Breastfeeding When Baby Sleeps for Longer Periods
Here's what to do to make sure your milk supply stays up, even when your baby doesn't!
Maintaining Your Nursing Motivation as Sleeping Patterns Change
Though every baby is different, many newborns often begin sleeping for longer stretches between 2-4 months postnatal. While most won’t sleep through the night for 8 hours or longer until about 6 months postnatal or thereafter, longer stretches of sleep can be both a blessing and a challenge! If you’re like many moms, you may want to jump for joy at one less overnight feeding and a little more uninterrupted sleep. However, this can also be a challenging time that often requires extra breastfeeding encouragement as your established breastfeeding schedule may change too. Remember, breast milk is produced on a supply-and-demand basis – this means that you may initially wake with engorgement or a feeling of fullness, as your body adjusts to less overnight feedings. If that happens, you may wish to either wake your baby for a quick "dream feed" or pump just enough to relieve yourself.
However, if there is a special or unique situation - such as if your little one is a preemie, a NICU patient, or you haven't fully established lactation yet - you may wish to maintain the extra overnight feeding or replace it with a pump session, rather than skipping it.
If your little one has a more established sleep pattern now, your efforts to wake at night should only be for your comfort - i.e. relieving fullness to minimize engorgement and/or leakage - and not a regular routine. However, keep in mind that many babies’ sleep patterns do not develop on a linear path. Though your little one may sleep for longer stretches around 2 months old, they may start waking up overnight more frequently when going through a growth spurt or after starting to teethe. While this can be frustrating and may feel as though your baby is regressing when it comes to proper sleep, this is all normal. Deciding to continue feeding him or her with breast milk during the day can provide your little one with exactly what they need to get through it.
Find Breastfeeding Encouragement to Keep You Going Strong
#1: Pump for Comfort and Enjoy the Extra ZZZs!
As your baby’s stomach grows, the need for feedings every two hours or less naturally decreases. This is because his or her stomach can now hold more milk, so they don’t need to nurse or take a bottle as often. Some moms decide to slowly eliminate nighttime feedings one by one as this happens, while others opt to replace these nursing sessions with temporarily pumping instead until your body adjusts accordingly. By temporarily waking to pump, you can give yourself some relief from any fullness or engorgement you may experience overnight as your body adjusts to dropping a nighttime feeding. This can also help to minimize any leakage if your breasts become too full. Best of all, if you pump to comfort for a few nights until your body has adjusted its milk production, you'll have some extra stored breast milk that you can feed your baby the following day or get creative by including it in recipes just for him or her!
Finally, only you know what’s best for you and your baby and when the right time is to fully wean. Your breastfeeding journey is unique and every drop that you are able to provide is meaningful!
#2: Remind Yourself of All the Breastfeeding Benefits
A great source of continued breastfeeding encouragement is reminding yourself of all the great health benefits that breast milk feeding provides to you and your little one. For example, did you know studies show that for every 12 months a mom breastfeeds, she lowers her breast cancer risk by about 4.3%? Researchers have even discovered that ovarian cancer is more common among mothers who do not breastfeed. In fact, in a meta-analysis of five prospective cohort studies and 30 case-control studies, mothers who never breastfed were 32% more likely to develop ovarian cancer*.
In addition, continued breast milk feeding is also excellent for your baby. It helps prevent them from becoming overweight or obese later in life and strengthens their immune system, resulting in lowered risks of ear infections, allergies, and respiratory and digestive issues. Keeping a list of the benefits that breastfeeding provides can be a great motivator to continue nursing and pumping through challenges, as your little one grows, and eventually as he or she requires fewer feedings.
We understand that it can be difficult at times to maintain nursing motivation, especially as your baby continues to develop and their sleeping patterns change. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from loved ones and connect with other new moms on our Facebook and Instagram pages for additional breastfeeding encouragement! No matter how long or short your breastfeeding journey may be, you’re doing a great, important job for your little one and yourself.
*Luan NN, Wu QJ, Gong TT, et al. Breastfeeding and ovarian cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(4):1020 – 1031