“My baby actively breastfeeds and then seems to fall asleep. I think she stops eating and just uses me as a pacifier. Everyone tells me that I shouldn’t let her do this, and if she has already eaten, I must stop the feed. What should I do? It doesn’t hurt or bother me that she does this”
As breastfeeding mothers, one of the things we are told the most is: your baby uses you as a pacifier/dummy. Apparently, this is a bad thing and when the baby does this kind of behaviour while breastfeeding, we are told to take the baby off the breast, because it seems useless or no good. But is this true? What does a baby do when she uses us as a pacifier/dummy?
First of all, let’s make it clear that a mother’s breasts are much more than a plastic pacifier/dummy, and no matter how much they try to convince us otherwise, first there were breasts and then there was the pacifier/dummy.
Here we are going to explain what exactly a baby under three months old does when breastfeeding (after three months of age this will change a bit and feeding patterns are different):
- When you first offer the breast to your baby, she will start the feed with quick suction movements. It’s a bit like ringing a doorbell in a hurry to get someone to open the door. This type of suction triggers the milk ejection reflex. The milk inside the mammary gland is released into the nipple for the baby to feed.
- Once this reflex occurs, which us mothers experience as a tickling feeling, the baby changes the suction pattern and her motions becomes more rhythmic and deeper. This is when we can be sure she is feeding and we can even hear her swallow the milk, if we observe and listen carefully.
- This suction rhythm lasts about 3-5 minutes and as the baby eats, she relaxes and seems to fall asleep while feeding.
- When this second part of the feeding pattern begins, is when people start to say: the baby no longer feeds and uses you as a pacifier/dummy, it’s better that you stop the feed, the baby swallows air and so on. None of this is true and you might start to have doubts on what to do. But let’s continue to understand what a baby exactly does when she is breastfeeding.
- The baby will perform this type of slower suction motions for a while. They are sometimes called non-nutritional suction, but the term affectionate suction is increasingly accepted for it, as small amounts of milk are still accumulated at the end of the baby’s mouth and when it is finally full, she will swallow it.
- After a while of this phase of suction motions, a milk ejection reflex will probably be triggered again and the baby will continue to feed for a long time.
- And again, after feeding for a while, when the milk no longer comes out so quickly, the feeding pattern will go back into the affectionate suction phase.
- It is perfectly normal for babies to feed on the same breast for even 60 minutes until they feel satisfied and come off the breast on their own.
As you can see, both the nutritional and the affective suction phase are part of the same feeding session. There is no such thing as a correct and an incorrect suction phase since both are key to the feeding process and are important for the baby in their own different ways.
Your baby needs both phases, one to feed and the other one to relax and of course also to eat again. Because during the affective suction phase the baby continues to get milk. The affective (or non-nutritional) suction phase is a very important type of suction for any baby: it has a regulating function because it allows the baby to feel safe and calm.
If you don’t feel any pain while breastfeeding and if your baby gains weight optimally, there is no reason to deny your baby this phase of suction, as it is so important to them.