That moment your little one enters the world everything changes. Your heart is forever bigger and your sleep is “forever” (really temporarily) changed as well. The first few weeks of caring for your newborn are unforgettable and exhausting.
The hustle and bustle of changing routines, visiting family members and new experiences, like breastfeeding, consume your waking hours. It’s very easy to lose sight of taking care of yourself and ensuring you’re getting the rest you need.
It’s also important to have realistic expectations. I can’t stress this enough. It feels as though no one gives those to you; always asking, “how is baby sleeping,” at every chance.
Please know that it is very normal for breastfed babies to wake every two hours or multiple times a night for a year or longer. And you should prefer it because it will ensure a plentiful milk supply for the duration of your nursing journey!
If you get your mind prepared for this new reality, things will be less frustrating and more loving and peaceful in your home at nighttime. Don’t put you and your baby in a box and expect to sleep through the night. This is not realistic and our Western culture doesn’t do a good job of educating us on nighttime parenting for breastfeeding families. For more information on what normal infant sleep looks like, check out Pinky McKay’s Sleeping Like a Baby: Simple Sleep Solutions for Babies and Toddlers.
You will fall into a new normal and find the rest you need even with multiple feeding per night. Here are some essential tips for finding your nighttime nursing groove…
Our favorite and most successful sleeping arrangement has been sharing a room with baby, if not sharing a bed surface. Room sharing is technically co-sleeping and is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to reduce the risk of SIDS. Recommendations call for infants to share their parents’ bedroom for at least the first six months and, optimally, for the first year of life, based on the latest evidence. We suggest you read their new findings here. When baby and mommy are in one room there is a better nighttime flow and the ease of breastfeeding increases exponentially.
When you’re waking in the night to feed baby, it’s impossible to think that you’re going to turn on the lights to maneuver around, and even stay perfectly quiet. Especially if you’re spouse is asleep next to you! Not to mention excess light in the night messes with your bodies sleep hormones and ultimately the quality of your rest.
Inexpensive outlet nightlights or a small pink salt lamp works perfectly for just enough nighttime light. We choose to keep these lights on 24/7 so that we don’t have to remember to turn them on each night. This saves time and frustration.
Another invaluable tip is to invest in a sound machine. They run about $20-$30 on Amazon and it’s well worth every penny. Select the sound you prefer and let it run 24/7 in your sleep space. It’s truly magical. Your ears soon adjust and you don’t even notice the sounds. It definitely improves everyone’s quality of sleep as it reduces baby waking from the sound of any doors, pets, tossing, turning and snoring.
Breastfeed Laying Down
This is the single most impactful skill that I acquired during my first year of motherhood. The first few weeks and months were very difficult for me. My baby girl had an undiagnosed tongue-tie which led to slow weight gain and reflux. This meant sleeping in a nursing chair (safely) all night to breastfeed every hour. No fun!
The hospital scared me to death about nursing laying down, in fear of SIDS. I didn’t know that nursing lying down was one of the four primarily taught nursing positions called side-lying nursing. Who says you have to sleep when you’re nursing on your side? Who says you have to nurse sitting-up if it’s nighttime?
It takes a little practice but the results are definitely an increase in relaxation and rest. Use a tightly rolled burp-cloth or receiving blanket behind your baby’s back to support them on their side. Also, prop-up large breasts with additional rolled cloth, so that the nipple is easily found by your baby’s mouth. As your baby grows they will find your nipple easily in this position and become a side-lying nursing pro. In the early days, you will need to help them find the perfect positioning.
Don’t forget to nurse from both breasts often in this position to keep your supply even. It’s easier to nurse from the bottom breast and you will catch yourself preferring to do so. I recommend switching the side you lay on if possible or being diligent to track equal nursing time on each breast.
Pro tip: This position also works wonders during the day for extra relaxation and quiet time.
Co-sleeping, especially bed-sharing, gets a bad rap in our Western culture. However, it’s the biologically normal way for babies to sleep: close to mom. Safely sharing a sleep surface with your baby allows you to become an expert at side-lying nursing.
If you choose to lay down with your baby, it is important to know if you are considered a safe candidate for it. Bedsharing is generally not recommended, as many families don’t meet the safety criteria for it to be low-risk. Certain aspects of our environment, experience and lifestyle will inform whether its best for us to just rest this way, not falling asleep while side-lying or if we can feel confident about side-lying to feed and also falling asleep with our babies.
The Safe Sleep 7 is a great resource to help determine whether sharing a sleep surface is good for your family, or if it’s more important to put baby back to their own sleep space once they have finished eating. Check this list to assess your bedsharing safety.
If you are a safe candidate for bedsharing you have the opportunity to experience excellent rest while breastfeeding your baby through the night. You will essentially practice side-lying nursing but allow yourself and baby to fall asleep in this position.
We do recommend rolling baby on their back once they’re finished nursing to optimize safety on the shared sleep surface. Don’t forget the safety checklist mentioned above and always err on the side of caution and safety. We personally dress to comfort for nighttime sleep and don’t use any covers above the waist to keep baby very safe.
As you and baby grow used to this new arrangement, you will notice that your baby doesn’t need to wake up and just nurses while they sleep, as they need to. The nighttime rhythm of nursing keeps your baby and body in a restful mode, without ever needing to fully wake up. In fact, this arrangement is so comfortable that you may need to set a reminder to burp and change your newborn’s diaper in the night. Older babies can get away with one nighttime diaper and tend to only pee throughout the night. Very young infants tend to poop during the night and will need to be changed periodically.
I think we can all agree that Side-lying sounds wonderful! Lots of rest, good eats, happy parents and satisfied babies
Stock your nursing space
Whether you choose to bed-share or to just co-sleep with a bassinet, it’s important that you prepare your nursing space. Don’t forget to have a large water bottle, filled at all times within arms reach. It’s amazing how thirsty you can get, even in the wee hours of the night, while you nurse.
Next on the essentials is a nighttime snack. Have a pile of granola or protein bars at the ready. In the early days, your body needs fuel all of the time to keep up with your nursing schedule. You will be hungry and who wants to travel to the kitchen for a snack in the middle of the night?
Don’t forget other convenient items like tissues, burp rags, diapers, and wipes. Having these things close by for nighttime baby care reduces the amount of walking back and forth and keeps your body in restful mode.
Listen to an audiobook
Sometimes breastfeeding can take a long time and can be a bit boring. If you’re up in the night with all engines blazing, avoid social media and the blue-light associated with your phone, and instead opt for an audiobook. Keep your screen brightness on the lowest setting to help your chances of getting back to sleep easily. The less screen-time and light the better at night!
You’ve probably heard people say “sleep when the baby sleeps”. So many new parents ignore this nugget of wisdom and try to visit with family or do housework when their newborn is asleep. This is so important. You absolutely need to nap if you have the opportunity.
With more than one kiddo this can be a challenge but arrange your day to allow for and even plan this space to rest. If this feels absolutely impossible because of your little ones running around then ask for help. No matter how many children you have, you need your babymoon. This means extra bonding with your newborn and extra sleep for your recovering body.
A nap is a nap. Whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour, take it! Your body and mind need it. This self-care will go a long way when it comes to being an awesome mom. Remember to always fill your tank!
We hope that these tips go a long way to help you breastfeed successfully through the night as you nourish and love-on your baby!
Remember, they grow-up so fast. This is a short season for wakeful nights but very full hearts.