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Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?
You may be asked this question frequently by well-meaning friends and family. There is a lot of pressure around babies and sleep.
And what sleep-deprived mama doesn’t want her baby to start sleeping through the night?
Instead of telling you how to get your baby to sleep through the night, I want to tell you why you shouldn’t be in a rush for that to happen.
Nighttime breastfeeding is valuable and can be essential for a baby to grow and for a mom to have an adequate milk supply.
I’ve always got your back, mama. I’m also going to give you tips to cope with the challenges of breastfeeding at night.
6 REASONS WHY NIGHTTIME BREASTFEEDING IS IMPORTANT
1- Babies Have Tiny Tummies.
A newborn’s tummy is tiny.
2- Breast milk is digested quickly.
Breast milk is digested within about one hour.
3- Babies need a lot of calories because of their rapid growth.
A baby will double his birth weight by the time he is about five months old. He will triple it by his first birthday.
4 – Your Prolactin Levels Are Highest During The Nighttime Hours.
A mother’s prolactin levels are highest during the nighttime hours (Source). This is usually when her milk production is greatest.
Breastfeeding stimulates higher prolactin levels. Higher prolactin levels contribute to having an abundant milk supply.
5 – Nighttime Breastfeeding Accounts for 20 percent of your baby’s total intake.
6- Nighttime Breastfeeding Helps Maintain Your Milk Supply.
I want to elaborate on this one.
Most women will be able to enjoy longer periods of sleep when their baby starts sleeping for more extended periods. However, some mothers will find that long stretches result in a decreased milk supply. They will need to wake their baby to breastfeed or pump to keep up their supply.
Most moms prefer breastfeeding over pumping. You can’t blame them as there are no pump parts to wash when you breastfeed.
Other moms will look at a pumping session as a way to keep up their breast milk freezer stash.
If you notice that your supply seems to drop once your baby is sleeping longer stretches, try pumping right before you go to bed.
HOW LONG WILL NIGHT FEEDINGS CONTINUE?
To answer this question, we need to define what “sleeping through the night” means. Among healthcare and sleep professionals sleeping through the night is defined as sleeping for a five-hour stretch.
This may not excite you since most adults consider eight hours of sleep a full night’s sleep.
That five-hour stretch can occur a different times for different babies. If your baby sleeps from 7 pm until midnight, technically, that could be considered sleeping through the night. There are not many mamas who would agree with that, though.
Many babies start sleeping that five-hour stretch somewhere between three and six months.
Every baby is different, though. Even when your little one starts sleeping through the night, there is no guarantee that she will continue to sleep through the night.
My best advice is to follow the No-Cry Sleep Solution guidelines by Elizabeth Pantley to encourage good sleep hygiene. Then trust that your baby will sleep through the night when it is the right time for her to do so.
That said, there are ways to survive nighttime breastfeeding.
11 TIPS FOR BREASTFEEDING AT NIGHT
Develop a Realistic Mindset About Night Nursing
Nighttime breastfeeding is a reality for all but the rarest of babies in the early months.
It really can help to think of it in favorable terms as opposed to something that you just need to get through.
Nighttime breastfeeding helps your baby grow and plays a critical role in your having an abundant milk supply.
Don’t Compare Your Baby With Other Babies
Parents can be competitive, am I right? If a friend’s baby is sleeping through the night, they are going to let you know. They may even act like they are a smarter parent if your baby is still breastfeeding at night.
If you are wondering why your baby is still nursing at night when your friend’s little one is sleeping for eight hours, remember that all babies are different.
Playing the comparison game is just going to frustrate you.
Create a Bedtime Routine
It’s never too early to create a bedtime routine for your little one.
Doing the same things at bedtime helps signal your baby that it is time to go to sleep.
Have your own bedtime routine. You might think that running on short periods of sleep for days, weeks, and months will ensure that you’ll fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. That is not always the case, though.
- Try to avoid screen time for at least 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep.
- Wear blue-light blocking glasses in the evening during any screen time.
- Listen to an app that has sleep-inducing stories and meditations.
- Do a few minutes of yoga before retiring for the night.
Get Organized For Nighttime Breastfeeding
You want to minimize having to move around a lot when you wake up for night feedings.
If you plan to nurse sitting up and use a breastfeeding pillow, make sure that it is nearby.
Keeping diaper changing supplies, nursing pads, and a water bottle nearby will help accomplish this.
Have all of the things that you will need for nighttime breastfeeding in one place. Where you breastfeed at night is an excellent place for a breastfeeding basket.
Keep Your Baby Close By
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Safe Sleep Recommendations advise that your baby sleeps in the same room as you, close by your bed.
A co-sleeper like the Kidsclub Baby Bedside Sleeper can help keep nighttime breastfeeding disruptions to a minimum.
Wear Clothes That Make Breastfeeding Easy
Avoid things that need to be buttoned. The Kindred Bravely Jane Maternity & Nursing Pajama Set makes nighttime breastfeeding easy peasy.
Some moms like to wear a sleep bra to bed. A sleep bra like the Kindred Bravely French Terry Racerback Nursing Sleep Bra doesn’t have clips or snaps. It is extra stretchy, making it easy to pull the edge down and then back up again when the feeding is over. This bra is super soft for nighttime comfort.
Check out the entire Kindred Bravely line of nursing clothes.
Keep The Lights Low
Being exposed to light can have a negative impact on how much melatonin you make. Melatonin is the hormone that helps us sleep.
Having a dimmable bedside lamp can help both you and your baby fall back to sleep faster.
Don’t Check The Time When You Are Awake
In the first few weeks after your baby is born, you will want to check the time to ensure that she is eating frequently enough. Once she is gaining weight well and consistently, you don’t need to keep track of the time.
Ask For Help
Unless your cape and tights have arrived, don’t try to be Supermom. You know her, the mom who does it all and never asks for help. She’s either a myth or probably suffering in silence.
We can all use a helping hand.
You can have your partner change diapers or be on burp-duty for night feedings.
If a friend visits and you had a particularly challenging night, go ahead and ask your friend to sit with the baby while you take a power nap.
Be Open To Alternative Sleeping Arrangements
Bed-sharing is not recommended, but the reality is that a significant percentage of families practices it. Some choose it because it matches their parenting style. Others start doing it to get more sleep.
If this is an option you are considering, then I urge you to educate yourself about minimizing the risk (Source).
Some moms have told me that they would feel comfortable bed-sharing, but their partner is a heavy sleeper. In a case like this, you might consider sleeping in a separate bed.
Try Dream Feeding
Dream feeding is when you feed your baby right before you go to sleep for the night.
Try not to wake her up completely. Some babies will latch in their sleep.
The goal of dream feeding is to stretch out the time until she feels hungry and needs to wake up for the next nighttime feeding.
IS IT EVER NECESSARY TO WAKE A BABT UP FOR NIGHTTIME BREASTFEEDING?
One of my least favorite sayings is, “Never wake a sleeping baby.”
Most babies will wake up when they are hungry. Most, but not all. And if a baby does not eat frequently enough, they will not gain enough weight.
There are different reasons a baby may not wake to feed as frequently as they need to.
Some babies will sleep long stretches because they are not eating enough and don’t have the energy to wake up and feed.
Constant swaddling can have an impact on how often a baby breastfeeds (Source).
In the early weeks, a baby needs to eat a minimum of eight times every 24-hours. Some will need to eat more frequently than that.
A newborn should not go longer than one four-hour stretch in any 24-hour period.
Once your baby has established a good pattern of weight gain, you can let him sleep longer stretches at night.
- Your baby must be back to birth weight.
- Your baby should be gaining an average of one ounce a day for at least a week or two after regaining his birth weight.
NIGHTTIME BREASTFEEDING POSITIONS
I encourage moms to breastfeed in the positions that are comfortable for them.
Side-lying is a restful position to use for nighttime breastfeeding, especially once your baby doesn’t require a diaper change at every feeding.
If you use a co-sleeper, you can lift your baby over to you and breastfeed in the side-lying position. When baby is finished, you can place him back in the co-sleeper without ever having to sit up.
NIGHTTIME BREASTFEEDING MYTHS
I already talked about the myth that you should never wake a sleeping baby.
It is a myth that you should not let your baby fall asleep at the breast. This advice doesn’t make sense for nighttime breastfeeding.
When a baby breastfeeds at night, you want her to get back to sleep as quickly as possible after eating.
Some of the sleep training programs instruct you to follow a feed, play, sleep routine. Waking a baby up who has fallen asleep at the breast or trying to prevent him from falling asleep is going to make it that much more difficult for him to fall back to sleep.
Another myth is that breastfeeding mothers get less sleep than formula feeding moms. Research has shown that nursing moms get more sleep (Source 1).
Nighttime Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression
Insufficient sleep has been linked to depression. Some people believe that giving up breastfeeding can help protect a sleep-deprived mom from getting depressed. Or, if she is experiencing postpartum depression, she may be advised to wean so someone else can take over the night feedings.
However, research has shown that breastfeeding mothers experience a lower incidence of depression compared to mothers who formula feed. (Source).
The lower rates of depression in breastfeeding moms may result from the breastfeeding hormones, prolactin, and oxytocin. Prolactin is called the feel-good or mothering hormone. Oxytocin is known as the love hormone.
Bottles and Nighttime Breastfeeding
There are two myths about bottles and nighttime breastfeeding.
One myth is that it won’t interfere with breastfeeding if your partner or a night nurse, or whoever gives your baby a bottle of either expressed breast milk or formula during the night.
Breast milk production is controlled by a combination of hormones and supply and demand. If you are consistently missing feedings, your body will start to produce less milk.
You might ask if it is okay to pump a bottle of milk earlier in the day, and someone else can feed it at night while you get a long stretch of sleep. Because of the elevated prolactin levels during the nighttime hours, this has the potential to result in insufficient milk production.
If a mom feels extremely sleep deprived and the other tips recommended have not helped enough, she can occasionally have someone else feeds her baby a bottle of her expressed milk.
- Your milk supply needs to be well established.
- Skipping a feeding in the first 4-6 weeks is not recommended.
- Doing this only once every four or five days should not harm your supply.
PRACTICAL WAYS TO COPE WITH SLEEP DEPRIVATION
Sleep deprivation can affect not only how you feel, but it can impair your judgment and slow your reaction time.
There are some coping tips and tricks to help you through this time.
Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps
Try to nap during the day.
The time-tested advice of sleep when your baby sleeps has been passed down from mother to mother for a reason.
Babies sleep a lot. Take advantage of all those times during the day that your baby sleeps and take your own naps.
Even if you are not a napper, lay down in a dark room and close your eyes. Some moms have found that this can help them feel rested. Other mamas find that motherhood converts them to the napping way of life.
Eat A Healthy Diet
Nourishing your body with energizing foods can take the edge off of that feeling that you are dragging all of the time.
- Protein-rich foods – fish, meat, poultry, beans, eggs, nuts
- Chia seeds – you can put some in a smoothie or make chia pudding.
Stay Well Hydrated
A water bottle should be your constant companion.
The Hydracy Water Bottle With Time Marker will help you stay on track with your hydration goals.
While it is okay for a breastfeeding mama to have an occasional alcoholic beverage, alcohol can interfere with quality sleep. Especially when you are feeling sleep deprived, consuming alcohol will not help you meet your sleeping goals.
If you do have alcohol, you should wait for at least a couple of hours after your drink before breastfeeding. Pumping and dumping does not affect that time.
HOW TO START NIGHT WEANING
If your baby has not made the transition to sleeping all night and you want to try to move things in that direction, try these tactics.
Make Sure Your Baby Really Wants To Breastfeed
Moms get very good at waking up when their baby is just starting to stir. Sometimes they get too good.
A mom may pick her baby up before he’s completely awake and offer her breast. Your little one may be delighted to take you up on your offer of a middle of the night snack.
It’s also possible that he would not have woken all the way up and just gone back to sleep without eating.
We all have times when we are sleeping when we are in a lighter state of sleep, or we wake up and then fall right back to sleep. We don’t even remember most of those brief wakings.
Babies experience this, as well.
If you hear those noises that can be a precursor to waking up, try waiting, and seeing if your baby might go back to sleep without eating.
Make Sure Baby Is Eating Enough During The Day
Getting enough nursing sessions in during the day can encourage less night nursing as a baby gets older.
This can sometimes be challenging when a baby goes through a phase of distracted nursing. If your baby is having trouble focusing on feeding during the day, try turning off the TV or moving to a quiet, darkened room.
Have Someone Else Go In When Baby Wakes
The AAP recommends that your baby sleeps in the same room, close by for at least the first six months (Source).
If you have moved your baby to her own room and she wakes up, have your partner go in and see if she just needs a diaper change or a sip of water.
When my youngest child was about a year old, he would wake up at night but be content with a cup of water. We started leaving a dripless sippy cup in the corner of his crib. He would wake up and see it, drink from it, and go back to sleep.
THINGS TO AVOID WHEN TRYING TO NIGHT WEAN
Don’t offer formula in the hopes that your baby will sleep longer.
- You run the risk of a decreased milk supply.
- Formula is harder for your baby to digest.
Don’t give your baby cereal. It is a myth that this helps them sleep through the night.
Don’t stuff your baby. I have had many moms tell me that they will overfeed in the evening in the hopes of trying to get their baby to sleep longer.
- Overfeeding can train your baby that is how full he should be all the time, and a normal feeding won’t satisfy him.
- Think about how you feel when you overeat. Do you really want to make your baby feel that way?
- This tactic can backfire because it can make a baby fussy if their tummy is uncomfortably full.
SLEEP REGRESSIONS AND NIGHTTIME BREASTFEEDING
It is inevitable that just about the time you think you are home free and nighttime breastfeeding is a thing of the past, your baby again starts waking up at night wanting to breastfeed.
I have to say that sleep regressions were the most surprising thing about being a new mom. I naively thought that once a baby slept through the night, they did it forever.
There are many reasons for breastfeeding at night to start up again after your little one has slept through for a while.
- Growth spurt
- Diaper rash
- Developmental changes – babies get excited when they learn how to do new things like turn over and pull themselves up to standing. Sometimes they can’t get themself back to their usual sleeping position, and they will cry out for help.
- If your baby is separated from you during the day because of work, he may want to make up for the time apart with some nighttime breastfeeding.
- The baby who refuses bottles and has to be separated from her mom may do something called reverse cycling. That is when they don’t eat each much during the day and make up for it by feeding frequently at night.
- Reverse cycling can also occur in the baby who is getting distracted during feeding during the day.
- A decreased milk supply.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON NIGHTTIME BREASTFEEDING
You may go to sleep every night wondering if tonight will be the night that your baby sleeps all night. On the other hand, you may love the middle of the night nursing sessions.
Like so many other things about babies, breastfeeding at night is temporary. You will eventually get that much longed for full night’s sleep.
To learn more about helping your baby sleep, I highly recommend the book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution.
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.