what I thought was right for her (at least, that’s what I told myself). But, in retrospect, it wasn’t for her but for me and my fear of other people’s thoughts.
My fear of having to “explain myself” to others.
The idea that I can comfort her the same way an object can begin to play in my mind. Why am I replacing the human connection – that she is seeking and that I am willing to provide – with a thing (like a pacifier)?
Like in all phases of motherhood, why do we pigeonhole ourselves into thinking only one way is acceptable? There are so many different ways to make parenthood work.
So often, our ideas of what we want our feeding journeys to be get taken from us—maybe an undiagnosed oral dysfunction, sicknesses, work obligations, or just life shifts and changes our path.
Whatever your journey, if you want to have that connection or don’t want to let go of breastfeeding and the baby doesn’t either, remember that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can be however you and your baby choose it to be.
A relationship between you two and no one else has a place in that.