October 06, 2022

Breastfeeding and Understanding Infant Sleep

Breastfeeding and Understanding Infant Sleep

Written by Pamela Lim,  https://joyfulparenting.sg

New born babies are so young that many call this first three months the fourth trimester.

Did you know that a stretch of twenty minutes to two hours naps are normal and developmentally appropriate for newborn babies? These short naps are perfectly common in the first few months of your baby’s life although it may seem disrupting to the daily schedule and that perfect scenario of eat, play and sleep routine that books and everyone seem to be bragging about.

There is no doubt that caring for a new baby can be exhausting, especially if you feel you are not getting enough sleep. Understanding infant sleep and breastfeeding is so important and can help you cope better in the early days and months.

Breastfeeding In The Early Days
In the early days, it’s practically impossible for your newborn not to doze off while nursing because her circadian rhythm hasn’t been established and breastmilk is a natural sleep inducer.

Research has shown that breastmilk changes all the time throughout the day, in response to the needs and health of your baby. Breastmilk gradually increases in the fat content throughout the day and young babies often cluster feed by the end of the day, taking in frequent feeds of the fattier milk and this helps to satisfy them enough to have their longest stretch of sleep at night. The cluster feeding in the early months may go on late into the evening when most mothers would naturally feel most exhausted during this time.

Breastfeeding Baby To Sleep At Night
Your  prolactin hormone levels designed to support milk production are at their highest during the night.  So, when your baby feeds frequently at night, the message that signals to your body to boost milk supply is even stronger. Breastmilk at night is also high in the amino acid tryptophan, which in turn helps your baby to make melatonin, which is used by the body to develop its circadian rhythm which is our internal system for recognising the difference between day and night and to sleep better. Therefore, this hormone produced while breastfeeding also help you to relax and fall back to sleep more quickly which may be why you find yourself nodding off so easily while breastfeeding.

Given the fact that the hormones in night-time breastmilk help you and your baby to get back to sleep quickly, feeding babies to sleep is completely natural. A mother’s and baby’s body is designed to work in tandem this way. Breastfeeding your baby to sleep helps baby feel calm, safe and secure. Over time, babies stop falling asleep at the breast so easily, and eventually all babies or children stop needing the breast to fall asleep. Sleep is not a taught development, and all children get there in their own time. So, while breastfeeding to sleep continues to work, many mothers find it a wonderful, loving and responsive way to help their children doze off.

Safely sharing a bed with your baby, or having your baby sleep very close to you in a side cot or similar, is one way of getting more sleep and rest. Learning to nurse lying down and being able to fall back asleep safely with baby can really help everyone to get more sleep, especially as baby gets older and can latch on by themselves. Moms can feed from both breasts when lying on one side by simply tilting their body forwards more or just simply by switching sides. It may take a little practice but overall it’s easier and less disruptive for both mother and baby at night. Research shows that breastfeeding tends to be more successful overall for moms that co-sleep than those that keep their baby separated from them at night.

Night Feeds After The Early Months
Most babies in the first year may breastfeed longer or shorter at night and this is related to reasons including growth spurts, teething, illness, and even learning new skills such as sitting, crawling and walking. The increased breastfeeding that occurs around four to six months are common and are not a sign that your baby is hungry and needs formula and/or solids.

You may find that night feeding becomes much easier as your baby grows older as it can be a simple matter of rolling over and putting the breast near your baby, who will manage to self-latch thus hastening the feeding process as well. Some moms may also use breast compressions as a way of speeding up feeds, getting the most sleep in this process and are also able to get their babies back to sleep quickly! 

Coping With Challenges
It’s important to know that you are not alone and at any point in time, there are many moms out there breastfeeding their babies of varying ages at night. A good turning point for most of them is when they are able to relax their expectations a little of themselves and their babies.

Breastfeeding for all the night-feeds can feel exhausting and sometimes well-intentioned comments may suggest a care-giver could feed the baby with a bottle at night to relieve you. Remember that the breastfeeding hormones during night-time make it easier for both you and your baby to get back to sleep quickly. Since the hormones in night-time milk production peaks at night, there is some evidence that giving your baby breastmilk expressed at other times does not always have quite the same effect. Mothers will often wake up when their baby does anyway, and may struggle to get back to sleep if they can hear their baby crying while waiting for a bottle to be warmed up. Most mothers will also need to hand express or pump milk during the night to protect their supply and avoid engorgement, so they are often awake during the time their baby is being fed by a caregiver.

There are many ways to get supported so that things feel easier. Sometimes dads or a caregiver can get up with the baby first thing in the morning to give moms some extra time in bed, which can make a big difference.

If you are really struggling with tiredness, you may want to think of ways to adapt your own routines for a short while to help you get more rest and perhaps finding time to sleep more during the day or going to bed earlier. 

Take things one day at a time, listen to your body and your baby. Never forget that you know your baby best!

Get Breastfeeding Support And Advise For Additional Help
If you are struggling with breastfeeding and need a listening ear, do not hesitate to seek help from a hospital lactation consultant or call a breastfeeding helpline for support/ advice: Joyful Parenting @ 6488 0286