Tips to Make Breastfeeding at Night Easier
No matter how prepared you are for the arrival of your newborn baby, there are some things you just can’t be ready for. And the exhaustion of new motherhood is one of them.
Babies have small tummies and digest their food quickly. This means they need to eat often, whether it’s day or night. When you’re breastfeeding, this means YOU, mom are on call for feedings 24 hours a day. Often every few hours all night long.
Night feedings can be tough. There is no way around that. But there are some things you can do to make night feedings easier. Check out these tips for breastfeeding at night to help you get through the early days, weeks, and months of night feedings with your baby.
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How Long Will Night Feedings Continue?
Nearly every exhausted mom waking every couple of hours to breastfeed at night has asked themselves how long they will be doing this.
You’ve probably heard various timelines for when your baby “should” start sleeping through the night. The truth is every baby is different. Your baby will begin to sleep longer at night and wake less often on their own timeline.
Be aware that having unrealistic expectations about when your baby will sleep longer or even through the night is setting yourself up for stress. At around 4 to 6 months if your baby is developing normally you can begin to consider cutting back on night feedings.
See the section below on night weaning for tips on how to get started.
And even when your baby no longer needs night feedings to meet their nutritional needs, they will probably continue wanting night feedings for comfort, for entertainment or just to spend more time with mom.
At that point, it’s up to you to decide what is best for you and your child when it comes to continuing night feedings or starting to wean from them.
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How Being Prepared Can Make Nighttime Breastfeeding Easier
One of the biggest challenges of nighttime breastfeeding is taking care of your baby’s needs when you’re only half awake.
You can make night feedings much easier on yourself with a little planning ahead. Start by keeping a dim nightlight within reach of your bed so you can see when you need to get up for a feeding. But not have bright lights in your eyes.
And keep a basket of essentials you might need during the night near where you plan to feed your baby.
This may include your nursing pillow, a book, water, snacks, diapers and wipes, burping cloths for spit up, an extra set of pajamas for your baby, maybe even an extra crib sheet in case of diaper leaks or spit up.
Basically, anything you might need, try to make it readily available. You don’t want to be searching your cupboards for snacks or dresser drawers for a clean sheet and set of pajamas when you just want to breastfeed and get back to sleep.
Plan ahead so that during night time breastfeeding you can focus on feeding your baby and getting you both back to sleep fast.
Night Time Breastfeeding Positions
For many of us, nighttime breastfeeding works well with the same positions we use during the day.
I did well with the crossover hold and the football hold using a My Brestfriend nursing pillow. And I used these both during the day and at night because I found it most comfortable to sit up and nurse.
But other moms have told me they preferred the side-lying position for breastfeeding at night. This position allows both you and your baby to lay down during the entire feeding.
It’s a great option and will probably make it easier for both of you to fall asleep after the feeding. But if you struggle to stay awake and are concerned about the safety of bed sharing it may not be right for you.
For a list of breastfeeding positions you may want to try, check out My Brestfriend nursing pillow
For a detailed explanation of the side-lying breastfeeding position, this post gives both a thorough explanation and easy instructions.
How to Stay Awake During Night Feedings with Your Baby
One of the biggest struggles as a new mom breastfeeding at night is balancing the struggle to stay awake while breastfeeding with the desperate need to fall asleep again quickly once you get back to bed. We’ll get to that second part in a minute.
First, how do you keep your tired ass awake long enough to feed your baby?
Get Out of Bed to Stay Awake for Nighttime Feedings
The first thing to do is to get out of bed. When you have a newborn this is often a given. In many cases, your baby will need a quick diaper change while you’re up. So, I recommend doing that first before breastfeeding.
Getting up for the diaper change will usually wake you up enough to stay awake for your nighttime feeding. And prevent any leaky diapers from making a midnight mess you have to clean up.
If you’re not getting up for a diaper change, make sure you at least sit up in bed for nighttime feedings.
If you’re in danger of falling asleep move to a rocking chair for breastfeeding at night. A couch or comfy chair could be a suffocation risk if you doze off during breastfeeding.
And if you’re breastfeeding in bed, consider a backrest or nursing pillow to keep yourself propped up while nursing so you can stay awake.
It is possible to breastfeed lying down in bed. But be aware of the risks if you fall asleep. No one wants to risk their baby falling off the bed or becoming entangled in bed covers, pillows, or other hazards.
Know the risks and set yourself up to breastfeed safely at night. And make sure your baby is always in a safe sleep environment. Bed sharing, especially before 4 months, puts your baby at risk for suffocation and SIDs.
Snacks and Water for Breastfeeding at Night
When you’re waking up to breastfeed every few hours during the night you’ll probably find yourself thirsty and hungry. It’s so important to stay hydrated when you’re a breastfeeding mama.
Make sure you have some water ready to go nearby where you plan to nurse. And it’s a good idea to have some snacks too (we’ll talk about snack ideas for nighttime breastfeeding in a later section).
As an added benefit eating and drinking can help you stay awake during nighttime breastfeeding. Just try not to drop crumbs on your baby.
Chances are you will need some kind of light for night nursing sessions. I needed a light to get the nursing pillow on and make sure I was aiming my baby’s mouth in the right direction.
And a light will also help you stay awake during a feeding. If you have a partner asleep in the bedroom with you, you’ll want a pretty dim nightlight. Or one you can take into another room with you if you plan to keep it on.
And a lower light will be better for you and your baby too. Neither of you wants bright lights in your face in the middle of the night. Especially because chances are you’re hoping you and your baby will both soon be back to sleep.
Set an Alarm During Night Nursing Sessions
If you’re concerned you won’t be able to stay awake for breastfeeding your baby at night, set a vibrating alarm on your phone to go off in 15 minutes or so to wake you if you doze off so you can return your baby to bed safely.
Turn on the TV or Your Phone During Night Nursing
Turning on the TV or reading or playing games on your phone is an easy way to stay awake while breastfeeding your baby at night.
TV can be especially useful if you have a marathon nurser and breastfeeding can take 20-30 minutes.
Turning on the TV or using your phone should be done with caution. While it’s nice to have something to keep you busy and awake while your nursing at night, too much stimulation can make it difficult to fall back to sleep.
And mama, you need sleep. So, let’s talk about that.
How to Get Back to Sleep After Breastfeeding at Night
Keep Your Interactions with Baby Calm & Quiet at Night
If you find you have trouble falling back to sleep after nighttime nursing sessions, you’re not alone. This was always my problem. Once I was awake, I tended to stay that way for a while. No matter how tired I was.
Sometimes I would be awake until the NEXT nighttime nursing session. And when you’re already short on sleep, that is not cool.
The first priority for making sure you can get back to sleep after a night feeding is to do everything you can to make sure your baby goes back to sleep. Because if they don’t sleep, you probably won’t either.
This may mean that for you, the TV and other bright, stimulating devices are off limits during night nursing. Which is a bummer. But sleep needs to be prioritized for both you and your baby.
Make sure your night light for night nursing is dim and won’t completely wake up your baby.
Keep your interactions calm and minimal so that your baby knows it’s still time to sleep. Basically, keep your night feedings dark and quiet to make it easier to resettle your baby after breastfeeding.
Avoid Bright Lights & Electronics During Night Feedings
Keeping the lights dim during night feedings won’t only help your baby. It will also make it easier for you to go back to sleep.
I mentioned watching television if you struggle to stay awake for night feedings. But if your problem is falling back to sleep after breastfeeding then the TV should be avoided.
A book would be great, but I have never had enough free hands for holding a book and turning pages while breastfeeding (some moms do this- I don’t know how).
So, consider reading on a Kindle or on your phone with the screen light on the lowest possible setting. Usually, this is something you can manage one-handed.
It’s tempting to check social media during these middle of night feeding sessions but if there is anything potential drama or news stories or whatever that might cause stress or put your thoughts into overdrive, you may want to skip it.
If you’re bored during night time feeding sessions but trying to avoid electronics to make it easier to get back to sleep, try audiobooks.
You can listen to them while you nurse and they might even help you fall asleep after you’re done. Who doesn’t love a nice soothing bedtime story?
If you don’t want to mess with changing CDs or trying to find a great source for audiobooks, consider a subscription to Audible. You can try Audible free for the first 30 days and you get two free audiobooks. And there are thousands of titles to choose from
Relaxation and Breathing to Fall Asleep After a Night Feeding
When you get back to bed after feeding and resettling your baby you want to get to sleep as quickly as possible. Which is why it’s so frustrating when sleep won’t come.
If you’re struggling to fall back to sleep after nighttime breastfeeding, consider looking into relaxation or breathing techniques for troubled sleepers.
I’ve found listening to meditations can be helpful. Or having soothing white noise. Find a method of relaxation that works for you. And helps you fall asleep quickly so you can get the rest you need between feedings.
Night Time Breastfeeding Snacks
In the spirit of making dealing with nighttime feedings easier, if you know you’re going to be hungry, which is not unusual for a nursing mom, plan some snacks ahead of time.
But there are plenty of other quick and easy no-prep snacks to try. A banana is good. Or a granola bar or some trail mix. Don’t overthink it. Choose something easy you can keep on hand with your nighttime nursing supplies. And avoid having to rummage around the kitchen in the middle of the night.
Stick to snacks that are healthy but light. So you don’t end up overeating or going to sleep with a full or upset stomach.
How to Wean from Breastfeeding at Night
Every baby is different and the age at which they will be ready to wean from night feedings varies. But for most babies around 4 to 6 months of age they will be getting enough calories during the day to sleep for 5 or 6 hours straight at night.
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Yes, 5 or 6 hours of sleep in a row is considered “sleeping through the night” for a baby. Why, I don’t know. But it beats getting only 2 to 3 hours in a row.
But it’s not unusual for babies to continue waking for nighttime feedings long past the six-month mark. Whether it’s because they need the nourishment or because they need the physical reassurance of being held and fed by mom.
Both of which are legitimate needs. If you enjoy feedings, continue them for as long as it works for you without giving it a second thought.
But if and when you’re ready to night wean and when your baby is ready, the best approach is a gradual one.
Gradual Weaning from Night Time Breastfeeding
When you’re ready to start night weaning a good first step is to shorten the duration of your nighttime nursing sessions. Usually, do this with one session at a time. Until you’re ready to eliminate that nursing session completely and lengthen the time between feedings.
Next, you will want to lengthen the amount of time between nursing sessions. To do this, try patting or soothing your baby back to sleep when they awaken instead of offering the breast. Again, with one nursing session at a time. If they fall back to sleep the first time they awaken you can feed them when they awaken a second time.
Over time you’ll eliminate all the nighttime nursing sessions.
Soothing baby back to sleep without nursing usually works best if you don’t pick them up and avoid giving them the opportunity to root around for a breast.
Often sending in Dad or the non-nursing partner to soothe the baby can help with this. If your baby smells mom and breastmilk it can be harder to soothe them back to sleep without breastfeeding.
Offer Extra Feedings During the Day When You’re Night Weaning
To make sure your baby is still getting all the nutrition they need during night weaning make sure they are getting plenty of breastmilk during the day.
If you’ve recently started solids with your baby, please note baby food and solids in no way replaces the calories your baby needs from breastmilk. Unless you’re night weaning a toddler that eats full meals.
If your baby is under a year, breastmilk is still a primary source of nutrition and you need to make sure they are getting the calories they need during the day from breastmilk if you’re cutting back on feedings at night.
You can also offer your baby extra feedings in the evening during night weaning to make sure they go to bed with a full tummy.
Eliminate Night Feedings One at a Time
As you go through the process of weaning your baby from nighttime breastfeeding, eliminate one feeding at a time. Eventually, you’ll be able to drop the last one.
For me, as nighttime nursing sessions became further and further apart, eventually the last nighttime breastfeeding session and the first morning session merged. So, I had a nursing session at about 5 am. With the last one before that occurring around 9:30 or 10pm.
If Night Weaning Isn’t Working
If you attempt night weaning and your baby cries inconsolably for multiple nights or won’t be soothed back to sleep. They might not be ready to night wean.
Weaning from night time breastfeeding should not be traumatic for you or your baby. If it’s not going well after a couple of days, return to your normal nighttime breastfeeding routine for a week or two before you try again.
Failed attempts can be frustrating. But your child will eventually wean from night feedings. Just like every stage of childhood, it’s temporary, I promise.
If you have any concerns about your child’s readiness for night weaning, talk to your pediatrician.
How to Survive Nighttime Breastfeeding with Baby
The exhaustion of new motherhood is hard to even imagine before it happens to you. And while breastfeeding can be an amazing way to bond with and care for your baby, waking every two hours to feed them feels much less amazing. I hope you can use these tips to make nighttime breastfeeding easier. So you can enjoy the early weeks and months with your baby more. And both you and your baby can get the rest you need.