Welcome 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.
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 various 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:
- Your newborn 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.
- At 5-7 months old, your baby will begin to move to 2 feedings per night fairly regularly and still sleep 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 who had to feed my babies 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 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.
When to night-wean and when to wean all together is a highly personal choice. 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. 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 possible. 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 constantly pump. Although I pumped a lot, being a working mom, I tried with all my might not to pump more than I had to. 😀
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. (This can lead to other complications if done too often.) But after weeks of sleep deprivation, one good night’s sleep might be just what the doctor ordered and could be worth it!
Another strategy is to have Dad (or another caretaker) get up, change your baby’s diaper, and take the baby to Mom. If Mom has mastered the side-lying breastfeeding position, this can give Mom a much-needed break. Plus, it will disrupt mom’s sleep the least.
In the next part of the series, explore how Mom’s diet and medication may impact your baby’s sleep: Baby Sleep and Breastfeeding Series: Part 3.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON BREASTFEEDING AND BABY SLEEP: