I still remember the first time my oldest slept through the night. It was actually a total fluke (she was 8ish weeks old) and she didn’t do it again until she was 10 months old and we sleep trained. BUT I vividly remember waking up that morning and my boobs HURT. They were so full and I just wanted my baby to nurse nurse nurse, but there was definitely more milk than she could take.
I knew I needed to pump for comfort, but wasn’t sure if I should do a partial or full pump, and had not clue what to do if this happened again. I am a super deep sleeper, so I didn’t wake until she woke up 12 hours later, and wanted to be prepared if/when this became the norm!
I remember texting a friend, asking, “What did you do when he started sleeping through the night? How do you avoid being engorged while also not having to forever pump in the middle of the night and enjoy full nights of sleep, too?”
And she told me about how wonderful hand pumps can be, so you don’t have to pull out the chords in the middle of the night. But then I actually didn’t have to use that advice, because Olivia didn’t sleep through the night again until she was 10 months old, and by that time my milk supply was very regulated, and if anything, I had an oversupply.
I was able to sleep through the night once she was, and I was able to continue nursing until she was 17 months old!
I say all of this because there’s a common misconception that breastfeeding and sleep don’t go together. People think that if you breastfeed, you just won’t sleep through the night until you wean, or until your baby is really eating solids. Or they assume that it’s easier for formula fed babies to sleep through the night.
Many people also believe that you can’t sleep train if you have long-term nursing goals. But like I said, I nursed my oldest until she was 17 months old, and she started sleeping through the night at 10 months when we sleep trained.
And I didn’t have to officially sleep train my second, as I had become a sleep consultant a few months before she was born and had an understanding of how to start establishing helpful routines early on. And she started consistently sleeping through the night around 4-5 months old, and I proceeded to nurse her until she was 18 months old and I was ready to wean.
I want you to know that sleeping through the night is NOT about how your baby is fed, but it’s a combo of being physically ready, getting great full feeds during the day, and having the independent sleep skills to connect sleep cycles throughout the night.
And that’s what I do! I work with families, personalizing a sleep plan that guides them in how to teach their baby or child to fall asleep independently at the onset of bedtime and nap time, so that when it’s appropriate, they’re able to connect their sleep cycles and sleep all night.
So here are my top three tips to sleep train and continue to breastfeed:
Do your best to keep your baby awake while nursing! You can tickle their toes, blow on their face, feed them in just a diaper, etc.
Keep space between nursing your baby and putting them to sleep, and keep space between your baby waking up and feeding them right away (both of these are especially tough the first 6 weeks of your newborn’s life because they just sleep so much, and that’s totally normal!).
Rather than focusing on a feeding schedule (i.e. every three hours), focus on an appropriate sleep schedule (awake windows!). Then make sure you are feeding your babe in each awake window (sometimes multiple times!).
All of that being said, I may be a nursing mama and I help other breastfeeding mamas all the time, but I am not a lactation expert and want other nursing moms to feel confident in making the right sleeping AND breastfeeding decisions they can for their family. So I’m excited to bring in some expert advice from an awesome IBCLC sharing some great tips with you!
Hi Friends! My name is Bri the IBCLC and I’m here to share my top 3 tips on the relationship between breastfeeding and sleep.
Now, I get it. Sleep is a high priority but does that mean you have to give up on your lactation goals? I say: NO WAY! Let me share with you how to maintain a healthy milk supply once your baby is developmentally ready to start sleeping through the night.
(Keep in mind this article is specific to baby’s who are eating and growing well. Please consult with your own healthcare provider if you aren’t sure that your baby is ready to sleep long stretches at night.)
Tip #1: Take care of your breasts
That first night your baby sleeps a bit longer than expected, you’re likely to wake up feeling very full and very engorged. You have a few choices.
One, grab your baby and latch her on for a bit of a “dream feed”. Two, grab your manual or electric breast pump and let it do the work of draining your breasts (it doesn’t need to be a full emptying! Just enough pumping to “let some of the pressure off”). Three, you also have the option to hand express to get the milk moving again (no washing of pump parts needed!).
Why are these your best options?
Well, engorgement doesn’t feel great, but more importantly, milk that is “stuck” leads to clogged ducts which can lead to mastitis. Imagine a traffic jam in your breasts that needs some help to get moving again. Don’t ignore the traffic jam.
Tip #2: Prolactin levels are highest in the middle of the night
Here’s how your body works: milk production is highest in the middle of the night. That’s because prolactin levels soar during those hours. What does this mean for you?
If you’re a person who really struggles with a low milk supply, then you might not want your breasts to “sleep” during those peak hours. For others, with perhaps a more average milk supply, they find that their baby naturally transitions to more or longer daytime feeds to make up for those lost night time feeds.
You might be wondering if it’s better to just pump right before bed? You can, or you can breastfeed your baby right before bed. This will look different from family to family, so always consult with an IBCLC for specific advice. (I offer Personalized Pumping Plans!)
Tip #3: It’s all about baby steps
Any changes you make with your baby or your breasts should be slow and steady; try to avoid drastic changes in how often your breasts are being emptied.
If going all night is too much, then start with setting alarms to pump every 3 hours and then slowly decrease the minutes of pumping until you no longer need to pump. If you tend to have more of an oversupply and still continue to wake up with very full breasts, consult with an IBCLC.
Don’t wait until problems pop up, it’s always better to be proactive in your care! (I also offer telehealth consults that may be covered by insurance.)
Do what works for you and your baby. Every family is so unique in their own personal needs and goals.
Getting rest is an important part of maintaining a healthy milk supply. If setting an alarm to pump in the middle of the night is something you’ll dread, it might not be the right fit for you so go ahead and enjoy the extra sleep.
If you happen to wake in the middle of the night feeling engorged, then go ahead and drain your breasts a bit.
Also, be flexible! Your baby will go through developmental milestones and may unexpectedly start night waking again – follow your mommy-intuition to know what to do. You got this!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’m Bri and I love teaching and empowering families about all things boobs, babies, and breastfeeding. I’m a Registered Nurse, IBCLC Lactation Consultant, childbirth educator, and Certified Instructor of Infant Massage. I have 3 kiddos of my own so I know firsthand how rocky the road into parenthood can be. I like to make that transition as smooth as possible for the families like you. You can find me on Insta for quick tips and tricks @breezy__babies, at www.breezybabies.com, or on my Breezy Babies Podcast.