Breastfeeding and "Sleeping Through the Night"

This week is World Breastfeeding Week! Like most women’s motherhood experience, my journey was not a straight line.

Breastfeeding and "Sleeping Through the Night"

There is a common misconception that breastfed babies can’t “sleep through the night,” but there are a couple of relative terms within that statement. Sure breast milk digests faster than formula, but what does sleeping through the night mean to you? If I remember correctly, doctors define it as one 6+ hour sleep stretch at night. That sounds on par for a young baby. What about when they get a little older? I personally felt like my daughter was sleeping through the night, when she would wake to nurse and then fall back asleep until morning. She was sleeping 12 hours by 13 weeks and it was GLORIOUS!

What is this sorcery you might ask? Let’s rewind a bit.

I had taken a breastfeeding class through the hospital I was delivering at before my daughter was born, but I was well aware that many women have trouble breastfeeding. I decided that once my daughter was here, I’d give it a shot and if it worked out, great. If not, great. I was extremely surprised when a few minutes after my daughter was born and stabilized, a midwife stuck her on my breast and I remember thinking to myself, wait… these things work?! And that was that…. for a short time. I struggled with mastitis twice within the first few weeks of my daughters life, then went on to have it two more times. I had an oversupply which is NOT “great,” as some people would say, for about 5 months (it’s extremely painful, uncomfortable and truthfully miserable). I still went on to feed my daughter for a year! In that year I dealt with moving across the world and a 17 hour time change which led to a drop in supply because of the time change and a shift in when my daughter and I were eating, when we were asleep and when we were awake. My body was extremely confused. Breastfeeding is demand and supply, not supply and demand, so it depends on the extraction of milk to signal that body to produce more. I also dealt with breast refusal due to an overactive letdown and frequent blocked ducts that were always accompanied by a fever. I couldn’t wear a bathing suit top or a sports bra for more than 2 hours without getting a HUGE clogged duct, which is frustrating when you’ve just moved to a tropical island with 95% humidity. Super fun times.

In the beginning I remember being a little envious of my friends who could sleep 6 hours straight and split night feeds with their husbands. But that desperation drove me to study up on sleep. I’ve always had a slender build and I’m tall, so while I lost weight quickly initially, I couldn’t lose my mommy fluff because let’s face it, your body needs to be able to maintain a certain body fat percentage to be able to produce milk. So while other mom friends were dieting, I had the craziest appetite I’ve ever had. But then I remember that the grass is always greener, and I know a lot of moms that would have loved to feed their babies and would have welcomed the extra fluff. Whether you breastfed for a day, for 2 years, didn’t breastfeed at all, it truly does not matter! In the words of Ali Wong, “I breastfed because it was free!”

I learned a lot during that first year, and when the time comes to feed baby number 2, there are some things I would love to try differently, but I will face that when we get there. Back to sleeping through the night…

I didn’t have any help from my husband in that department because, well, he didn’t have the right equipment, so I spent days and days researching and reading through books and forums to educate myself. I figured out that full feeds play a HUGE role in “sleeping through the night.” In conjunction with that, are soothing methods and routine. Let’s face it, the minute you have a baby, you’re on a schedule. Babies need to eat every 2-3 hours in the beginning, there’s no getting around that! Babies like predictability, infact they thrive off of it. So how did I apply that? Well, when my daughter woke up for the day or from a nap, I’d feed her, then play with her, then place her down for her next nap or bedtime, in that order. Eat. Awake. Sleep. You time. (E.A.S.Y.) Of course growth spurts, teething and illness mixed things up sometimes, but I always aimed for that routine. Combine that with full feeds, and she gave us 1 hour of nighttime sleep each week of her life until she was 13 weeks old and sleeping 12 hours. This helps TREMENDOUSLY with day and night confusion. As said in the beginning, our journey didn’t look like a straight line, but I kept things consistent and she thrived! Seeing how content she was, was priceless.

I do want to clarify that sleeping through the night does not mean you don’t feed your child or withhold a nutritionally necessary feed. Rather than jumping to feed your child every time they make a peep, pause for a moment, really listen, and see if a feed is really what they need or whether it will actually disturb them more. Sometimes we jump too quickly to feed and miss out on learning what our child’s vocalizations actually mean.

If your child is under 12 months of age, I recommend talking to your pediatrician to discuss dropping feeds.

If you’d like a routine breakdown from 0-4 months of age and detailed information on achieving 12 hours by 13 weeks, check out my guide The Newborn Nest which provides you with my routine, goes over soothing methods, my recommended sleep essentials AND more! It comes straight to your inbox. Mama, I poured my heart into this, what do you have to lose.

If you’re struggling, I’m sending you a virtual hug right now. I have been there. Let’s get you rested