From Sleepless to Slumber Baby Sleep Series
Hey, there! If you’re just tuning in, this is the fifth post in my new baby sleep series, From Sleepless to Slumber. Baby sleep is one of the most important (and scary) aspects of motherhood. If you’re preparing for your baby or in the mix of exhausted, sleepless nights, then this is for you!
Before we begin, here are the other posts:
Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night – Introduction to From Sleepless to Slumbering Series
How You Can Have Amazing Sleep With a Breastfed Baby
Your Ticket to Amazing Sleep: How You Can Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through the Night
I want to combat the myth that you’ll never get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night. Breastfeeding your baby should not and does not condemn you to months of awful, infrequent sleep. As a new mom, I shared my nighttime woes with pediatricians, lactation consultants, and other breastfeeding mamas. I expected to hear wise advice on how to extend my daughter’s nighttime hours (by 6 weeks, she was sleeping 4 hours at a time). The only “advice” I received was to “go with the flow” and “not worry about it.”
Have you been told the same thing? What about these?
It isn’t normal for a breastfed baby to sleep through the night.
These baby days will go by so fast. You won’t miss the sleep.
I believe you can treasure every second of babyhood without being exhausted. You can maintain your supply without sacrificing your baby’s independence.
If you are desperate for some sleep, you’ve come to the right place. This is a relatively short post, compared to the rest of the articles in the From Sleepless to Slumber Series, but I truly believe that these tips can boost your success with your baby’s sleep and improve your daily routines.
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase from one of the links I will make a small commission at no charge to you. I only recommend what I trust. Blunders in Babyland does not diagnose, treat, or give out any professional advice for any medical conditions. While I can give you advice based on my experience, none of this should be substituted for actual medical advice.
What Does Sleeping Through the Night Mean?
The goal of this post isn’t to make you feel bad that your baby isn’t sleeping for more than 3-4, even 2 hours at night. I want to encourage you and let you know that more sleep IS possible.
So, to clear things up, what does sleeping through the night mean for breastfed babies? The definition of sleeping through the night ranges a lot. In the early weeks, sleeping through the night is only about 5-6 hours of continuous sleep (from midnight to about 5AM). By 3 months, that number extends to 8 hours of continuous sleep. Research indicates that most babies can sleep through the night at this age. At about 4-6 months, your baby will consolidate his sleep and begin sleeping anywhere from 10-12 hours a night.
To Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through Night You Must Have the Right Expectations
I don’t want to discourage you by giving you the standard. I just want to give you hope for what can be.
My baby slept from 8pm to 4am, with a dreamfeed no later than 11pm by 8 weeks. It was a natural transition because we used the methods I list below. My experience is vastly different than my peers, just like yours will be too. If your BFF brags that HER baby slept 10 hours every night by the time she was 8 weeks and YOUR baby only sleeps until 5AM, don’t feel bad.
However, if your baby is waking 2.5 hours every night, I’ve got great news: your baby can sleep more. We just need to figure out how.
Why Breastfed Babies Have Trouble Sleeping Through the Night
I go over several more reasons why your baby won’t sleep in my previous post, but I do believe there are several factors related to breastfeeding that can make it more difficult to get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night.
- She’s not getting enough calories during the day. This was a big one for us. Just when my daughter started sleeping through the night, she began waking up again. That was the first clue that my milk supply had plummeted. Or, even without a supply dip, your baby could be going through a growth spurt. Another huge contributor to not getting enough calories during the day is letting your baby nurse to sleep. This also increases the likelihood of snack feedings.
- Room sharing. I room shared for the first 6 months of my daughter’s life. Studies show that room sharing can reduce the risk of SIDS and increase your supply. Having said all that, room sharing can increase night time wakings.
- Co-sleeping. Excellent for keeping your milk supply. Not so much for cohesive newborn sleep. When you co-sleep, Dr. Sears theorizes that your baby develops “protective arousal.” while protective arousal can be great for SIDS, it’s not so great for sleeping through the night.
- Breastmilk metabolizes faster. Which equals more feedings, especially if you snack feed.
- Other factors: tongue tie (tends to affect breastfed babies more), reflux, and hindmilk/foremilk imbalance.
This is what you’re up against, Mama. So, don’t feel bad if your baby isn’t sleeping through the night as quickly as other babies.
5 Ways to Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through the Night
1. Full Feedings
Babies have the tendency to snack. Especially newborns. Especially, especially breastfed newborns.
It is absolutely paramount that you focus making sure your baby gets a full feeding.
Not only do babies with a nice, full tummy sleep much longer, but a full feeding also ensures that your baby is getting his calories during the day, instead of frequent snacks at nights.
What’s a full feeding? Honestly, that depends on the baby. On Becoming Babywise first introduced me to this concept. Their definition of a full feeding (in the early days) is 20 minutes on each side. I almost never made it to this point. We were usually 20-30 minutes for both breasts. The speed of your letdown and your baby’s own suckling habits can definitely vary the length of a full feeding.
The most important takeaway is to make sure she doesn’t fall asleep while nursing. Got a sleepy baby? Me too! Tickle her feet, use a cold towel, change her diaper. Anything you can to make sure that it’s a nice, full feeding.
(On that note, if you’re still struggling with breastfeeding as a whole, DO NOT FEEL BAD. Despite what people say, it’s not the easiest task. The best breastfeeding resource I’ve been able to find is the Breastfeeding Handbook. The book is super easy to read (only 28 pages) and filled with tutorials, diagrams, and trackers. And if you were like me and skipped the breastfeeding courses during pregnancy, you can also sign up for the free breastfeeding course. )
2. Consistent Feedings
If you’ve read any of my blogs, you know that I’m a pretty firm believer in a consistent routine. Just understand that consistency does not necessarily mean rigidity.
Your baby depends on you to set the scope for her day, especially in the beginning when she doesn’t even know the difference between night and day. Babies that eat whenever they feel the urge (or don’t) during the day can’t be expected to act any differently during the night.
This is where you come in.
During the day, make sure that you establish consistent feeding patterns. For some babies, that’s being fed every 2 hours. For others, that’s 2.5-3. It depends on your baby: her age, weight, and development.
When you maintain a consistent schedule with a breastfed baby, something remarkable happens: her metabolism adjusts. For example, by the time Cali was a month old, she had learned to expect her feedings every two hours. So, it was also easy for her to go longer stretches of time during the night, because her little body had naturally progressed into a daytime/nighttime rhythm.
Just to clarify, I am not suggesting that you put your baby on a strict regimen and ignore her cries of hunger!
A routine is seriously not as scary as it sounds.When you’re giving your baby full feedings, it almost comes naturally. I go into much more detail about routines in my next article.
3. The Bottle Feed at Night Trick.
This trick is so easy to implement and it can really benefit your baby as well. In the beginning, training your baby to take a bottle can be difficult. (Breastfed babies are so spoiled 😉 ). I combined this trick with the dreamfeed to help smooth out the training process.
Pump in the morning and feed that bottle to your baby at night, preferably during the dreamfeed (more on that in a minute). Your morning milk contains more proteins and can be the extra push your baby needs to sleep through the night.
Have you heard about the dreamfeed? It’s truly amazing. Basically, between 10-11PM, you feed your baby IN HER SLEEP. If done correctly, this feed will not disrupt your baby’s sleep schedule, and it eliminates the dreaded 12-2AM feed.
This technique can take a while to perfect, especially if you’re breastfeeding since it requires so much more concentration on your baby’s part.
My biggest tip for success for the dreamfeed is to start with a bottle of expressed milk. The nipple on a bottle is much bigger and firmer, and easier to reach the roof of her mouth to stimulate her suckling reflex. After about a week or so with a bottle nipple, you can try your breast. The miraculous thing about the dreamfeed is that your baby learns how to take the feeding while she’s asleep. It’s a great skill to have.
Once again, consistency is your friend here. I wasn’t consistent with the dreamfeed until about 8ish weeks. Once I offered the bottle to her every night, I began to notice amazing results.
If you’d like to learn more about the dream feed, I would definitely purchase the Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems. It’s such a cheap book and it has a ton of practical information that you’ll use even through toddlerhood. You can also check out some articles by the Chronicles of a Babywise Mom.
Running out time? PIN IT for later!
5. Nurse – Play – Sleep
Imagine a world where you no longer have to constantly wonder why your baby is crying.
At 2PM, your baby begins to fuss. Instead of popping out a breast (which he rejects), changing his diaper again (and now he’s screaming louder), or trying to distract him with a rattle (full out meltdown), you know that he’s tired and it’s time for a nap.
Doesn’t that kind of predictability sound amazing??
Even if you’re not down with schedules, following this simple pattern will uncomplicate your life and can get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night.
The best part: following this routine is so, so easy.
When your baby wakes up, nurse him with a nice, full feeding. After that, begin play time. At the first sign of tiredness, you put your baby down for a nap.
That, simply put, is the Eat – Play – Sleep routine. (The only exception to the Eat – Play- Sleep rule is at night when you feed your baby and directly put him to sleep.)
Just think of the benefits this pattern will provide:
- It’ll eliminate much of the confusion with reading your baby’s cues
- It establishes an easy, predictable routine your baby can easily keep up with.
- You’ll ensure that your baby is getting enough milk
- The Eat- Play – Sleep cycle helps your baby differentiate between night and day much faster
Are you thinking that there is no way life is that simple? But it is! I’ll go over how to establish a flexible routine in my next post.
Until then, promise me you’ll at least let this concept marinate for a while.
Bonus: What You Shouldn’t Do to Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through the Night
I’ve been talking to a lot of mamas and I’ve discovered that there are a ton of misconceptions (*cough* old wives’ tales*cough*) about how to get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night.
So here’s a list of what NOT to do to get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night.
( If you’ve tried any of these techniques, please don’t feed bad. On the surface, these loos like these are great ideas. Unfortunately, many times it only ends up hurting your baby’s nighttime sleep.)
- Supplement with formula- This can cause your baby to have gas, reflux, and stomach cramps. No bueno.
- Thicken your breastmilk with infant cereal- Studies have found that there is no link between feeding your baby infant cereal and more nighttime sleep. If your baby is not ready for infant cereal, it can wreak havoc on his digestive system. Also, if done incorrectly, it can be an asphyxiation hazard.
- Cry-It-Out Inappropriately– Even Dr. Ferber admits that sleep training is worthless without dealing with the heart of the issue. If your baby isn’t getting enough to eat during the day, he’ll try to make up for it at night. If you try to Ferberize when you’re not meeting his real needs, you’re just letting your baby cry alone.
- Introduce solids too early-Once again, can cause digestive issues and in some cases, increased risk of developing food allergies.
(Check out my Sleep Training post for details on safe sleep training methods and practices.)
Extra Bonus: Protect Your Supply
Proponents against allowing a breastfed baby to sleep through the night actually have a very good point. Sleeping through the night can easily ruin your supply, especially if she starts doing it before 6 weeks. If you’re like me and naturally struggle with supply intermittently, then you may need to protect your supply even after 6 weeks.
When your baby first starts sleeping through the night you may want to pump at 2 AM and gradually wean your breast off that feeding. Over time, your body should realize that it needs to consolidate your production.
If you do find that your milk supply is low, check out my post on how I doubled my milk production in 2 days to quickly improve it. This post discusses all of the methods I used to overcome my milk production crisis. I still use some of those methods today, when I notice my supply dipping.
You can also download my free lactation boosting grocery list and cheatsheet.
YOU Can Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through the Night
You’re not a bad mom for wanting to get more sleep at night. You’re sensible because you realize that getting more sleep helps your baby’s physical and mental development, and allows you to be the best mom you can be.
I hope this article encourages you and helps you realize that it absolutely is possible to get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night quickly. Don’t let other people’s misconceptions discourage you from doing what you know is best for you and your baby.
Try these tips. If you’re still having problems getting your baby to sleep through the night, I have a ton of resources available to help. Most of all, I’m here for you. Don’t ever hesitate to email me or ask a question in the comments. I’m just another mama that has been exactly where you are 🙂
If you found these tips useful please spread the word by sharing them! Breastfeeding mamas have to stick together 😉
Until next time!