How’s the baby sleeping – it’s one of the first questions you are asked after delivering. There’s no question that most moms (and dads) are basically sleep walking the first year of their kid’s life. Some have it easy, like I did with Connor to have a baby that sleeps through the night at 6 weeks but most aren’t. That was a miracle in some ways and not in others. I would have gladly traded sleeping through the night, going through the disappointment of the nipple shield and nursing strike for a smooth nursing relationship with him waking up multiple times a night. I’ve truly embraced my nighttime nursing relationship with Penelope and feel overwhelmed with the closeness and bond that results. She nurses often a night, mostly for comfort I’ve come to believe and that’s okay. I’ve come to terms with that and am happy to be available to comfort her. It is my job as her mother, afterall.
So, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week I want to share the brighter side of nighttime nursing in hopes you other lovely, exhausted mamas can see the benefits it provides because no one ever talks about this. We are always encouraged to get our babies to sleep through the night far away from us, by a certain time for certain amount of hours and this is just silly. The reality is babies wake up just like we do at night. They crave comfort and closeness just like we do when we wake up and snuggle close to our partner. It’s a time, just like during the daylight hours when they need us and it’s our responsibility to respond and let them know we care.
So, let’s get to it…
1. Prolactin which is our milk-making hormone follows a circadian rhythm. Studies have proved that a woman’s prolactin level is much higher during the night. Quite simply, there’s more milk during the night and babies know it. Babies who are allowed to nurse on demand (even throughout the night) will ensure their mothers have an adequate milk supply for their indivual need.
2. Babies are born with no circadian rhythm meaning they can’t tell night from day. It actually takes quite a few months to develop their own cycles and their own melatonin. Nighttime breastmilk is rich not only in prolactin but also in sleep inducing melatonin which actually helps your baby develop their own circadian rhythm so in time they will start sleeping longer stretches. Basically, your breastmilk changes throughout the day. Evening and nighttime breastmilk is naturally designed to help your baby become drowsy and sleepy.
3. Breastfeeding at night is key in keeping up a long-term milk supply strong. It’s all supply and demand 24 hours a day. This point is especially important for working moms who struggle to keep up supply. Breastfeeding more during the night may mean needing to pump less during the day.
4. Your baby is asking to reconnect. It’s not uncommon for babies and toddlers to wake during times of change or if they have working parents. They want to know you are close, that they are safe. It’s a chance to build a trusting connection through responsiveness and respect to their cries. This is true even outside of the nursing aspect of it – have I told you how Connor now sleeps with Kyle? It’s an effort to promote a less clingy, whiny relationship he had with his Dad that leaves everyday and you know what? It’s working! (more on that in another post…)
5. Waking to attend and nurse your baby also helps with SIDS prevention! How many times have you gone into your babies room, leaned over their bassinet or scooched closer while you were cosleeping to rest your hand softly on their chest to make sure they were still breathing? We all do it. I still do it, even with my almost 3 year old. It’s a mother’s instinct to check on her child. As you regularly attend to your babies needs during the night you become aware of their breathing patterns and sleep positions. You fix blankets and make sure they are in a safe space.
6. Many studies have shown that breastfeeding mothers actually get more sleep than their bottle feeding counterparts. You have to actually wake up to fiddle with those bottles and formula. If you nurse at night, specifically if you cosleep you can just roll to your side, latch and drift back to sleep while your baby is getting the nourishment and closeness that they need.
Did you ever realize how many benefits there were to nighttime feeding? I know some nights are tougher than others. Sometimes all we want to do is sleep a full night after a full day of work or chasing our kids around the playground. I’m right there with ya but I’ve come to realize that I have this sweet girl that just wants to be close to her mom and how can I deny her of that? I can’t and I won’t. It’s my job. I don’t clock out at 7pm when my kids head to bed. I choose to embrace the opportunity to reconnect with them even in the wee hours of the night. However, I will certainly do everything I can to make it easier for me to get rest as well which is why I cosleep and have mastered the sidelying nursing position once Penelope was around 4 or 5 months old. Nursing moms, if you haven’t done this yet, practice! It is a
life sleep saver.
So that’s it my sleepy Mommas – rest well and next time your sweet babe wakes you up remind yourself of all the wonderfulness of nursing at night.
Since it is World Breastfeeding Week – check out my Breastfeeding Throughout History series from last year too!