Baby Sleep and Breastfeeding Series: Part 1

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.

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25 thoughts on “Baby Sleep and Breastfeeding Series: Part 1”

  1. i also have a problem my baby is 5 months and wakes up 4-5 times a night to breastfeed and changing of napkins, please help

  2. my girl was b/f to sleep day and night.
    she surprised me by not going to sleep on the boob at night after 2 months. and was self settling to sleep for her night sleep.
    she did sleep through for a month too.
    she then started to self settle for some day naps…. and still for night sleep…. but then stopped sleeping through the night.
    it’s a challenge the next day, Im a bit tired, if she’s waken 3 times overnight. I dont mind if she woke just once.
    she has started solids but that doesnt seem to have helped her sleep through either.
    and her day nap habit keeps changing. sometimes she’ll have short naps, sometimes long day sleeps.
    the biggest challenge is that her sleep habits just keep changing.

  3. My little guy is 8 1/2 months old (and sleeping in his own crib in his own room) but given that he was born at 31 wks is 6 1/2 months gestationally. 95% of the time he wakes up twice a night to nurse – usually around 12am and 4am. But lately he’s been sleeping past that 12am time to a 1:30 or 2:00am feed. That’s all well and good, but my challenge is knowing what to do when he then still wakes up for a 4am feeding. Sometimes he doesn’t nurse very enthusiastically at 4am, but other times he goes at it as if he hasn’t eaten for 4 hours.

    Any quick tips on what I can do when he wakes up a second time so close to a previous feeding? Is it just habit or is he really hungry? Let him cry? Soothe him without breastfeeding?


    • @Jennifer The later part of the night is lighter sleep (for everyone not just babies), so he is likely asking to breastfeed just to go back to sleep. If you can soothe without breastfeeding and then slowly do less of the “work”, he can learn to go back to sleep without breastfeeding. It will be a rough few nights, but worth it in the long run! Good luck!

  4. Hi all, great blog, maybe you can help -my babba is 10 months old, breatfeeding and co-sleeping. She started solids at 6 motnhs and will eat many things, in small quantities, but loves to nurse. She wakes every few hours to nurse and while we co-sleep that is ok, but I would like to get her into her own cot and eventually own room in the next few months. When you talk about “fussing” back to sleep, what do you mean? My babba stands up in the cot as soon as she wakes and finds I’m not there, and screams the house down. How can I get her “unaddicted” to her human pacifier, without it breaking my heart?? I have tried routines, extra feeds, she won’t take a plastic pacifier, but can sleep NO bother during the day in her cot, pushchair etc. Please help!!

  5. Thanks April. I appreciate what you are saying but i do leave my son to fuss and go back to sleep, but at those times when it is habit to wake, he usually won’t go back to sleep and to be able to function in my full time work away from him during the day, I guess I have put off finding a way to break this habbit. My son doesn’t breast feed during the day, he has his meals and water or juice. I feed him myself last thing at night and first thing in the morning which I was told to do until he is 2. The extra feeds in the night I do realize are a problem that break his required sleep, but what to do??????

    • @Nicola At 15 months and co-sleeping, it is no doubt a habit or out of comfort to nurse. Who wouldn’t feel comforted by that? Given you’ve been co-sleeping so long, I’d definitely recommend a slower method. With toddlers it’s mostly about re-setting expectations. He wakes and asks to nurse because that’s what he expects. I know it’s hard being a working mom, but working on delaying the nursing every night might be enough to stop them from happening. Maybe start on the weekend when you don’t have to get up the next day. It might be a long week, but I promise the long-term benefit would be worth it (that is if you mind waking to nurse at night). Good luck!

  6. The bottom line with all this is that many babies over 6 months are capable of sleeping through the night without a feeding (breast or other); definitely by 10 months, (unless premie), and over a year – it is absolutely just a habit of comfort, not for nutritional value. It is actually depriving your children of resting well. I am not a fan of cry-it-out but one night at 7 months he slept through and I realized that he didn’t need it so I let him fuss himself back to sleep the next night – that was it. Some people believe that instead of feeding so often during the day, spread out the feedings a little more and their bodies will be more accustomed to going longer (for example instead of nursing every 3 hours once they start of rice cereal around 6 months, go every 4 hours. Our son did use a paci but I didn’t go in to put it in more than once).

  7. Dawn I have a similar situation with my son only as well he is sleeping in a king size bed with me across the foot of it! Putting him in a cot really didn’t work and I became too tired to function and so I stuck with the co sleeping. At 15 months tho he still wakes at least twice a night for his “drink drink”……

    • @Nicola I hope you read the article, too. 🙂 There are a lot of things to try between disjointed sleep and cry-it-out, so it is possible to come up with something that does work with your son. Good luck!

  8. I’m struggling because my baby (now 14 months old) is still waking up 3 – 4 times per night for (breast)feedings. I would love some suggestions on night-weaning, or regular weaning, or anything that would get me a solid nights sleep!
    .-= Dawn´s last blog ..Turning one, my baby girl… =-.

  9. My son is waking to nurse two or three times a night. Every now and then he only wakes once. He is almost six months and I can’t get him to sleep through the night and only wakeonce per night to feed consistently. Also my baby has never slept 12 hours even if he woke up four times to nurse.

  10. My biggest challenge with Breastfeeding and Sleep was the sleep association I created by nursing my daughter to sleep every night. Once we were able to get her to go to sleep on her own, she started sleeping through the night. We are still successfully breastfeeding and she continues to sleep through the night pretty much every night! I’m so glad we chose to teach her how to soothe herself to sleep rather than weaning.

    • @Tasha Thank you for commenting because it always saddens me when moms think weaning is the answer to their sleep struggles. Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, but when you do want it to work, but are having sleep struggles, I want to tell all the moms that I get just as many bottle feeding moms, too.

      @LeShelle Sleeping all night is a developmental milestone. Waking 1-2 times up through 9 months is normal. Without knowing all the details, fussing/crying between sleep cycles is normal and often they just go right back to sleep if you don’t go in too quickly. If he doesn’t know how to fall asleep on his own or you are replacing a pacifier, that could also be part of the problem. Good luck!

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