Welcome, new mothers, veteran mothers, tired mothers, and all those who love a mother. Here’s the thing: breastfeeding is hard. Sleep while breastfeeding is even harder.
Newborns wake up during the night, need to be fed constantly, and may take short naps throughout the day. This can make it impossible for moms to get long stretches of rest, and sleep quality will probably be poor.
Sleep deprivation is a documented form of torture, and a new parent can probably attest to that. While these newborn days seem like they will never end, before you know it, your baby will be sleeping through the night and these restless days and nights will be a distant memory. But until then, here are 10 tips for getting through this time and actually enjoying it.
Pros of Breastfeeding
If you decide to breastfeed, there are loads of benefits for both you and your baby. Whether you are exclusively breastfeeding, supplementing with formula, or pumping and bottle feeding, any amount of breastmilk that your baby receives is a plus. The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for at least the first six months.
Along with physical and emotional benefits, there is also the practicality of being able to feed your baby anytime, anywhere without bottles or formula.
*Retrieved from Cleveland Clinic
Benefits for Your Baby
- Lower SIDS rates
- Stronger immune system
- Less illness overall
- Fewer allergies, eczema, and asthma
- Lower diabetes, childhood cancer, and Crohn’s disease rates
- Fewer cavities as a child
- Lower obesity rates
Benefits for You
- Less postpartum bleeding
- Promotes faster weight loss
- Lower risk of postpartum depression
- Produces oxytocin and prolactin
- Increases calmness
- Bonds baby and mother
Breastfeeding Worse For Sleep Schedule?
When waking up throughout the night, it is not exactly great for anyone’s sleep schedule. But compared to bottle feeding, breastfeeding tends to have less of an effect on mothers. Rather than getting up to make a bottle, grabbing your baby and feeding them from the comfort of your bed is possible when nursing.
Scientifically, breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, known as the “love hormone,” that can make moms tired. So while you may find it harder to stay awake while feeding, you might fall asleep more easily than bottle-feeding parents.
Importance of Sleep for New Moms
Taking care of a tiny human that needs constant attention is exhausting. Add this to the fact that newborns wake up every two to three hours and it can be a cause for concern. Falling asleep while holding your baby on a couch or chair is a suffocation hazard, and it can be hard for some mothers to stay awake when feeding and getting comfortable.
Drowsy driving is a huge problem and a cause for thousands of car accidents each year. The CDC estimated that 1 in 25 drivers over 18 had fallen asleep while driving in the past 30 days. Sleep deprivation can cause memory loss, increased risk of depression, stroke, and sleep disorders.
To keep mom and baby safe, getting rest is hugely important.04
Newborn Sleep Schedules
When you have a baby, a common question you get is whether you are getting rest, and there is a good reason for this — babies wake up a lot. Babies don’t tend to sleep through the night until at least 3 months of age, They have little stomachs that fill up quickly with milk, but this also means that they have to breastfeed often.
Expect your baby to wake up at least every three hours to breastfeed at first. As your little one gets older, the stretches between feedings will probably get longer. Keep in mind that your baby might have different needs.
Talk to your pediatrician about your child in particular and any concerns you may have.
Get More Info: How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?
10 Breastfeeding Survival Tips
1. Sleep When Baby Sleeps
Yeah, it sounds simple in theory, but any mom who has tried it probably laughs at the thought. The dishes (and all that newborn laundry) may be taunting you each time you close your eyes, not to mention the dog needs to be walked and the bathrooms haven’t been cleaned in weeks. While all of those things might need to get done, they can wait or be tackled by a partner or friend.
2. Utilize the Pump
I am not going to lie to you — pumping milk is one of the most boring, time-consuming tasks on this planet. Okay, that might be a bit dramatic, and some might even like the break they must force themselves to take in order to pump. But depending on what you’ve decided works best for you and your baby, pumping might take a lot of the day, especially for working moms.
Although it can take extra work to pump and store milk, it can allow your partner to take a feeding during the night so that you can get a longer stretch of sleep. If you are a single parent, you can build a stockpile so that family members can take over feedings while you nap or spend some much needed alone time. Plus, it will be great for your baby to learn how to take a bottle in case of an emergency.
All health insurance plans in the United States cover the cost of a breast pump, whether it be a rental or one that you keep, so a majority of people should have access to one. Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) might also be able to help offset the cost.
So turn on your favorite tv show, grab a huge cup of water (to promote milk production) and some snacks and get pumping.
3. Invite Friends Over So You Can Nap
Since having a baby, your friends have probably asked you how they can help. As hard as it can be, for your own sake, swallow your pride and take them up on their offer. Most people love holding babies and would be happy to watch over your little one while you get some shuteye.
Having someone you trust babysit can also make sleep come easier. Not knowing when your baby will wake up from their nap and when you have to care for them can be stressful and cause problems falling asleep. Even just a 20-minute catnap can do wonders for mothers who are sleep-deprived.04
4. Delegate Chores to Friends, Other Children
Rather than nap, maybe you want to get some more quality time with your newborn. As a new mom, you should be soaking in all of the cuddles that you can, and your friends and family can help you accomplish that. If you have other children, some things have to be done, like school drop-off and pick-up, making dinner, helping with homework, potty training, etc.
You might think that you can do it all, but it is okay to need help (if you can do it all, let us in on your secrets). Maybe your kids are old enough to take some more responsibility and do some chores themselves. That way, you don’t have to spread yourself too thin and your kids learn independence.05
5. Try “Watchful Waiting”
If you are anything like me, I was ready to breastfeed at any coo or sigh my baby made throughout the night. I was barely getting any rest because I was constantly thinking about needing to breastfeed. Something that I didn’t quite grasp yet as a first-time mom is that babies make a lot of noise, even when they are fast asleep.
Pause before jumping to breastfeed your little one. Eventually, you will learn that their tiny noises might not necessarily mean that they need milk, they’re actually just sleeping, meaning more sleep for you.
6. Keep Baby Close to the Bed
During nighttime feedings, you don’t want to be awake for any longer than you have to be. Getting up and out of bed can make those middle-of-the-night wake-ups harder than necessary. A bedside sleeper or some kind of bassinet that can be pushed against your bed might be best for this.
The AAP advises that parents share a room with their baby for at least the first six months of life but to not co-sleep. Many cultures practice bed-sharing, and ultimately it is up to you and your family to decide what works. Discuss your plans with your pediatrician to assure that sleep circumstances are as safe as possible.
Need help? Learn more in our safe co-sleeping guideline here.
7. Avoid Caffeine
This might be a tough one — in fact, as new or soon-to-be parents, there is a good chance that you are drinking a cup of coffee while reading this. Caffeine is a stimulant, which is why it probably helps you get through the longest days. It can stay in your system for hours after consumption, and depending on the person, the caffeine effects can be a disaster for sleep.
Try to keep your caffeine intake limited to the morning hours so that there isn’t any interference with nighttime sleep. If your naps are increasingly difficult, caffeine could be the culprit, and it could even be passed to the baby through your breast milk, keeping them awake if taken in high dosages. Read more about how caffeine can affect your sleep.
8. Lie Down Even If You Can’t Sleep
Falling asleep can feel impossible when there are a million things running through your mind, and as a new mom, the random thoughts never end: whether baby acne is normal, the best way to clip a newborn’s nails, why you are so thirsty all the time, whether baby shoes serve a purpose besides being adorable — the list goes on.
While you might laugh at the thought of taking a nap with so many things to think about (and look up on Google), try to at least lie down. Relaxing for a few minutes can sometimes be equally as refreshing as a nap, and heaven knows new parents are at a loss for refreshment.09
9. Avoid TV During Insomnia
The insomnia didn’t end with the pregnancy? As tempting as it is to turn on your favorite binge-worthy show when you find yourself wide awake at 3 in the morning, watching tv — and looking at your phone, for that matter — can interfere with your melatonin levels. Melatonin is your sleepy hormone, and it can be affected by the light from electronics.
The nights might feel long, but rest should be much easier to come by overall. Try to avoid television for at least 30 minutes before bed and during nighttime feedings.
Read More: Dealing with Postpartum Insomnia10
10. Practice Self-Care
In order to be the best mother you can be, it is essential to take care of yourself. Find a way to recharge, and it can do wonders for you and your family. You might not be able to afford a babysitter, but even taking a walk with your baby, getting out of the house, reading a good book while your little one naps, or exercising can give you a little break.
Your new baby has probably become your priority, but they need you to be feeling your best. Tell your partner, family, or friends that you need to sleep in this weekend, a chance to go grocery shopping by yourself (too crazy?), or even an hour to get a manicure. The feeling of doing something for you can be incredibly refreshing and enough to tackle the daunting task of motherhood.
Ask the Doctor
Is it safe for my baby to fall asleep while feeding?
Your baby probably falls asleep often while breastfeeding, and they might not be able to help it — being full, comfortable, safe, and warm is the perfect environment for sleep. While it might not necessarily be unsafe for your baby to fall asleep while breastfeeding, babies often get sleepy before they get a full feeding in, and it can cause problems gaining weight, keeping up milk supply, and may create a sleep and nursing association.
If you think your little one fell asleep before finishing, try removing clothing, tickling their feet, changing their diaper, or burping. As long as your baby is growing properly according to your pediatrician, you shouldn’t have to worry too much.
Is it ok for me to fall asleep?
Like babies, moms often get tired when breastfeeding, but unlike babies, it can be dangerous if you fall asleep. Suffocation can be a possibility, especially if feeding on a couch or chair. Add in sleep deprivation, medications, drugs, or alcohol (from you or your partner), and it can be a recipe for disaster.
Talk to your pediatrician for tips on how to create a safe sleep environment.
Can you help me with my insomnia?
Insomnia can arise when sleep is regularly interrupted, and your doctor will be able to discuss safe treatment options while breastfeeding. Medicine, altering bedtime routines, and asking your partner, friends, or family for help are possible treatments.
Need more info? Check out our full guide for insomnia sufferers.
Let’s face it: For most people, breastfeeding is hard. Learning how to care for a new baby takes some time, even if it is your second, third, or sixth baby, and no one should have to do that on little-to-no sleep. Although your nights might not be as dream-filled as they used to be, you don’t have to feel like a zombie forever — reach out and ask for help!
While these tips might not magically make your baby sleep through the night (if only, right?), they can help you survive these weeks feeling a little bit more like yourself. At the very least, know that you are taking care of your little one the best way you know how. Soak up those newborn snuggles while you can!
Lead Product Tester
Julia is the Lead Reviewer at Sleep Advisor, specializing in testing out mattresses and sleep accessories – she’s in the right line of work, because she loves to sleep.