Welcome to Part 4, the final part, 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 options for breastfeeding moms when it comes to “sleep training / coaching.” Or as I actually prefer to say, “helping your baby learn to fall asleep unassisted.”
How breastfeeding is different than formula-feeding
There are a few things that breastfeeding families should keep in mind when helping their babies learn to sleep unassisted. In general, I do NOT change my recommendations THAT much from formula-feeding families and here’s why:
- Babies become dependent on bottles and pacifiers just as much as breastfeeding mom. DO NOT wean to try to fix sleep problems. They might not go away.
- Breastfeeding moms need sleep too.
A few things you need to keep in mind about breastfeeding are:
- Breastfeeding is about more than just food. If you are reducing the “touch time” at night because you are currently nursing very frequently at night and wish to change that, make sure you compensate during the day with more breastfeeding and skin-to-skin / touch time. Babies thrive most on a lot of touch time. By taking away some of that at night, you want to reassure your baby even more during the day.
- You will likely need to feed your baby more often at night and for longer (age-wise) than formula-feeding moms, because breast milk digests faster than formula. This does depend on the baby, too, though. I have seen parents with breastfeeding babies sleeping all night at 8 weeks and other formula-feeding moms still feeding twice at night at 7 months.
- For most, the rewarding feeling and bond are worth the (sometimes) extra effort. Breastfeeding is not for everyone, but many moms (including me) feel the extra feedings or nursing sessions are worth it.
Options for Breastfeeding Families
To be quite blunt, I don’t know why a line is drawn between breastfeeding and formula-feeding moms when it comes to sleep coaching options. The same options I give to formula-feeding moms I give breastfeeding moms. I *was* a breastfeeding mom and I’ve been there. The guilt you get from reading some of the articles out there is over-whelming. Just because you are breastfeeding does not mean you have to endure endless sleep deprivation and be a human pacifier once it’s longer than is comfortable.
Co-sleeping is a common solution for breastfeeding mothers due to the convenience and for a while it was a MUST in our house. I was indeed a pacifier and that was not a problem…for a while. My son simply would NOT take anything else, but looking back, even if he had, I would have just been up 10 times replacing a (real) pacifier, anyway. I get many parents with that problem to this site, too.
No cry sleep coaching methods are the first place to start when you are attempting to help your baby learn to sleep. It is the place I urge all families to start, regardless of how a baby is fed. Until you know how your baby will react to changes, you really don’t know what is going to work in the long run. Once you see progress or lack of progress, you can modify your plan. The first step is MAKING A PLAN.
What about Cry It Out?
There is a prominent website that has an article saying, “Sleep Training is NOT for Breast Feeding Mothers.” My biggest beef with this is the fact that some moms will eventually get this out of that statement:
If you can’t really hack the sleep deprivation, then maybe you shouldn’t breastfeed (anymore).
Countless women will wean simply to try to “fix” sleep problems and honestly, that makes me sad. For some families, sleep deprivation will drive you to the unthinkable and when you have certain segments of society giving you an extreme view that you either have to withstand 2-3 years of sleep deprivation or scar your child for life, it becomes an impossible situation. Please just know there is A LOT in between sleep deprivation and don’t-go-in-until-dawn-hard-core-sleep-training-you-will-sleep-or-else. It is not cut and dry and you CAN find a solution for your family, even when you are practicing attachment parenting, for example.
The first mistake people make is they call any form of helping your baby to learn to self-sooth “sleep training.” I recently had a family whose baby was waking often for a pacifier and I recommended not to use the pacifier anymore and you know what? The mom told me that she thinks her and her husband were more dependent on it than the baby. Their baby started sleeping just fine without it in a few days without much fuss! Sometimes you just have to try to make a change. Success like that, of course, highly depends on the baby’s temperament and how adaptable she is.
Does cry it out cause long-term damage? Based on my experience… It does not. What causes long-term damage is when parents routinely and systematically neglect their child. Relationships are complex and if your baby’s needs are not met day and night, that will surely cause damage. But, when needs turn into wants that affect the entire family’s sleep, it is my opinion that a little crying for a few nights does not cause any lasting harm, breastfeeding or not. I think Kia’s comment on another one of my articles sums it up nicely. We all need to find our own path and to take “studies” on sleep training with a grain of salt. Just be responsible and always remember that you know your own child and situation best.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON BREASTFEEDING AND BABY SLEEP: