Nighttime Breastfeeding FAQ
Moms have LOTS of questions about nighttime breastfeeding. They realize once they become mothers that the phrase, “sleeping like a baby” does not, in fact, mean what we have been led to believe all along.
- What is Normal?
- How Can I Make Nighttime Breastfeeding Easier?
- Am I Creating a “Bad Habit” by Nursing My Baby to Sleep?
- What If I’m Considering Bedsharing?
- What If I Want To Sleep Train My Baby?
- What About Nightweaning for Older Babies or Toddlers?
- Special Situations: Reflux & Sleep
- Special Situations: PPMDs & Sleep
What Is Normal?
- This article from Breastfeeding USA sums it up well: nightwaking itself is normal. The article reminds us that, “…(n)ature has designed babies to awaken more frequently to ensure their survival; feeding around the clock gives them the nourishment they need to sustain the rapid growth of infancy.”
- This 2018 Pediatrics study found that 30-60% of 6-12 month olds are not sleeping 6-8 hour blocks of sleep regularly.
- This 2015 study found around 80% of babies (BF or FF) woke at least once per night.
- This collection of older (but still very good!) research from Kellymom has lots of good studies that look at normal baby sleep.
- Need some motivation to nurse at night? Here are 5 Cool Things No One Ever Told You About Nighttime Breastfeeding.
- Recommended Resources:
- Infant Sleep, Breastfeeding, and Bed-Sharing (article) by Dr. Helen Ball, PhD from Breastfeeding Today (LLLI publication), Issue 2 July 2010
- Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family (book)
- The No Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night (book)
How Can I Make Nighttime Breastfeeding Easier
- Nighttime breastfeeding is will be easier when you keep your baby (or babies) close to you at night. The AAP recommends that babies sleep in the same room as their parents, on a separate sleep surface for the first year (YES – YEAR!) of their lives because being close to your baby keeps them safe, too. There is evidence that breastfed babies who sleep on their backs, on a separate sleep surface but close to their parent’s bed, can reduce their risk for SIDS by as much as 50%. (Source).
Am I Creating a “Bad Habit” by Nursing My Baby to Sleep?
Most families quickly realize that Mother Nature’s design promotes nursing babies to sleep initially and back to sleep after a nightwaking. This is almost always the fastest, easiest way for everyone to quietly re-settle at night. Fringe benefits include supporting both mother’s milk supply and the intense demands of baby’s rapid cognitive and physical growth and development throughout the first year of life and beyond. If this strategy works for your family, there is nothing wrong with it and it is not a “bad habit.”
What If I’m Considering Bedsharing?
- Research suggests that breastfeeding mothers who bedshare get the most sleep and nurse for longer a duration. Families who do not give their babies any formula, who are not drug or alcohol users, and who do not smoke or live in households
with smokers (and who didn’t smoke during their pregnancies, either), and who are committed to creating a safer-sleep environment, might explore this option. It is much safer to bedshare in an educated manner than to fall asleep accidentally on couches or chairs, which are universally unsafe places to bedshare with your baby. Here are some resources:
- Safe Bedsharing Guidelines from The Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at University of Notre Dame
- Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine: Protocol #6: Guideline on Cosleeping and Breastfeeding
- Safe Sleep for You and Your Baby: A Guide for Breastfeeding Families
- Speaking Out on Safe Sleep: Evidence Based Infant Sleep Recommendations (Breastfeeding Medicine, 2014)
- Side-lying position (video)
What If I Want To Sleep Train My Baby?
- We recognize sleep training is a values-based decision for families. However, because most babies wake at night to nurse, and if the method of sleep training you choose involves scheduling feedings or withholding nighttime nursing sessions, this does have the potential to negatively impact breastfeeding, particularly for any baby who may be dependent on their mother’s milk as their primary source of nutrition which lasts through the first year of life. One researcher found that breastfeeding babies obtain up to a third of their daily nutrient intake during nighttime feeds (Source). Because mother’s milk supply may be negatively impacted, baby’s growth and development may also be impacted. If you choose to sleep train with a method that involves ceasing or scheduling night feedings, it is imperative that you regularly check your child’s weight to ensure that your baby is still gaining weight appropriately. If weight gain slows, you may need to reconsider if sleep training is really a viable choice for your family.
What About Nightweaning for Older Babies or Toddlers?
- We recognize the decision about when, or if, to nightwean is another highly personal values-based decision for families. For those families that want to explore nightweaning their older babies or toddlers, many, many have used the Dr. Jay Gordon Method with much success when the time was right. Some other online resources include:
- 12 Alternatives for the All-Night Nurser from Dr. Sears
- How to Gently Wean Your Toddler from Breastfeeding and Bed-sharing from The Milk Meg
- How to Gently Nightwean a Breastfed Baby or Toddler by Sarah Ockwell-Smith
- Helping Your Toddler Put Himself to Sleep from Dr. Laura Markham
- Nightweaning tags from The Leaky [email protected]@b
- Some parents choose to prepare their children for nightweaning by reading a book to them about the subject. Some titles are:
Special Situations: Reflux & Sleep
- Reflux is known to disrupt sleep for adults and infants alike. It is also known to flare up during growth spurts, teething, and illnesses, so be sure to have some extra relief on hand during those times. If your child is diagnosed with reflux, be sure to additionally be in touch with a lactation professional or breastfeeding supporter who can help you explore if the cause might be rooted in latch issues or possibly allergies or intolerances. This podcast has a lot of helpful information about finding the root cause of infant reflux, which can, in turn, can help improve sleep. However to some extent, an adjustment of expectations may be necessary because reflux-y babies do have more disrupted sleep than their more settled counterparts. Hugs and coffee, mama!