Baby Sleep and Breastfeeding Series: Part 2

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Baby Sleep and BreastfeedingWelcome to part 2 of my Baby Sleep and Breastfeeding Series! If you are just joining us, you might want to start at part 1, where I discuss reasons why breastfeeding moms sometimes struggle with sleep. Today, I’ll go over the number of times you should expect to breastfeed at night at different ages, how teething might affect breastfeeding moms, and discuss weaning.

Night Feedings

One of the more important things I would like to stress in this series is that when some websites or even some doctors talk about when a baby can sleep through the night without a feeding, you can’t really put breastfeeding babies into the same camp as formula-fed babies. This only has to do with one thing and that’s the fact that breast milk digests faster than formula.

As I’ve said several times, there are adults who can’t go 12 hours without eating, so I certainly don’t expect all babies to be able to go all night without a feeding all at the same age or weight. I try to be realistic and what makes the most sense to me is that all babies react differently to being hungry and it’s a developmental milestone for your inner clock to sleep all night without feedings. If you ask a variety of different pediatricians when a baby can go all night without a feeding, the answer will vary a lot. That tells me that there are no hard and fast rules that you can apply to all babies.

Formula-fed babies are more likely to start sleeping all night without a feeding, but there are breast-fed babies who do it early, too, just like there are formula-fed babies who won’t. Some of us are just lucky or unlucky, depending on how you look at it (some working moms enjoy the night snuggles, for example).

Breastfeeding moms can expect the following night-feedings, on average:

• Newborns will breastfeed every 2-3 hours in the early days and this is also when your milk supply is established. Newborns sleep more than anything in the beginning, but that changes quickly.

• When your baby is 3-4 months old, she will probably still be breastfeeding at night 2-3 times per night and sleeping 10-12 hours, but remember that sleep does change around 4 months old.

• When your baby is 5-7 months old, he will begin to move to 2 feedings per night fairly regularly and still sleeping 11-12 hours, typically.

• An 8-9 month old will usually transition to just one feeding per night and sleep 11-12 hours at night.

• At 10-12 months, many babies will be able to go all night without a feeding, but some will still need one through a year or beyond.

I was one of the (un)fortunate ones that had to feed at night for a full year. It was hard getting up even once a night for that long, but thankfully (and sadly at the same time), it goes very fast and it’s a relatively short time in our lives.

Teething

Teething babies often want to breastfeed more often because it feels good on their gums. Often, this can be difficult because if your baby is older and eating solids, they commonly will stop eating solids almost all together. It can be frustrating (but she just ate this yesterday! what happened?) and they will offset the lack of solids with more breastfeeding. This can mean more night-feedings and more breastfeeding during the day. So, breastfeeding moms have to be prepared for more breastfeeding during growth spurts as well as the height of teething episodes. It’s good to come up with a strategy on how to handle teething sleep problems.

Weaning

When to night-wean and when to wean all together is a highly personal choice and I have no strong recommendations one way or another. I do know it’s recommended to breastfeed for at least the first year of life, but any amount of breast milk is beneficial for your baby, so we all must do what feels right for our families. While breastfeeding can be a very bonding experience for most of us, for some it’s not, or even if it is, some moms feel a certain level of “tied down” needing to be home at a certain time or making sure you have somewhere to pump, if you’re not. Although I pumped a lot, being a working mom, I tried with all my might not to pump more than I had to. :D

Some breastfeeding moms find that letting Dad or another caretaker give a bottle during the night can help her get more sleep. Imagine if the breastfeeding mom goes to sleep at 10, baby wakes at 2 a.m. and Dad gives a bottle, and the baby doesn’t wake again until 5 a.m. That’s 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep for Mom! A good strategy. Keep in mind in the early days, this can affect your milk supply and if you were to do this every night, it will affect your supply at that time of the night, which may or may not be okay with you. Doing it one night, the most that might happen is you get engorged (which can lead to other complications if done too often) but after weeks of sleep deprivation, a good night’s sleep might be just what the doctor ordered and could be worth it!

Another strategy is to have Dad (or other caretaker) get up, change your baby’s diaper, and takes the baby to Mom. If Mom has mastered the side-lying breastfeeeding position, this can give Mom a much-needed break and disrupts her sleep the least.

In the next part in the series, explore how Mom’s diet and medication may impact your baby’s sleep: Baby Sleep and Breastfeeding Series: Part 3.

Share your tips about breastfeeding, teething, night-feedings and weaning!

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON BREASTFEEDING AND BABY SLEEP:

Breastfeeding and Baby Sleep Training: Can They Really Go Together?

Breast Milk Storage Capacity: What It Is and How To Measure It

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Comments

  1. Katie says

    Just came back to say thanks for all the info on your website! I nursed and did not co-sleep. My daughter followed the usual pattern you list here until about 11 months when we moved half-way across the country. After waking once most nights, occasionally twice, she fell back into a pattern of waking 3 or even 4 times a night!!! And only nursing would soothe her. My husband tried, but she would just cry & cry & cry until he’d give up after an hour or more and I would nurse her. At first I was fine with this pattern, after all we’d hada big move, she was in a new daycare, everything was different. But finally after 6-7 months of this I was exhausted and at my wits end. We’d tried CIO half-heartedly, I just couldn’t do it. We tried Pantley’s method, that didn’t work for us either. Bedtime was never a problem, I had nursed as part of the bedtime routine all along, but never nursed her to sleep after about 6 months. Then I came across your website and bought your e-book. It laid everything out so clearly even my sleep-deprived brain could follow. So we decided to try our own version of CIO and night-wean all at once, since at 19 months she really shouldn’t need to nurse at night anymore… Well, my husband got the stomach flu, so couldn’t help, but now I think that was maybe better. I spent one very long, tearful night lying in my daughter’s bed, holding her while she cried on & off and asked to nurse and slept in half hour segments. It was tough and I didn’t get much done at work the next day. But the 2nd night, she slept through the night without waking for 12 straight hours for the first time ever! And aside from 2 bouts of hand, foot & mouth, she’s slept through the night ever since! For us, nursing became comfort and mommy time at night since I work so much, so night-time wake-ups were clearly tied to nursing. CIO where we left the room didn’t work, but as long as I held her while she cried so she learned that I was still there for her, even if I didn’t let her nurse, worked like a charm. She’s 25 months and fully weaned now and sleeps like a champ! So thanks for all your inspiration and acceptance of all our different parenting styles.

  2. says

    @Katie Thank you so much for posting your story! I’m so glad my book helped you find the solution that worked for you and your family!! :) Continued luck to you!

  3. Cory Kyer says

    I have co-slept and breast fed my daughter for 7 months now. She is now 8 months old and we have just recently gotten her to fall asleep in her crib by herself, I usually have to stay in the room for 10-15 mins until she is asleep but it’s been about 3 weeks now and she almost falls asleep instantly. We have her on a strict diet because of bowel problems where she is eating 2 servings of meat and veggies, 4 servings of fruit, and 1 serving of cereal a day, plus I nurse 3-4 times as well. I usually nurse around 6:30am, 4:30pm, 8pm and a middle of the night feeding at around 3am. The doctor wants me to stop that middle of the night nursing but I’m having a hard time doing so. He says that with all the other feedings she shouldn’t need any in the middle of the night and it is not good for her digestion. She stays in her crib until she wakes up at 3am, then I end up taking her to bed with me to nurse and she stays there till morning. I’m unsure if she’s waking up to come to bed with me or if she is actually hungry. I’m not sure how to tell. I’ve tried to get her to fall back to sleep without a feeding but she just cries. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  4. Anna says

    I have a 14 mo old boy. We co-slept for 5 months and he became so attached to me in that time that all ills and problems and teething is solved by nursing, not a bad coping strategy for him, but there are days I’m just exhausted. We are down to 2 feeds, one to go to bed and another one around 5am after which he might go down for up to 2 hrs again – he sleeps through most of the nights. About a month ago I found I was pregnant again and was really happy, but last week I lost it. I’ve read all sorts of books and blogs and it seemed that nursing was fine during pregnancy, so I kept the 2 feeds up. Unfortunatelly for whatever reason that wasn’t true for us. My boy is now cutting his mollar teeth and started to demand more nursing and I’m not keen to give it to him. I’m hopping I could wean him so we can try for number 2 soon again. At the moment when he sees me he knows that if he keeps crying eventually I’ll nurse him – any advice? My husban’s trying his best but he’s not able to wake up during the night to comfort our little boy.

  5. says

    @Anna I’m so sorry for your loss! :( Although it’s hard to ignore the connection, it’s possible you would have lost the baby regardless of breastfeeding your 14-month old as miscarriages are very common. I know that is not much consolation. I lost a baby between my two boys and it was really hard, so I know there is no taking away that pain. Teething, particularly molars, can definitely increase nursing frequency. I always used Kelly Mom for all of my breastfeeding questions. You might check the topic on weaning and see if you see any ideas: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/weaning/weaning_techniques.html I did “Don’t Offer, Don’t Refuse” with both my boys, but my eldest did show signs of stress, so I had to slow down (though I was only dropping one feed every 5 days or so). You might wait until his molars are through and then try weaning again. Hang in there and good luck!

  6. English blaze says

    i breast fed my older son till he turned 2, conveniently got pregnant right after weaning him off, and now have a 9 month old who is also breast fed. i feel like all the co sleeping, night feeds and exclusive breast feeding is taking a toll on my body!

    my older one woke twice at night till i weaned him off the breast, and younger one is also following the same pattern. :(

    i totally feel like a human pacifier!!