Is Dry Nursing Normal?

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Dry nursing, also known as “dry” breastfeeding, refers to a breastfeeding practice where the baby does not actually drink significant amounts of milk from the breast, but instead smells and tastes the droplets of milk that remain. Here’s what you need to know about whether dry nursing is normal and appropriate:

Key Takeaways

  • Dry nursing does not provide full nutrition but allows bonding through smell/taste.
  • It can help stimulate milk production and maintain supply.
  • Preemies may dry nurse while getting nutrition through tubes.
  • Some do it for comfort/bonding but nutritional needs matter most.
  • Opinions vary; consult a professional for advice.

What is Dry Nursing??

Dry nursing, or non-nutritive suckling, refers to when a baby suckles at the breast but does not receive a full milk transfer. Only droplets of milk are consumed by the baby. This is different from a typical breastfeeding session where the baby fully empties the breast and consumes a full feeding of breastmilk.

With dry nursing, the purpose is not to provide complete nutrition but rather for the baby to experience the familiar smell and taste of breastmilk. The baby gets to suckle at the breast for comfort but does not fill up with a substantial milk intake.

Is Dry Nursing Recommended from a Nutritional Perspective??

From a nutritional standpoint, dry nursing does not provide all the nutrients and calories that an infant needs for growth and development. Exclusive dry nursing without any additional nutrition could lead to poor weight gain over time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life, with continued breastfeeding alongside solid foods through at least 12 months. Dry nursing alone does not achieve this goal of exclusive breastmilk nutrition.

If a mother chooses to dry nurse, it is important that the baby’s caloric and nutritional needs are being met through supplementing with expressed breastmilk or formula. Frequent weight checks are also recommended to ensure adequate growth.

According to a 2015 study published in Breastfeeding Medicine, babies who only engaged in non-nutritive sucking gained 30-40% less weight compared to infants who received complete milk feeds at the breast. So purely dry nursing is not enough from a nutritional perspective.

What are the Potential Benefits of Dry Nursing??

While dry nursing may not provide full nutrition on its own, there are some potential benefits that make some mothers choose this practice:

Familiarity with breast smell/taste – Allowing the baby to latch and suckle exposes them to the taste and odor of breastmilk, even if only tiny droplets. This can provide comfort and familiarity for the baby.

Bonding – The skin-to-skin contact and intimacy of dry nursing can promote bonding, attachment, and a sense of closeness between mother and baby. This aspect may be valued by some families.

Supply maintenance – The suckling stimulation during dry nursing can help maintain milk production and prevent a decline in supply, according to La Leche League International. This may be relevant for adoptive mothers or mothers providing pumped breastmilk.

Production increase – In some cases, dry nursing can even help increase breastmilk production over time since the suckling signals the body to produce more milk. More research is still needed in this area.

So while dry nursing should not be a complete replacement for milk feedings, it does offer some potential benefits that certain families may appreciate. The bonding, comfort, and supply maintenance may make dry nursing appealing alongside other feedings.

Is Dry Nursing Ever Medically Recommended?

In some medical circumstances, dry nursing may be recommended under a doctor or lactation consultant’s guidance:

Premature infants – For preterm babies with underdeveloped sucking skills, dry nursing can allow them to practice sucking motions without tiring themselves out. Milk can be given through tubes while they dry nurse. One study found that early sucking and oral stimulation reduced hospital stays for premature babies.

Supplementing device issues – If a baby is having trouble managing a supplemental nursing system device, they may dry nurse first followed by a bottle. This allows them to learn to latch properly.

Specific conditions – In certain medical cases like cleft palate where latching is difficult, dry nursing may help a baby develop muscle tone and coordination in preparation for feeding.

So while not nutritionally sufficient on its own, dry nursing can serve a purpose in specific medical situations where an infant needs to develop skills, strength, and coordination in order to feed properly. Close medical guidance is always recommended in these instances.

Is Dry Nursing Ever Recommended for Full Term Babies?

For full term, healthy babies, dry nursing is generally not medically advised as the sole source of nutrition and feedings. As discussed earlier, dry nursing alone does not provide all the nutrients, calories, and immunological factors vital for a baby in the first year of life.

However, some mothers may choose to incorporate occasional dry nursing sessions along with regular full milk feedings. Reasons might include:

  • Calming a fussy baby
  • Providing comfort during immunization appointments
  • Pacifying baby before naps/bedtime
  • Maintaining milk supply if pumping instead of direct feeding
  • Facilitating closeness after absence from the breast

While direct breastmilk feedings should remain the priority, some limited dry nursing may be appropriate if weight gain remains on track. No more than 1-2 short dry feeding sessions per day is recommended, with the rest being nutrition-providing wet nursing.

Mothers should closely watch for signs of dehydration or inadequate caloric intake if choosing to dry nurse, and immediately resume wet nursing if issues arise. As always, consult your pediatrician about appropriateness for your baby’s unique situation.

What Are the Potential Risks or Downsides to Dry Nursing?

If relying on dry nursing too heavily or improperly, there are some potential risks and downsides to be aware of:

  • Nutritional deficits – As discussed, dry nursing does not transfer the calories, proteins, fats, vitamins, or antibodies that breastmilk provides. Substantial dry nursing could lead to malnutrition.
  • Inadequate weight gain – Babies need ample milk feeds for rapid growth and weight gain, especially in the first 3-6 months. Dry nursing alone does not support this.
  • Dehydration – Infants have specific hydration needs that dry nursing does not fulfill. Dehydration is a risk if milk intake is insufficient.
  • Delayed feeding cues – Excessive dry nursing could potentially delay or dampen a baby’s hunger/feeding cues, making it harder to determine their nutritional needs.
  • Lip or tongue ties overlooked – Underlying latch problems like tongue or lip ties may not be identified and addressed if milk transfer is not even attempted.
  • Future feeding struggles – Some babies may become accustomed to dry nursing and resist taking fuller milk feeds, contributing to potential feeding problems, fussiness, or failure to thrive later on.
  • Insufficient for preemies – While dry nursing can help preemies develop skills, their nutrition and growth needs more support than just dry feeding provides.

So while the risks depend on the specific context and frequency, parents should be cautious about relying too heavily on dry nursing alone without meeting supplemental nutritional needs. Seeking professional lactation support can help determine safe parameters.

What Are Some Opinions and Perspectives on Dry Nursing?

Views on the appropriateness of dry nursing vary among lactation experts, health professionals, and breastfeeding advocates. Understanding these different perspectives can help mothers shape their own informed opinions. Some key opinions include:

  • Neutral when supplemented – Many professionals are neutral about occasional dry nursing as long as nutritional needs are being met through other feedings.
  • Beneficial for preemies – Most experts agree dry nursing can benefit preemies transitioning to full feeds under medical guidance.
  • Not biologically normal – Some advocates argue dry nursing goes against the biological norm of frequent milk transfer and responds to convenience rather than infant needs.
  • Risk of nipple confusion – Concerns exist that excessive dry nursing could promote nipple confusion or result in babies not transferring milk well.
  • Fulfills emotional needs – Proponents believe that when supplemented sufficiently, dry nursing meets babies’ emotional, developmental, and physiological needs.
  • Promotes bonding – Many supporters emphasize the bonding, comfort, and familiarity dry nursing facilitates between mother and child.
  • Slippery slope – Critics caution it could become a slippery slope to extensively depriving babies of needed nutrition from milk.
  • Insufficient data – Some express that inadequate research exists analyzing the short and long-term impacts of dry nursing patterns.

So there is a wide spectrum of opinions on this practice. Parents can educate themselves on various perspectives when deciding what feels right for their family.

What Factors Should Mothers Consider About Dry Nursing?

For mothers contemplating incorporating dry nursing, some key factors to take into account include:

  • Baby’s age, weight, and developmental stage
  • Reasons and goals for dry nursing
  • Frequency and duration of dry feeding sessions
  • Ability to monitor for adequacy of nutrition and hydration
  • Availability of alternative calorie sources like pumped milk or formula
  • Potential benefits like bonding versus risks like delayed feeding cues
  • Baby’s satisfaction and satiation after milk-containing feeds
  • Guidance from healthcare providers and lactation consultants
  • Watching for any issues like inadequate weight gain
  • Personal comfort level with process

Keeping the baby’s nutritional needs at the center while evaluating other physical and emotional factors can help mothers determine appropriate parameters for dry nursing, if any. An open dialogue with medical support teams is advised.

What Tips Can Help Ensure Safe Dry Nursing?

If incorporating dry nursing, some tips to maximize safety based on expert recommendations include:

  • Limit dry feeding sessions to 1-2 times per day at most.
  • Keep sessions brief, ideally 5-10 minutes.
  • Note signs of satiation like sleeping or decreased sucking to end promptly.
  • Continue offering full milk feeds on cue every 1.5-3 hours.
  • Watch weight gain closely and increase milk feeds if inadequate.
  • Supplement with pumped breastmilk or formula if needed.
  • Focus dry nursing for comfort, not complete nourishment.
  • Ensure proper latch to avoid lacerations or preferencing.
  • Use alternate calming methods like rocking and pacifiers to avoid overusing dry nursing.
  • Meet with lactation consultants to create an appropriate dry nursing plan.
  • Discuss concerns with baby’s pediatrician and follow their guidelines.
  • Adjust or discontinue dry nursing if problems emerge.

Staying vigilant about nutrition and following expert safety guidelines can help minimize risks if opting to include dry nursing. Frequent assessment is needed to ensure infant health remains the top priority.

What Are Some Alternatives to Dry Nursing for Comfort?

If wanting to provide comfort without actual dry breastfeeding, some alternative options to consider include:

  • Rocking – Gentle rocking motions can often calm and soothe babies.
  • Swaddling – Securely swaddling can mimic the coziness of nursing.
  • Pacifiers – Sucking on pacifiers activates calming reflexes.
  • Skin-to-skin – Skin-to-skin contact provides security without nursing.
  • Baby carriers – Wearable carriers provide closeness while keeping hands free.
  • White noise – Steady white noise mimics noises heard in the womb.
  • Infant massage – Gentle strokes relax muscles and nervous systems.
  • Warm baths – Bathing in warm water is comforting and therapeutic.
  • Babywearing – Keeping infants close in wraps or slings is reassuring.
  • Avent bottles – The twin nipple design mimics breastfeeding motions.
  • Cuddling – Cuddling provides intimacy without the breast.

Exploring multiple options can help identify techniques that best console and settle babies while also meeting their feeding requirements.

What Are Some Tips for Transitioning from Dry Nursing?

If a baby becomes accustomed to dry nursing, transitioning to fuller milk feeds may take some patience and consistency:

  • Gradually decrease dry nursing sessions while increasing latch time when milk is present.
  • Try breast compressions during latching to entice fuller feeds.
  • Offer smaller but more frequent milk feeds to acclimate baby to transferring milk.
  • Express milk onto the nipple to reward with tastes.
  • Follow feeding cues closely rather than strict schedules.
  • Comfort baby through fussiness as they adjust to new patterns.
  • Use recommended suck training techniques if needed.
  • Stay hydrated, rested, and relaxed to facilitate let-down.
  • Meet with lactation consultants to devise a tailored transition plan.
  • Focus on the long-term goal of exclusive breastmilk nutrition.

With strategic techniques and professional support, babies can be gradually shifted from dry feeding to milk-rich nursing sessions.

What Should You Do If Problems Arise From Dry Nursing?

If concerning issues emerge from dry nursing patterns, promptly notify the baby’s pediatrician and take these steps:

  • Discontinue dry nursing immediately if recommended.
  • Monitor weight gain and nutrition markers closely.
  • Offer an milk-based supplement if weight loss or dehydration.
  • Assess latch for effectiveness and infant satisfaction post-feeds.
  • Watch for cues like increased crying, lethargy, or disinterest that signal problems.
  • Keep a detailed feeding log of timing, duration, and volumes.
  • Consult with lactation specialists to identify potential complications.
  • Rule out other factors like illness contributing to issues.
  • Adjust practices based on expert guidance to resolve concerns.
  • Prioritize nutrition and re-establish milk transfer as top goals.

Prompt action and openness to changing course can help get breastfeeding back on track if dry nursing patterns cause adverse effects. Ongoing teamwork with medical providers is key.


In closing, dry nursing involving minimal milk transfer holds some potential benefits but also notable risks requiring caution. Occasional short dry feeding sessions may provide comfort and familiarity when supplemented with nutritious milk feeds. However, relying substantially on dry nursing can jeopardize an infant’s health, growth, and development. Mothers should carefully weigh their motivations, have realistic expectations, and stay vigilant about adequacy of nutrition. Following safety guidelines and working with medical lactation professionals can allow families to determine appropriate parameters for dry nursing in their unique situation, if any. With thoughtful consideration of all factors, parents can make educated choices aligned with both the baby’s nutritional needs as well as their bonding and soothing goals.

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