Breastfeeding at night was something that both my girls insisted on. After all, I was working during the day, leaving them with their grandma and my pumped milk to feed them with. I’d pump at work too, but honestly, I was so glad to be home at the end of the day to snuggle up with my little angels and nurse them.
They’d wake in the night to nurse too, and since we all favored the side-lying position, it worked out quite well. I managed to get more sleep than I thought I would (though not as much sleep as I got pre-kids). In fact, moms that breastfeed at night get more sleep than those that feed their babies formula! That’s an incentive right there to nurse away the night.
In the early days, you’re really going to feel like a boob-slave as I always called it. But eventually, your little one will eat faster during each feeding period and will space them out further. That means more sleep for you but you’ll still likely get called to duty once or twice a night.
Some people think you shouldn’t nurse a baby to sleep, but I am all for it. If it gets all of you back to sleep, that’s a great thing. Plus, they’re getting excellent nutrition so why not let them enjoy it? If you think you’re being unnecessarily awoken for nursing duties though, just some quick thoughts:
- Wake up Hubby and thrust a bottle of breastmilk at him and make him do the feeding (or even ask him nicely).
- Your baby might have a cold. They tend to be clingier and want to nurse more if they don’t feel well.
- Your baby could be going through a growth spurt which means she will nurse like a mega-pig for about 2 to 3 days and then nurse with a normal appetite after that (until the next spurt of course).
I’ll have some tips on how to make it easier for you though when you’re on boob-detail for the evening in just a moment. First, let me hit some key questions new breastfeeding moms always ask.
Can I just breastfeed at night?
If you’re not breastfeeding during the day, you’d better be pumping to keep up that milk supply. This is what I did when my girls were babies because I had to relieve my giant, engorged breasts and I needed to give my mother-in-law a supply of breastmilk to use while I was at work.
So for me, I basically only nursed at night once I went back to work. If you just want to breastfeed at night, make sure you’re expressing that milk or it’s pain-city for your breasts and you’ll slow down your milk production if you don’t.
Shy to breastfeed in public? Read my thoughts.
Do you produce less milk at night?
Nope! According to La Leche League, babies can get as much as 30% of their daily calories at night, so you shouldn’t skip out on night feeds. This is extra important if your baby isn’t gaining enough weight. If your breastfed baby is sleeping through the night early on, you should make sure to get them that feeding. More on that shortly.
As for your milk, that milk-producing hormone in your body known as prolactin follows a circadian rhythm. So nursing your baby at night is a great thing because there’s more milk. That’s not all though.
Since babies can’t make the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin until they are several months old, they have no circadian rhythm of their own. But the breastmilk you produce at night does. Scientists believe that because of this, babies develop their own cycles and start sleeping in longer stretches, which is something we all want, believe me!
And if you need any more reasons to keep up breastfeeding at night, the milk you produce in the evening has more tryptophan, that sleep-inducing amino acid we often associate with eating all that turkey during Thanksgiving. How it works is that it helps develop serotonin receptors in the brain, which in turn, makes the brain work better, contributes to a good mood, and is helpful for the sleep-wake cycles.
There’s one more thing you should know about breastfeeding at night.
It can help keep your long-term milk production going. And this even applies to older babies who still like to nurse at night. The best part is that you’ll have to pump less during the day. If you’re not nursing enough within a full 24-hour period, your magic number as Breastfeeding USA calls it, goes down. More nursing at night keeps the number up and thus, keeps those breasts full of magic milk.
How can I increase my breast milk at night?
So now that you know your body is designed to make more milk at night, you’re probably wondering how to make more of it, aren’t you? Breast milk is a totally on-demand feature. When your baby suckles at your breast or you use a pump, it signals to your brain to make more milk to replace the milk that’s taken out.
If your breasts are full, milk production slows down. To increase it, you’ve got to drain your breasts. So if you’re at work, that means pumping to tell your body to make more milk. And if you’re at home with the baby, make sure he’s draining your breasts. More nursing time means more milk is produced. Your baby needs to get that milk out or your milk supply will not be fully replenished.
To make more breastmilk, get a good latch, nurse frequently, offer both breasts, pump and save the excess, and avoid giving pacifiers, at least in the first few months. This will ensure that your body is making plenty of milk and that your baby is getting the benefits from it.
Check out my post about breastfeeding do’s and don’ts to make sure you’re doing everything right. You may also find it helpful to get a breastfeeding coach or a lactation consultant to help you resolve any issues you might be having.
How many hours can a baby go without eating at night?
Sleeping through the night for newborns and babies under 6 months is laughable. It depends on the baby too. Some can sleep 3 hours at a time max, while others will go a full 8 hours. Mine never slept that long, ever. Both of my daughters were up every 3 hours. I could have seriously set a watch to their accuracy. Yes, even when they were bigger!
Eventually, they’d go a bit longer and I’d get 4 hours, and then 5. But I wouldn’t trade those wake-up calls for anything.
In fact, experts say it’s very normal for babies to wake like this.
I knew one mom who would brag to me and another mutual friend how her son was such an angel because he slept through the night and never fussed. She was annoying, to be sure, but what concerned me was it sounded like he had developmental issues. He didn’t start talking until he was 4.
Not trying to scare you here, but babies should be waking up to breastfeed at night. It’s common and good for them not to. They will wake to nurse and then go back to sleep, most of the time. Other times if they seem finicky, they might be catching a cold or just want to cuddle. Babies are people too you know. They’re just smaller and not really good at communicating their issues, but you’ll get it.
Will baby sleeping through night hurt milk supply?
It’s best to not let sleeping babies lie. You might not want to bother that sweet little thing, especially now that she’s sound asleep, but she needs to eat. When babies are just born, they need to eat about every 2 hours. After that, it will move to every 3 hours. Then you can start gauging how hungry your baby is, but it will generally be every 3 to 4 hours, growing slowly apart as they get larger.
At 6 months, if they are able to sit up on their own and show interest in food, you can start giving them solids. Some moms even choose to give a little formula with the food while others just stick to using breastmilk and soft solids. You can even mix your expressed breastmilk in with the food.
Waking up a baby to breastfeed at night
You should make sure to wake your baby up if it’s time to breastfeed. But that doesn’t mean you need to turn up your old heavy metal albums and rock out. Here are some tips:
- Watch for the light sleep cycle
Babies fall in and out of this stage of sleep more often than grownups do so if you see your baby has rapid eye movement while his eyes are closed, makes facial expressions, or moves his arms or legs, you’ve got a better chance of getting a successful night-time feeding from him.
- Loosen clothes
For true newborns, 2 weeks and younger, try dressing them down to the diaper and holding them against your skin. Skin to skin contact is so important for bonding and breastfeeding.
- Keep lights dim
Think of Gizmo from The Gremlins. Bright lights are going to annoy you and they’ll make your baby too awake. Keeping things dim helps you see while putting your baby in a more wakeful state without waking him up outright.
- Go for the doll’s eyes
Do you remember your first doll as a girl? I do. When I’d lay her down, her eyes would close. When I’d pick her up and hold her upright, her eyes would open. The same goes for real babies! Be gentle though as you try this tip out.
- Talk and make eye contact
The more you engage them, the more your baby will wake up. Some babies will get mad at this, but they’ll quickly forgive it when they see milk is waiting for them. You should offer both breasts. If they fall asleep on the second breast, it’s totally fine.
For my girls, they would just nurse and sleep. I was amazed by this, honestly. I’d watch them suckling away while dozing off. If they started falling off the breast before the feeding was over, I’d massage their earlobes and poof! Back to suckling, they would go.
How can I wean my baby off breastfeeding at night?
If you want to wean your baby off breastfeeding at night, you should read my post about weaning. But fair warning – if you work during the day, your baby is going to want to breastfeed at night. Just go with it because this phase won’t last forever and you truly will treasure those moments, especially once they’re all done breastfeeding.
Nighttime Breastfeeding Tips
Now that I’ve answered your breastfeeding at night questions, let me give you some tips for getting through this phase. Please remember how wonderful you are for doing this for your baby. She will never need you more than she does now and while the first couple of months feels so demanding, I promise you that you will get more and more space to yourself. Don’t give up!
One of the best ways to breastfeed at night is to find a comfortable position. I’ve mentioned I always loved side-lying because it was comfortable for me and both my girls. Plus, I didn’t have to worry I’d doze off and drop them. You can read my post about this position and how to do it. There were many times I’d simply fall asleep myself and when I didn’t, I could at least rest my eyes and enjoy laying down.
Changing sides is easy, or you can simply adjust your now-humongous breasts so you don’t have to move your baby. I would do that quite often when I was super-tired so I didn’t accidentally launch them out of the bed. The laid-back position is another one you can try for a cozier nighttime breastfeeding experience.
Keep your baby nearby
With your baby nearby, getting up to breastfeed at night is much less annoying. I personally kept mine in bed with me, especially if they cried when I tried to move them to the crib, but the best thing you can do according to the AAP is put them in an attached bassinet to your bed so they have their own space and you can just roll over closer to them without endangering your baby.
Interestingly, SIDS is less likely to happen if your baby sleeps in your room, as long as they are in a safe sleeping space as a separate cot or bassinet. You’ll get more sleep this way and even better, you won’t trip over things in the night dashing down to the hall to get your crying baby.
Don’t be a clock-watcher
While you should have a vague idea of about how long it’s been since your baby last nursed, staring at the clock doesn’t do any good. If you’re worried you’ll both sleep through a feeding, set a small alarm for 3 hours later. I can tell you though I’ve never had to do this. Both my daughters always woke up like clockwork for nighttime feedings.
If you stare at the clock though, you will only realize how little sleep you’ve had. And we all know what an awful feeling that is!
Dress for success
Get pajamas that make nursing easy for both of you. For me, it was my old Jane’s Addiction t-shirt that was so soft and worn with age, I could move it in any direction for easy access to breastfeeding. I never wore a bra at night. In fact, I’ve always hated bras but if you like wearing them, please don’t wear your nursing bra at night. It can raise your risk for clogged ducts and mastitis. Ouch!
Before going to bed, always make sure you have a stash of essentials handy nearby the bed so you don’t have to fumble around at night. Diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, burp clothes, some water for you, and anything else you find you need. A portable diaper caddy is great for this because you can just fill it up and leave it for when you need it.
I’d also recommend a change of clothes for your baby too, just in case. Some of those nighttime feedings lead to big, explosive poops. When my youngest was just a month old, my husband had gone into the guest room to get a good night’s sleep. My eldest was sound asleep in her room. Our apartment wasn’t very big, which is why I was surprised that no one woke up with my screams.
See, while I was finishing the feeding, I heard an epic poop squirt. I sighed and got ready to change her. I had some things handy nearby but I learned from this moment to be fully prepared. As I was changing her, she continued to poop, emitting a stream of liquid poop like a volcanic eruption all over me. My clothes, her clothes, the wall, the bedding…everything was covered in liquid doody.
She cried, and I cried because I had no idea what to clean up first. I so desperately needed an adult! So live and learn, and stay organized, my friends!
Use a towel
Breasts leak and babies can spill. They can also spit up too. One of the best ways to keep things from getting messy or from having your bedding reek of sour milk is to use a clean towel under you and baby. Having a few extras nearby the bed definitely helps. If you’re forgetful, put a small one in your caddy by your bed so that you’ll always have one.
Squeeze it out
One thing I mentioned before is to make sure your baby is draining your breasts. Plus, that hindmilk at the end of each breast is some of the fattiest and most nourishing. Make sure baby gets it by compressing your breasts while he’s sucking. Squeeze with your thumb and fingers like you’re milking yourself (because essentially, you are) and you’ll help your baby get the best part of the milk. That will help for longer stretches of sleep too, but don’t go expecting 8 glorious hours of it.
Learn the art of the nap
Whenever possible, take naps during the day. This isn’t always easy, especially if you work, but try to get some extra sleep in to help even things out. You can also get your husband to help, or ask friends and relatives. As a bonus, they’ll get a chance to bond with the baby too.
Breastfeeding at night is so necessary and it’s one of the best times to feed your baby. Just keep it up a little while longer and you’ll see the benefits. Remember, this time will pass very quickly. When I was ready to throw in the towel, my breastfeeding coach told me this and I hung in there. And then just like that, my eldest was less demanding at night and breastfeeding was so much easier.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.