Before becoming parents, it can be impossible to predict what nights with a new baby will look like. And with so many sources of information promising sleep, rest, and happy babies the reality of the wee hours of the morning is a shock!! What if instead of setting new families up with unrealistic expectations about night-time parenting, we spent our time setting families up with the tools needed to parent on, even when we’re tired, and even when it’s hard?
Feeding babies through the night is a reality for many months and even years, and I want to encourage you to trust that you don’t have to suffer it! The positions we choose to feed our babies in can get us more sleep, more relaxed feedings, and can help increase the ease you feel while night-time parenting.
The Side-lying position is one of my favorites to gift new families!! Imagine – you can lie down and rest while your baby drinks your milk and relishes in the comfort of your warm body. Night-time snuggles are amazing! And sleep is so so needed… so why not get both at once? Side-lying allows your body to fully relax into the firm mattress you’re on, and if positioned well, allows your baby to maintain a great latch and drink to their fill! Everyone will feel comfortable, drowsy and connected… as we all know that breastfeeding is way more than just the milk!
The cool science behind the position
Other pretty amazing things happen when your body is relaxed. Your hormones have an easier time supporting your milk flow, which usually means happier, fuller and more satisfied babies. It works to improve feeding because of the hormone Oxytocin. Oxytocin is amazing, and one of its functions is driving the milk ejection reflex – or the “let-down”. The challenge is that Oxytocin is a bit scared of tension, anxiety and fear. It just doesn’t work so well, when we’re stressed – and this includes physical stressors like tense muscles! The Side-lying position eliminates some of the physical tension we can feel in many breastfeeding positions, which may lead to letting oxytocin run wild! What does this mean for you and your baby? Typically babies will drink more consistently, get fuller, and breasts empty more – and with the comfort of a parent, babies may fall to sleep quicker once full, as well!
Breastfeeding and Bedsharing – keep your baby safe
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.
I think we can all agree that Side-lying sounds wonderful! Lots of rest, good eats, happy parents and satisfied babies… However, many families fall in love with the rest they get while side-lying, but don’t love the sore back and neck pain that sometimes creeps in. Maintaining the right posture while protecting a good latch is key!!
How to practice Side-Lying while Breastfeeding
When lining yourself up to feed your baby laying down, start by laying on the same side of the breast you would like to latch your baby on to. If feeding on the right breast, for example, you would be laying on your right side, with your right arm tucked up between your head and your pillow. Next, you will align your baby to be on their side, facing you. It is important that they are placed low enough that their nose ends up below the right nipple. If your chest is north and your tummy is south, ‘below the nipple’ means south of it. Getting a great asymmetric latch relies on this starting line up! When the baby is lined up nose to nipple, she will reach up to it on her own and open wide. Once she has realized and reached this target, with your left hand, you will support her shoulders and gently press her shoulders straight into you. `The goal is allowing her to latch deeply onto the breast. It’s important that you don’t push her head in, which brings the chin close to the chest, especially if you have sore nipples. This neck position will increase nipple pain for most.
Once latched, you get to relax! Watch some Netflix, read a book, listen to music… or sleep! Sounds simple. Right? It usually is… although sometimes it’s not as comfortable as you may have thought. When it doesn’t work so well, it’s often because a back gets sore or a neck feels strained. The solution is more targeted physical support! Rolling up a blanket, stuffing a pillow, or lying against a wall can take some of the pressure off. Even better, though, is using something designed for this such as the Mamalia pillow! This pillow has been engineered to stay wedged behind your back, which comforts you by holding you up as it takes away some of the work from your core muscles. You should be able to relax back into the pillow, allowing your core muscles to release tension – and feel all other tension and anxiety flush away as well.
Talk about a comfortable way to breastfeed for the 12th time today! We cannot always change the normal feeding and sleep needs that our babies present to us, but we can find ways to make these times more manageable. When your baby needs you, they need you. But don’t let your needs dissolve!! Find a solution that accommodates everyone, like side-lying to rest and feed, and PARENT ON!
Ashley Pickett is a private practice lactation consultant (IBCLC), Sleep Educator, Doula and Parent educator living and working in Oakville, Ontario. She helps families reach their unique parenting goals while still meeting their baby’s needs.