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Breastfeeding and Sleep: Yes, You Can Have Both!

Many expectant moms fear that if they choose to continue breastfeeding their baby, then that means they won’t see a decent night’s sleep for a few years. This is simply not true! Yes, it’s true that babies enjoy eating and sleeping, and that they often go hand-in-hand: baby nurses, then baby sleeps. Feeding your baby is relaxing, and it definitely makes them sleepy, especially at night. Breast milk contains melatonin at night, so your body is actually helping to make your newborn sleepy during the night, so everyone can get back to sleep quickly!

SLEEP PROPS

Almost all babies will fall asleep during a feed if you let them, so it’s completely normal. And when you’ve just given birth, you’re beyond happy to have a peaceful, sleeping baby, so you’re definitely not going to “rock that boat”! While babies are very good at nursing-to-sleep, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way they can get to sleep. When babies are born, they pretty much have a “clean slate” when it comes to learning. Every hour and minute that goes by, you are teaching your baby. You teach her how to latch properly if she can’t figure it out, you teach him the difference between night and day, you teach her about her new bedtime routine, and you teach him how to fall asleep (either with or without help).

If you only ever feed baby to sleep, then that’s all they will ever know. You can’t expect baby to just know how to do it without any props (ie feeding, patting, rocking, bouncing, baby equipment, etc), if you’ve never given them the chance to try it. If you can allow your newborn to fall asleep in their crib or without being held (even just once in a while), then you will easily teach your baby how to do this moving forward.

Too often parents wait until their babies are over 6 months old before they even begin to think about this possibility. Believe me, it’s much harder to teach this once the baby is older and used to their current routine. However, if you can teach this to your baby early on (before the 4th month), then you have a much better chance of avoiding the dreaded “4 month regression” and having a baby sleeping through the night on their own by 4 months (you can check out “The Truth About Age Regressions” blog if you’re not familiar with this time frame).

I know this is possible, because it’s exactly what I did with my exclusively breastfed son. It took me until my 4th child to finally be successful at breastfeeding. I gave up too quickly with my first baby who had latch issues, and I had more latch and prematurity issues with my twins (though I did pump for a few months with them). It would appear that the 4th time was the charm for me! I admit I fed him to sleep for the first 3 months (this was before my sleep and breastfeeding trainings), and everything was great. I would nurse him, he would fall asleep, and I would transfer him to his crib. But then in the 4th month, I saw it happening again.

I could no longer put him down in his crib already asleep, because he would wake up on the transfer and I had to start over nursing or pat his bottom to sleep. I vividly and quickly remembered the struggle of sleep training my twins at almost 7 months, and I really didn’t want to repeat that. I decided then and there that I would make a few changes and no longer feed him until he was fully asleep. Thankfully, I caught him in enough time, because he didn’t fight me much and did great very quickly. Our breastfeeding journey continued for many months after that, with him also sleeping through the night. A win-win for both of us!

TRANSFER THE CALORIES

I now have the awesome job of helping other moms achieve this same success. Many new moms are worried that they could lose their milk supply or dry up altogether. It’s certainly a very real and valid concern! If you simply cut night feeds without doing anything else differently, then yes, your supply is going to take a dip. The trick is that you want to make sure that you’re not just cutting those nighttime calories, but that you’re transferring those calories to the daytime. 

Your body is going to produce milk based on supply and demand. If you cut the demand out overnight, then there will be less supply overall. However, if you cut it out overnight, but add in another session or two during the day, then you’ve just moved them and your body will continue producing as usual. After about a week, your body will adjust from being so full at night, so don’t panic if you notice an unwanted fullness overnight. Know that your supply is still there, but it’s just there during the day! And if you’re concerned about it, you can always pump before you go to bed for a little extra.

Another bonus of not feeding your baby to sleep is that you’ll be keeping baby awake during the feed. If baby’s awake, then they will eat more. Oftentimes, babies will “snack and snooze” all day and night, meaning they will nurse a little, then sleep a little, then nurse a little more, and so on. When you allow this, you can be feeding many times a day and still be concerned that your little one isn’t eating enough. You’ll notice this type of “snacking and snoozing” if you’re feeding before naps or around sleep times; however, if you feed baby after a nap, they will stay awake and be ready to eat a full meal. They will also be upright for a while, which is much better for their digestion, and of course they’ll be falling asleep without this prop too!

SUMMARY OF BREASTFEEDING AND GETTING GOOD SLEEP

So yes, you can breastfeed your baby until whatever age you’re comfortable with and still have a child who sleeps independently through the night too! The vast majority of my clients are moms who are breastfeeding and wish to continue on that journey, while also being able to get better sleep for their entire family. I’m happy to report that they are all still happily nursing their children once we’ve finished working together! This is true of mothers of newborns or younger babies under a year old.

For families with older breastfeeding children (ie over 1 year old), many moms are frustrated with the lack of sleep and are wanting to give up breastfeeding altogether when we first start. I always encourage these moms to hold off on making that decision until after we’ve night weaned and mom can think more clearly about her choice. In the majority of these cases, the moms decide to continue their breastfeeding journey after all. The lack of sleep they experienced is what drove them to want to be done, but once they began sleeping well again, they would see that they really did enjoy that bonding time with their toddlers and most would end up continuing with daytime nursing only. So be sure you’re making this big decision once you’re feeling better and are well-rested!

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Feel free to check out another blog of mine called “Breastfeeding Do’s and Don’ts” for more breastfeeding information, or you can check out my free “5 Steps to Getting Your Child Sleeping Through the Night” download! As a certified sleep consultant and lactation counselor, I can help your entire family sleep well while maintaining your milk supply! If you’re interested in getting some help with teaching your child how to sleep independently, I offer both private consultations and online courses. I also offer free 15min phone calls for those considering getting one-on-one help but have some questions.

*If you have any concerns about your milk supply or whether or not your child is getting enough breast milk, please contact your local lactation consultant/counselor or your child’s pediatrician. You should also check with the pediatrician before starting any sleep training program, especially if there is a age, weight, or medical concern.

 

Breastfeeding Do’s and Don’ts

Updated 8/2/19

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7), I am dedicating this month’s blog issue to all-things-breastfeeding! First of all, I want to congratulate you on your decision to give your child breast milk!

We all know that breast milk is best, but the act of breastfeeding can sometimes be overwhelming and a little difficult. There is so much to learn and understand about lactation that I could spend many, many hours talking about it all! Since I know you don’t have that much time, I decided to put together 20 do’s and don’ts instead!

DO:

  • DO practice skin-to-skin with your baby, as it promotes correct suckling, less crying, warmth, less separation, and of course breastfeeding!
  • DO breastfeed or express your milk 8-12 times in a 24hr period during the newborn period.
  • DO learn how to hand express your milk. It’s useful to understand how to do it, and often you can hand express an additional amount of milk after pumping, thus helping your supply increase.
  • DO check with your health care provider or lactation counselor before taking any medications (prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal). You can also check online at sites like LactMed or Infant Risk.
  • DO keep alcohol consumption to a moderate amount while breastfeeding. According to the Institute of Medicine, a 132lb woman could have approximately 2-2.5oz oz of liquor, 8oz of table wine, or 2 cans of beer a day. If you do drink alcohol, don’t bother “pumping and dumping”, as alcohol is water soluable and can move in and out of your milk supply. By the time you are no longer feeling the effects of the alcohol, and it’s cleared out of your body, it will also be cleared out of your milk.
  • DO try to quit smoking if you are currently doing so. While it’s not forbidden for breastfeeding, it’s best for your health to quit! If you do smoke, the most important thing to remember is that your baby needs to be protected from second-hand smoke. Never allow someone to smoke around your baby. And in pregnancy, don’t allow yourself to be around it if at all possible. It’s never too late to quit, so talk to your doctor about ways to do so!
  • DO talk to a lactation counselor if you feel like you’re not making enough milk or that your baby is not drinking enough so a proper assessment can be made, including a before-and-after-feed weight check.
  • DO use a back up birth control method while breastfeeding. In the first 6 months you might be able to use the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM), but it is no longer effective after that age. This means that you could get pregnant again while nursing!
  • DO continue to breastfeed your child exclusively for the first 6 months, adding in complementary solids around 6 months. Then, if you’re both up to it continue to nurse for 1 year (or 2, 3, or more years)! And be sure that you’re eating a balanced diet so that baby is getting the most nutritious milk possible!
 
DON’T:
  • DON’T introduce a pacifier until baby is at least one month old and breastfeeding has been well established.
  • DON’T put a limit on your baby’s feeding time. Let baby nurse until he/she is finished. That being said, longer feeding times (more than 30mins) are associated with lower levels of milk transfer, so if feeds are continually taking that long you should talk to a lactation counselor or pediatrician.
  • DON’T worry about the size of your breasts being an indication of whether or not you will produce enough milk for your child/children. The proportion of glandular and fat tissue are not related to milk production.
  • DON’T offer complementary solids until baby is at least 6 months old. Breast milk should be the primary source of nutrition for your child until one year old. And contrary to what many think, it will not make your baby sleep any longer! 
  • DON’T drink excess water while pumping or breastfeeding, as it’s no longer recommended. More water does not equal more milk! You need to only drink to quench your thirst, though be sure to drink enough. If you drink an 8oz cup every time you nurse or pump, you should be good. 
  • DON’T avoid your favorite foods for fear they’re too gassy or spicy. For the majority of babies this is not needed. There are no foods that nursing mothers should always avoid. If, however, your baby seems to be having a reaction to something in your diet, remove it temporarily from your diet and talk to your doctor, as there might be an allergy to something you’re eating/drinking (ex: cow’s milk). Or if there is a family history of allergies (such as peanuts), you should avoid that food both during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
  • DON’T suffer with nipple pain! Breastfeeding should not hurt, so if it does seek help from a professional such as myself to get to the root of your pain.
  • DON’T pump or hand express your milk if engorgement is your issue. Doing so will just cause your body to make more milk. Instead, take a warm shower/bath or use a dishpan of warm water to soak your breasts in. This will allow the milk to flow out, giving you relief without telling your body to replace the milk.
  • DON’T be discouraged about your ability to breastfeed if you’re pregnant with multiples. Many mothers have successfully nursed their twins, triplets, quads or more! Your body is able to make the amount of milk needed for all of your babies. There are things you can do though to ensure you produce as much as possible, so talk to a lactation counselor to find out more.
  • DON’T wait to contact your health care practitioner if you have redness, lumps, red streaks, or flu-like symptoms. Contact a lactation counselor for blocked ducts, engorgement, cracked nipples, nipple pain, latching problems, milk supply issues, or general non-emergency questions.

Breastfeeding may be a natural occurrence, but it’s not always an easy one! Many moms will struggle with breastfeeding at least one of their children (for me it was 3 out of 4). But even though it’s hard work, it’s worth the effort! Education is key, along with getting professional help when you need it!

Besides breastfeeding consultations, I also offer a great prenatal breastfeeding package that can be a stand-alone package, or it can be coupled with a prenatal sleep plan for the ultimate in prenatal classes! For more information about the breastfeeding services I offer, please CLICK HERE!

I will be releasing a Breastfeeding Basics course at the end of this month (along with Prenatal Nutrition and Newborn Sleep), so please keep an eye out for that! All courses can be found by CLICKING HERE. If you’re unsure about how I can help you, or just want more information, I offer a free 15min phone chat so we can learn more about each other. CLICK HERE if you’d like to set up a time!