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. I also feel like a method like this is tantamount to neglect and abuse! If your newborn is sleeping through the night on their own that is one thing, but to force such a young and helpless baby to go without the feedings they need is nothing but starving your own child. I completely agree with the comment that if you cannot sacrifice some sleep for your newborn baby for at least a few months, you need to think about why you became a parent. In fact, you really shouldn’t be a parent. And if your day is so busy with your other children that you would use this sort of training on a newborn, you should not have so many children. My response may seem overly empassioned to some, but take it from someone who had to go through years of work and heartache to become a mother, having children is a privilege that too many peolple take for granted.

    • @ Hollie – agreed! It’s just way too extreme a method to recommend to the general public, and it does not take into account AT ALL a mom’s breast milk supply and breastfeeding goals.

      Thanks for commenting, Hollie!

  2. Hi,
    My daughter is 26, not a bub anymore but will always be my bub.
    When she was born I was strongly encouraged to get her into a routine of feeding and sleeping that suited me by the mid wives and nursing staff. Of course I complied, after all, what did I know. The facts are as follows.
    My daughter did sleep through the nights at about 2 month. My breast milk did slowly dry up, but what was most distressing was that my daughter was being malnourished.
    Despite my concerns and regular check ups, I was assured everything was as it should be.
    I took matters into my own inexperienced hands and sought another opinion.
    My little girl was in fact underweight. Matters were rectified immediately and my baby put on weight rapidly.
    My point is, babies need nourishment. They grow so quickly in the first few months. In order to develop most effectively they need regular feeds.
    Take what you want from this experience. I work as a private nanny and have done so for over 12 years now, and I would never recommend encouraging a little baby to sleep through the night. To me, its tantamount to neglect. But these are my thoughts only. After all…what would I know.

    • @ cindy – thanks so much for sharing your opinion with us! As a mom of a grown daughter, your wisdom is so valuable, and so appreciated by our community of young moms 🙂

      Best to you and to your family!

  3. I am an exclusively breastfeeding mom. I believe in demand feeding and never waking a sleeping baby after 6pm for feeds. My first child slept through from 10 weeks (10 hour stretches), and never fed more often than 3 – 4 hourly during the day. My second slept through from 5 weeks (9 – 11 hours), but unfortunately started waking 3 times at night after 12 weeks. We are down to 1-2 wakings now (5 months). I do have very good milk supply and storage capacity. I also know a mother that tried to enforce a feeding schedule and distract her hungry baby for hours on end – she ended up with low milk supply and a baby that failed to thrive and never slept.

  4. The thing that worries me most is that there will be inexperienced first time mums who will take the word of these “experts” as gospel, potentially at the expense of their childs and their own well being. That’s really sad.

  5. Reading about this new method of ‘teaching’ a newborn to sleep for 8 hours makes me sad. A newborn cannot learn to put themselves back to sleep, they are simply being denied breastmilk or formula and ignored or distracted so they give up from sheer exhaustion and fall alseep. This is in my opinion neglect, and could even be considered abuse. The baby will suffer greatly physically and mentally. The role of mum and dad is to protect, nurture and love their baby, and denying them their basic right to milk neglects these rights. Following such incredibly bad advice would make bonding with your baby difficult and the whole newborn phase much more stressful than it should be. The authors of this book should be discredited by paediatricians and experts in the field to encourage parents to stay away from these quacks. Love, nurture and feed your baby and the sleep will follow when the child is developmentally ready and no longer requiring the calories and hydration as well as comfort, night time feeding brings.

  6. Hi. It’s clear from comments here & from my own experiences & what I’ve heard from other mothers/parents, that everyone has a unique experience in some ways. But there are of course things in common, ‘universal’ baby experiences too. My experience was a baby who breast fed every 1.5 – 2 hours from early days until around 5-6 months. This was comfortable for my baby & necessary for her to thrive. At times she herself would try to take in a little more than usual in one sitting, after which she would promptly throw it all up. So clearly tummy capacity is little in the early days & you can’t ‘make’ or “encourage” your baby to eat more in one go & then not offer milk when they’re clearly crying for it 2 hours later – & it makes me really angry when people/professionals (so called), tell you this is possible or desirable for every baby! Really really gets me steamed! I know my comments may seem biased, but this has been our family’s experience & we have a beautiful thriving happy baby who is 17 months old now. At one point I just stopped listening to all those who insisted she shouldn’t need to eat this often & therefore sleep ‘better’. Well this just wasn’t our experience & not what our daughter needed. I think it borders on the cruel & neglectful to allow a young baby to cry for food & withhold it. I found going with what seemed natural for our baby & tempering this with broader family needs to be the best way. Yes there were sleepless nights, but this to me is all part of the awesome privelege of raising a little human being. I found the baby sleep site invaluable for setting up sleep plans for our daughter, making adjustments as she grew & developed & breast feeding as long as she wanted to (in our case that was 6.5 months, then I express fed to 8 months & then gradually switched to formula). I just want to encourage other mothers & parents out there – you are doing a wonderful & important job; baby’s needs & schedules change all the time, you can get good help with sleep training/coaching/sleep planning), but don’t feel pressured to resort to extreme measures that just don’t seem right for your baby or family. Let go of guilt, stress about you “should do it this way” & shut out whatever seems like crazy talk to you. The Baby Sleep Site is fantastic for giving sound professional, unbiased & compassionate advice, to help your baby & you get more & better rest as he/she grows. Just reading & taking advantage of free resources is an option too – I did that a lot. Thank you Baby Sleep Site, you guys do an awesome job & parents the world over thank you!

  7. Nash, while I agree with you as far as newborns are concerned, it is not just “social” pressures that require a mother to be up and running as soon as her baby is born. There is simply no other choice when you have more than one child (or a job to go back to right away). I do remember being able to relax and lay around w/my first newborn, but now I have a newborn, 2 year old, and 3 year old, and there is not a moment to sit down during the day. While I BF my newborn on demand, sleep training for our family may become a necessity in a few months.

    I think feeding a newborn on demand is important in the beginning, but after a few months you just do what you have to do to survive!

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