Breastfeeding and sleep – are they connected?
Why doesn’t my baby sleep better? Will they start sleeping better if I wean? Is there anything I can do to improve their sleep?
When your baby wakes up what seems to be a thousand times a night and doesn’t allow you to rest, these questions often come up.
Fact: babies must wake up. It is healthy and safe for them to do so. But for us and our bodies to rest, whether they are a newborn or months after birth, they should sleep. And here’s the conflict.
It is healthy and safe for babies to wake up continuously at night, and this is so because nature is wise: a baby must feed, must stimulate the breast so that milk production does not stop, and must cry if it is not near its mother in case a wolf comes and wants to eat them. Because the baby, whose brain is mainly driven by instinct, does not know that it stays in a safe house where there are no wolves.
Later, when babies no longer need to stimulate the breast to maintain a good milk supply and would certainly not become malnourished by not feeding constantly, the dreaded sleep phases appear. In this phase, babies have to learn to acquire other sleep patterns. This is an exciting journey through the waves of sleep that cause surface peaks and micro-awakenings that will turn into waking up, if they do not feel comfortable, secure or full.
Later, when the phases are established, fears, teething, viruses, warmth, cold, movement development and many other roller-coasters of emotions appear, which means different new periods of adaptation. Why? Because your child has just been born and all emotions are new to them, they have to learn to manage them, which requires time. But how much time?
When are they going to start sleeping through the night?
Indeed we ask ourselves this question with dark circles under our eyes from exhaustion. Well, it may take a little time, or it may take a lot of time. A baby’s sleep must transition to child sleep first and then ‘adult’ sleep, which doesn’t come until age 6.
Does this mean that we will not sleep until the age of 6?
No, it means that sleep is evolutionary and does not reach its evolutionary peak until that age. There are babies who begin to walk at 11 months and others at 16 months, babies who speak at 14 months and others who do not do so until after 2 years of age. There are babies who are born with teeth and others who do not break gums until after one year of age. In the same way, there are babies who have a more mature sleep pattern earlier or later.
What does all of this have to do with breastfeeding?
Well, everything and nothing at the same time. In addition to nourishment, breastfeeding provides security, tranquillity and calm. Which is just what the baby needs to be able to sleep peacefully. In addition, prolactin hormone peaks occur during the night, which means that breastfeeding helps you to maintain good milk production and to relax to fall asleep again more quickly.
Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?
Yes, it does. But indeed there is people around who will try to convince you that your baby has to sleep independently without breastfeeding to sleep as otherwise, it might get too attached to you.
Obviously, an association is created between breast and sleep, but if it is not breast-sleep, it will be being walked along the corridor – sleep / stroller-sleep / bottle-sleep / dummy-sleep and so on. Some babies are immensely demanding at night, and there comes a time when you need to sleep and breathe, so let’s do it! How? Well, we propose several ways:
- Don’t let the baby cry uncontrollably and then end up breastfeeding anyway. Your baby will fall asleep quickly but your stress levels will not allow you to fall asleep right away and you will be losing wonderful minutes of sleep, if you breastfeed at the first signs of need, in a few seconds you will be asleep again. We have previously talked about this study that establishes three phrases for putting a baby to sleep in their cot.
- Don’t change your baby’s diaper/nappy during the night unless their skin is irritated or very sensitive, they can sleep peacefully with a bit of pee, unless they really “ask you to” because they are uncomfortable.
- Breastfeed lying down and sleep with your child, it’s okay, you’ll get more rest. Make sure you follow the guidelines for safe co-sleeping. If you really don’t want to co-sleep, simply eliminate this option from your list.
- If your baby wakes up and the breast no longer calms them, nudge or lovingly wake up your partner, if there is one, and pass the baby on. If the crying won’t let you sleep, go to the couch for a while.
- If you want to break the breast-sleep association, take into account that the baby will create another association, that will be probably less bearable, practical and comfortable. But you can start night weaning (there is more information on that in the LactApp app) totally or partially.
- Think positive, this is a stage that will end some day sooner or later.
And lastly, if all of this sounds like the same thing you have read so many times, but it doesn’t work for you, remember this:
- Not everything is black and white.
- There are not only nightmare nights or babies who sleep 12 hours straight.
- There are many more choices between always giving what your baby demands instantly or abandoning them with the cry-it-out “method” in a dark room.
- There is everything you want there to be. Babies need a calm, rested and secure mother. We all know that for the first few months, that is wishful thinking, but when the clock is ticking, you don’t see the light and your peace of mind and health are disrupted, be free and happy to accompany your baby in any way you wish. There are many resources and a vast colour scale in raising your baby.
- In short, sleep is evolutionary; like all evolution, it takes time. Mothers and fathers are the most responsible for the upbringing of our children; all other resources or people are mere allies; we must be aware that making decisions from love, calm, and respect is our role as parents.
Do you need help?