Newborns Sleeping Through The Night? What About Breastfeeding?

Newborn Sleep Through The Night

Many parents want to know when it’s safe for their newborn to begin sleeping through the night. And, if you’re breastfeeding? You’re probably wondering about the impact on your breastmilk supply.

Some books will lead you to believe that newborns can be sleeping through the night from a very young age.

In fact, some books are controversial about it such as The Newborn Sleep Book: A Simple, Proven Method For Training Your New Baby To Sleep Through The Night. The two authors allege that by using their method (called “the Jassey Way”), you can start training your newborn baby to give up night feedings and sleep 8 hours or more each night. And, you can start from about a week after birth. They boast an impressive 90% success rate among families who use their techniques.

That means 90% of families had newborn babies who were sleeping 8+ hours at night, and not waking to feed during nighttime hours.

To some people, that might sound awesome; to me, it sounds pretty scary.

Why The Jasseys’ Method Is Not Breastfeeding Friendly (Not Even A Little Bit)

The implications of this sleep training method are pretty unsettling.

Parents are supposed to start weaning their newborns from night feedings as early as three weeks after birth, and “distracting” their hungry newborns as a way to phase out middle-of-the-night feeds. Parents are also supposed to try and stretch all daytime feeds to four hours apart. The Jasseys allege that this “resets” a baby’s hunger receptors.

Aside from the awful mental picture of a parent “distracting” a very hungry newborn baby, I was immediately struck by how anti-breastfeeding this is.

Yes, we all want babies who sleep through the night but not at the expense of breastfeeding and bonding.

As many of us moms know, in order to breastfeed successfully, it is absolutely critical that you breastfeed often. Like every 1-3 hours often! And feeding your baby on demand is crucial in the early days after birth.

So, how do those well-established breastfeeding best practices line up with the Jasseys’ method?

Jassey Instructions for Breastfeeding Moms

Here’s what I found, after reading the book: the Jasseys do instruct moms to nurse often in the first few weeks (3-4) after birth, in order to get their milk supply well-established. They go on to explain that after the first few weeks, you can begin spreading out and then dropping night feedings and stretching daytime feedings to 4-hour intervals.

Sounds great, right? Except that it certainly won’t work this way for every family.

According to Miriam (who is one of our former sleep consultants and, remember, also a registered nurse and an IBCLC- certified lactation consultant):

“Going 4 hours between feedings all day long, and then working towards reduced night feedings when baby is just 4 weeks old, will absolutely decrease breast milk supply for the majority of moms and babies, even if breastfeeding is well-established.

How Sleeping Through the Night Can Impact Breastmilk Supply

Here’s some math, to help illustrate the impact on milk supply:

Most breastfed newborns need 20-30 oz of breast milk per day (25-35 oz for 4+ months). If your baby is supposed to eat every 4 hours, day and night, that leaves room for six feedings in a 24-hour period. Except, according to The Jassey Way, you are also striving for 8+ hours at night without feeding.

This means fewer than six feedings.

In order to consume 25 oz in, say, five feedings, that means a newborn would need to eat 5 oz of breast milk at each feeding. Not only that, but mom would need to be able to produce and store this much or more in her breasts between feedings.

But this “perfect” scenario is far from standard.

Breast milk production and storage capacity varies GREATLY from mom to mom.

Plenty of moms produce less than 5 total ounces within the space of a few hours. And, some moms produce more like 1-3 ounces between feedings. Moms who naturally have lower milk storage capacities simplyhave to nurse more frequently. They need to nurse frequently in order to keep supply up and in order to ensure that their babies are getting enough breast milk each day.

Some Babies Have Small Feedings

What’s more, while 4-5 ounces per feeding may be an average number, there are babies who consume more like 2 or 3 ounces per feeding. That’s just because that’s what their appetites (and tummy size) can handle when they are younger.

Babies with reflux, for example, have to eat small, frequent meals. There is simply no way to force a baby who’s a light eater, or who has reflux, to take in more breast milk at each feeding. My own son never took more than 4 oz, even when he was 9+ months old!.

How Breastfeeding Can Fail

Now, putting all of this together – a mom who produces less than 5 ounces, and a baby who consumes less than 5 ounces – and add in the forced 4-hour feeding intervals and early night weaning and what do you get?

Most likely, you get a mom whose milk supply slowly begins to fail. What’s worse, she probably won’t have a sleeping baby to show for it, either!

While newborns can have ONE 4 or 5-hour stretch in a 24-hour period between feedings, that’s about all that most newborns and their moms can handle – ONE.

Multiple long stretches, combined with dropped night feedings, will damage breast milk supply in the first few months after birth, for most moms.

What About Formula-Fed Babies? Will The Jassey Way Work For Babies Who Are Exclusively Formula-Fed?

But what about families who choose to formula feed? It’s possible that many formula-fed babies may do well with the Jasseys’ approach.

Formula-fed babies typically can go longer between feeds, even from a very young age, than can breastfed babies. What’s more, formula-fed babies tend to drop their night feedings faster than breastfed babies.

In my experience, many 6-month old babies who are exclusively formula-fed can go 8 hours or more without feeding. This is simply due to the fact that formula is harder for baby’s tummy to digest, and so it tends to stay in baby’s system longer. This makes baby feel fuller for longer periods of time.

(Side note: This does NOT mean that feeding your baby formula will solve his sleep problems. To solve persistent sleep problems, you need to look at all the reasons a baby may wake, not just hunger.)

But What About the Jasseys’ 90% Success Rate?

So, how do we reconcile the fact that the Jassey Way is not breastfeeding friendly at all with the fact that the doctors boast a 90% success rate?

First, I am convinced that many of the Jasseys’ patients, who tried and stuck to this sleep coaching method, did not exclusively breastfeed (or, at least, they didn’t exclusively breastfeed for long). I doubt that parents who were committed to exclusively breastfeeding last very long with this approach.

Alternatively, I’ve had a lot of clients tell me straight-up that they simply ignored their doctor’s advice when it came to sleep training.

Second, I’m also convinced that this method no doubt DOES work for some babies. It teaches newborns how to sleep through the night from a very early age. However, we should not view that as a victory necessarily.

Babies are Adaptable

It’s true that you can teach a baby to change their natural eating habits and to sleep for long stretches at a very early age. But, just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD, does it?

The truth is, human beings are incredibly adaptable. You can teach them to do all kinds of things, and humans can adapt and survive in a variety of conditions and situations. So it’s certainly true that many newborns can likely adapt to this method of eating and sleeping.

But, in my opinion, surviving is not the same as thriving.

What’s more, our primary goal during the newborn stage should NOT be 8 consecutive hours of night sleep, and long stretches between daytime feeding. It should be to care for our newborns in the best and safest way possible. Teaching a baby to sleep through the night has its place, but that just isn’t a realistic goal for a newborn. (And, if you know me, you know that I am all about small, realistic goals for improving baby sleep!)

The Jasseys’ Approach DOES NOT Represent Sleep Training In General

I want to end with this: consider that the Jassey sleep coaching book in no way represents sleep training, in general. I’ve seen countless negative responses to the Jasseys’ book, but so many of those responses dismiss and criticize sleep training as a whole as if what the Jasseys propose in the book IS sleep training.

This is simply not true.

What’s true is that sleep training is a spectrum – on the one side, you have “stricter” methods, like cry-it-out, Babywise, and what the Jasseys outlined in their book.

On the other hand, you have very gentle methods, like the Pick-Up-Put-Down method, or the Fading method.

And, of course, there’s lots and lots in between.

If you view sleep more like a journey, with the start being on fully dependent on you and the destination being fully independent, that journey can take weeks, months, or years long. YOU set the pace based on your present goals! We work with families who want to continue co-sleeping as well as families who want their child in their own room.

The range is vast and “success” is personal.

What I hope you’ll take away from this article is that while the Jassey approach should, in my opinion, be avoided (ESPECIALLY if you want to continue breastfeeding), sleep training itself is not bad. In fact, it’s a lifesaver for many families (our parent stories prove that!).

But sleep training has to be done carefully and safely, at the right time, with appropriate and healthy goals that are respectful of your baby’s development. And, sleep training should be done using methods that align with your parenting philosophy. After reading the Jasseys’ book, I don’t believe it fits that description. My team’s approach to sleep training, however, does.

Your turn – do you think newborns can and should sleep through the night?

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21 thoughts on “Newborns Sleeping Through The Night? What About Breastfeeding?”

  1. All I can say is: any parent who can’t put their NEWBORNS need first for just a few months before starting to focus on how to adjust their sleep should start thinking about why they had children in the first place.. Sleep is important, absolutely, and we will be better parents if we get a good nights sleep. However, for those early months I think it’s irresponsible to sleep train. And you won’t be a wreck from lack of sleep after just a month anyway. And if you are, ask for help. Don’t expect newborns not to do what’s natural for newborns.

    Our babies and kids will disrupt us for the rest of our lives 😉 they are so vulnerable when they are complete newborns, so as far as I’m concerned those few months I’m my babies’ complete servant until they are a little bit older and their bodies are actually ready for longer food breaks!

  2. Rachel: “Some breastfed babies can sleep through the night very early, because the pair has a large feeding capacity, and this kind of language (run, don’t walk away!) will make a new mother doubt herself and feel guilty about her baby’s great sleep when she should be enjoying it.” Excellent comment!

    I’ve met many moms in my practice who HAD sleeping babies, until their pediatricians told them to wake them every 2 hours, day and night! Some continued this for several months! No more sleeping babies, and exhausted, sleep-deprived parents, thanks to very bad advice from professionals who ought to know better. 🙁

  3. While I agree with most of your concerns about breastfeeding newborns, I think that your response is a bit dramatic and bossy. Anything which said ALWAYS or NEVER do this or your baby will suffer made me feel conflicted and guilty as a new parent, especially because one person will tell you to ALWAYS do the same thing another person says to NEVER do. Every baby and parent is different, and even with one baby, there have been times when it’s been right to do almost every type of baby strategy out there.

    For a parent who’s compassionate and in tune with their baby’s needs, it’s perfectly fine to experiment with different methods. If something is wrong for you and your baby, you will figure it out before any damage is done. Some breastfed babies can sleep through the night very early, because the pair has a large feeding capacity, and this kind of language (run, don’t walk away!) will make a new mother doubt herself and feel guilty about her baby’s great sleep when she should be enjoying it.

  4. You forgot to mention the most important issue about this “method”… Never mind the dwindling milk supply, if you train a newborn to go 8 hours without feeding, you are very likely to end up with a dehydrated baby. Especially combined with feeding every 4 hours during the day.
    Gina Ford was also advocating dropping night feeds and she ended up being sued by families whose babies ended up in hospital dehydrated and malnourished.

    It would be great if instead of trying to get babies to fit into modern western (usually urban) lifestyle, parents will take time to understand what is natural and healthy for human babies.
    The problem is partially due to the pressure there is nowadays on mothers to be ‘up and running’ as soon as possible after childbirth, as well as the myth of the ‘super mum’ who is supposed to be juggling child rearing, having a career, a perfect marriage and maintaining a great social life; and look great while doing it.

    I’m a new mum and I see a lot of my new-mums friends give in to this pressure. It’s very sad and it why people end up following bad advice! Mothers should be encouraged to followed their own instincts not to pad the bank accounts of charlatans who think they’ve invented a new trick to outsmart nature!

  5. When my baby was a newborn she would sleep six hour stretches from day one (from bedtime at 6pm until midnight, every night). We didn’t have a pediatrician by then so I vesited many until I liked one. One of them told me that I should wake her up at least every four hours to feed her even if she didn´t wake up, because her little stomach couldn’t hold the amount of milk needed to maintain her all that time without a feeding. I don’t know how true is that, but it surely makes sense. Their little stomachs are so small.
    Apart from that, I had VERY little milk supply. I never EVER felt my breasts engorged or even full. Isaw lactation consultants the first threemonths because I thought my baby was hungry all the time and she was breastfeeding every hour! I couldn’t imagine babies that would have 3 or 4 hour stretches between feeds! Because of that, I always fed her on demand.
    Her sleep was very good (those streches remained until she was six or seven months old) but then, around eigth months, her sleep turned into a horrible, segmented, light event that wouldn’t allow her (or us) to rest properly. We then (and only then) started cosleeping. But then even that stopped working for us because she is a big baby and having the three of us (mom, dad and her) in a bed was not comfortable anymore. That is when I started reading this website and a few weeks ago I bought a consultation.
    Now she is 17 months old, still breastfeeds at night (as part of our sleep routine) and is going to sleep on her bed, in her room, in about 20 minutes, without crying one bit! So I do believe that every baby (and every family) has their own timing and everyone should choose a path and a technique that works for that specific case and time. I certainly do not believe in one-size-fits-all kind of approach at all and that is what that book (and so many others) try to sell.
    P.S.: I haven’t read the book, so my opinion is based on the information I got from other sources.

  6. I know I’m not the norm, but due to oversupply, I easily have 8 ounces in one breast alone. Around 4 weeks my two oldest only wanted to nurse every 4-5 hours because they were drinking 6-8 ounces in one feeding – I weighed them with a baby scale before and after feeding. By 8 weeks they slept through the night. However, it wasn’t forced, I took their cues. I used to think that mom’s whose babies nursed more frequently and didn’t have babies who slept didn’t know what they were doing. Then I had my youngest. He never wanted a full tummy. Breastfeeding him has been a battle because I always have more than he wants and it would make him uncomfortable. He’s 10 months and STILL doesn’t sleep through the night, although he day-weaned, go figure! There’s no one-size fits all. That’s what’s so great about this site, it takes into account your baby’s personality, your needs, their needs etc., and customizes accordingly 🙂

  7. I also have not read nor heard of this new book until now. I agree wholeheartedly, “training” a newborn is so ill-advised. I agree with Krista, listening and responding to your newborn is critical, if you want a secure, happy baby, one who WILL sleep when it’s time for him to sleep!

    We all need to keep in mind that every baby is different, and every mom’s ability to produce a plentiful milk supply is different. I work with many different situations as a doula and sleep consultant. One mama’s baby slept through the night almost from birth; she also had no problem supplying milk; in fact, if anything, she produced an over-abundance. It would make sense that these two facts are directly connected. I am now working with a mama whose 8-month-old is still waking for 1 to 2 night feedings, by design. She knows, based on her experience with her first baby, that if she stopped night feedings, her supply would greatly dwindle, and she can’t take that risk with this baby, who is allergic to so many things, formula included.

    We have to remember, know your body and know your baby! Relax, enjoy, go with what works, and if nothing seems to be working, pray, and find some help that makes sense to you. 🙂

  8. I’d be interested to hear some research behind this. I have two friends who used a similar “method” of trying to get their young newborns on a schedule and timed feedings, pushed for them to sleep through the night early, never feed to sleep, etc. Both of these babies had failure to thrive, and although they are both healthy and fine, I’ve always wondered if this method impacted on their weight gain.

  9. I also have not read the new book, so I won’t talk about the book so much as things related to it. The idea that you can teach a newborn to sleep through the night isn’t new to me. I’ve heard of parents doing it when they didn’t know better. Like it was said above, humans adapt. However, in the newborn stage, it is important to establish communication, trust, and security. That means listening to your baby and responding immediately to show you understand. Newborns are NOT independent. They usually can’t even roll over. Give ’em a break!
    As for the breastfeeding bit, I support the point you’re trying to make. Frequent nursing stimulates the breast to produce more milk. Both of my babies nursed every 1-2 hours during the day at first! My 2nd actually slept pretty well during the night though. They woke up if they were hungry. I was sleep-deprived with my first but we made it through. If you’re desperate and have no room to wake up at night, maybe this method could keep you sane. Although I don’t think it’s ideal for the baby, neither is having an irritable, depressed parent. However, beware of the breastfeeding advice in this article. Your milk will likely dry up. It might be worth it to push through for a few months until baby is truly ready.

  10. I should probably not comment since I have not read about the book and first heard about it here, but this sounds along the lines of Babywise, and I think it’s common knowledge that their methods are not breastfeeding friendly. Even if you manage to make it through the first four months without any noticeable effects on breastfeeding from Babywise or similar programs, once milk production switches from horomone driven to all demand driven, it seems that supply issues will arise at that time fro baby not breastfeeding enough.

    From a practical sleep standpoint, I can understand why this might attractive or necessary or a good choice for some families. However, I think there is a tendency in these systems (Babywise, Baby Whisper come to mind) to close over the impact they can have on breastfeeding. If you’re not fully informed about the impact you haven’t had the opportunity to make a fully informed decision. I can 100% understand why a family might choose to prioritize sleep over breastfeeding, you have to do what works for you! But I feel sad for families who may not realize the consequences and may have their breastfeeding journey cut-short because it was not explained to them or the facts were misrepresented to them. Every family, every mom, deserves to have the facts and make informed choices.

    One sort of more philosophical point: my adjustment to motherhood required to me let go of systems and process and to roll with the punches in a way that is challenging for me and a little at odds with how I often approach things in life. For me, I could see a system that promises sleeping through the night by 4 weeks (and implicitly promises sleeping through the night forever!) would be an exercise in beating my head against a brick wall. Babies change and grow so much in those first months. When something would “stop working” with my son, I often found that it wasn’t that the system had stopped working, it was that he had developed and grown and needed something new from me. I think I would find it fustrating to constantly find myself back at square one because my system didn’t “stick”.

    Two cents (or twenty-five) from a casual observer.

    • @Vks Thank you for chiming in with your thoughts! So true about your baby teaching you to “go with the flow.” I feel like my boys did the same as some things are simply out of our control. Thank you for your twenty-five cents! 😉

      @Krista Thank you for your comment and support!

      @Lizzie Considering I’ve heard some stories about Babywise and “Failure to Thrive” I am confident there would be some with this method as well. 🙁 It simply won’t work for all babies. Maybe some and maybe even “most” (however many that means), but it’s the other babies and moms who will have a very hard time. Thank you for your comment!

      @Jan So true!! Following our instincts and having confidence that we know our babies best is so hard for mom these days. Thank you for chiming in!

      @Jennifer I couldn’t agree with you more! 🙂 I was able to pump 6 oz from one breast and 4 oz from the other every morning. My supply was much lower in the evening. Since I am/was a working mom, my eldest son took bottles and NEVER EVER took more than 4 oz in one bottle. He just doesn’t like to overfill himself and he is still this way at almost 9 years old. He still eats frequently, just not at night, thankfully. LOL My second son was different. He took 5 to 5 1/2 oz in a bottle. They both still needed to eat at night until they were older babies, but both were down to just one feeding by 7 months, even with different eating habits. They both, however, struggled with going 11-12 hours without eating until they were almost a year. And, my second was actually a pretty “good” sleeper! I know some adults who can’t go 11-12 hours, so there ya go. 😉 Thank you for commenting!

      @Mirella Thank you for sharing your experience with the 6-hour stretches, too! That is very interesting she ate every hour during the day and “tanked up” and went longer stretches at night. That is our approach, usually, too, is to get the most milk in at night as you can, respecting their tummy size and how frequently they need to eat and they won’t need it at night. Different approaches work with different babies, though. There are some who eat every hour during the day and it can cause more problems at night. Truly, all babies are different! You are so right that all of our journeys are different.

      @Nash True that some babies could get dehydrated, but I do know some who will naturally be okay. I think it just depends on the baby. I wholeheartedly agree there is so much pressure for new mums to be super mums (or moms)! It’s so hard being a parent. Thank you for chiming in!

      @Rachel I’m sorry you felt I was being bossy and dramatic! 😀 I work with parents every day and while I agree that it’s fine to experiment, it is not true that you can always “catch” low milk supply before the damage is done. Unfortunately, sometimes milk supply plummets over a period of several weeks and it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for some moms to get it back. We work with a lot of moms who experience this, if they night wean too soon/early. For some of us, me included, we can night wean and not have problems during the daytime, but for some moms it is simply not that way and they can never get their milk supply back up. That is the main reason I mentioned that breastfeeding moms who do not have babies who naturally sleep long stretches, it can negatively impact their milk supply if they try this method and so it’s best not to try it at all. Thank you for your comment!

      @Jan I could have phrased it better. If your baby is naturally doing long stretches, you likely have large capacity and your baby can consume large quantities. Enjoy it!! (Unless your pediatrician is concerned about growth, of course). You are correct about that and I didn’t mean to make others feel guilty for having good sleepers. I wish we all did! 🙂 Thank you for chiming in again! 🙂

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