Nighttime Breastfeeding FAQ

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?

  • 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.”

How Can I Make Nighttime Breastfeeding Easier?

  • Nighttime breastfeeding is 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 6 months 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?

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?

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!dad watch sleep

Special Situations: PPD & Sleep

Note: Click here to see the extensive list of citations used to create this document.

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