Breastfeeding moms are very loving and caring moms! And, so are formula feeding moms! Although I breastfed both my boys for their first year, I am also a firm believer in respecting a parent’s choice for how they choose to feed their baby, so I welcome all to my Baby Sleep and Breastfeeding Series! This series is going to discuss baby sleep and how it relates to breastfeeding, and not discuss anything to do with whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding or formula feeding is better, worse or indifferent. I try to keep this a judgment-free place and the way you feed your baby is a very personal choice and sometimes not a choice at all, for some. The goal of this series will tackle things like how breastfeeding relates to sleep, whether you need to co-sleep to succeed, how often you can expect to feed your baby at night, how your diet may affect sleep, and what methods of sleep training are open to you. So, let’s get started!
Does breastfeeding cause sleep problems? Should you wean?
I gave away this answer in my first paragraph that you CAN have a baby who sleeps and breastfeed, successfully. I did it for 12-13 months with both boys and successfully improved their sleep in the process. I did give them one night-feeding with both boys until they were one year, but many breastfeeding moms can night-wean before that. My boys were just slow to be able to go 12 hours without a feeding, even though I did try…at least with the first. I sort of just accepted it with the second having already gone through it once before.
My story might not be enough to convince you, though, so I will also tell you that I get a lot parents who have to give a bottle numerous times a night or replace a pacifier upwards of 10 times a night, too. I do NOT just get breastfeeding moms to this site and although my mother-in-law may have THOUGHT my son’s sleep problems were due to my breastfeeding (she thought he was just hungry every night), it wasn’t. He proved her wrong eventually when he was eating solids and we still had problems.
Having said all of this, whether you wean or not is a very personal decision, but it does make me sad when moms wean simply because they hope it will improve their baby’s sleep. It simply doesn’t always work that way.
The human pacifier or use a pacifier?
If you are breastfeeding more than 2-3 times per night at 3 months or more than twice after 4-5 months, then you have become a human pacifier. Some people believe this is 100% what we should do as moms and are fine with it. I became a pacifier, too, and for awhile it was fine. Later on, it wasn’t…for me. These are all personal choices.
When your baby is first born, you should hold off using a real pacifier until your milk supply is fully established because your baby suckling stimulates milk production, so typically waiting 4-8 weeks is preferable. Just keep in mind what I said that using a pacifier does not guarantee your sleep won’t be interrupted because many people become “paci police” replacing it numerous times a night. Depending on the age of the baby, you can try to throw several into the crib and your baby might learn to replace it, but many babies even when they can replace it, don’t.
Neither of my boys had a pacifier (besides me when they were very young). My first simply would not take one even though several people tried very hard to give one to him and to this day inanimate items aren’t a good enough replacement for human contact. He did take to a lovey very well and still sleeps with it to this day. He never sucked his thumb, either. Because I enjoyed the fact I didn’t have to break a pacifier or thumb-sucking habit with my first, I purposely skipped the pacifier with my second and introduced the same lovey. He never sucked his thumb, either. Both played with finger sucking for a very short time, but it never took, thankfully. Maybe I just got lucky. I’d make sure I breastfed often during the day and give lots of affection. I can imagine we had more fussy moments in the car or out in public without a pacifier, but we made it through.
Pacifiers can make good solutions and they are especially good for babies with strong sucking needs. As long as the pacifier has not become a problem more than a solution, it is not a problem to use them.
Do you have to co-sleep to succeed in breastfeeding and get some sleep?
If you’ve been reading this site for awhile, you know that co-sleeping did not work for me, so my short answer is no you don’t have to co-sleep to succeed in breastfeeding and get some sleep. In the early days, it can be easier, though. Again, this is a personal choice. I have helped many breastfeeding families successfully help their baby learn to sleep and continue breastfeeding, so I urge any family to try, if that’s what you want for your family. It might not be easy, but with determination, we can solve your sleep problems without weaning.
In the next part of this series, explore night feedings, teething, and weaning: Baby Sleep and Breastfeeding Series: Part 2.
What have been your challenges as a breastfeeding family?
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON BREASTFEEDING AND BABY SLEEP: