Dealing with night wakings

When do I sleep?

It’s a good idea for mothers to sleep when their baby sleeps. Mothers may try to defer tasks or give them to someone else to make time to rest. Some mothers think they will get more sleep if they don’t breastfeed, but babies still need to be fed at night and mothers tend to wake when the baby cries, even if someone else is caring for the baby. Besides, breastfeeding can keep mothers and babies healthier, and sick babies often need more care at night. Mothers may find that anxiety and stress are keeping them awake. Breastfeeding can reduce anxiety by removing the need to buy infant formula and by keeping mothers and babies healthy. Some mothers worry they won’t have enough milk if they are not well rested. This is not the case. Mothers may find that this period of limited sleep will soon pass.

A) Dealing with night wakings

Parenthood is a round-the-clock occupation and can be tiring. The good news is that this early time in a baby’s life is a very small portion of parenthood. It will soon pass. Until then, find what works for your family and ask for help if you need it. 

It is good advice to sleep when the baby sleeps. Mothers should not be afraid to use the baby’s daytime naps as an opportunity to nap themselves. They may be tempted to do tasks, but should consider delegating or deferring them to make time to rest. 

One study (Pennestri 2018) did not show any relation between mother’s mood and whether or not the baby slept through the night. Rather, the total amount of sleep is extremely important to the health of both mother and baby.

B) Breastfeeding can help mothers get sleep

One study (Hughes 2017) showed that breastfeeding mothers had an average of 2½ hours more sleep during the first 48 hours after delivery than mothers who infant formula-fed. 

Breastfeeding is also a quick way to get a tired baby to sleep. They will fall asleep faster if breastfed than when other ways are used and also cry less.

C) Stopping or decreasing breastfeeding does not guarantee more sleep

Some mothers are told that by stopping breastfeeding, they will have more sleep. However, babies may still need to be fed at night and mothers tend to wake when the baby cries, even if someone else is caring for the baby. In addition, breastfeeding helps protect babies from infection and chronic diseases, and babies and children who are sick often need more care at night.

Anxiety and stress can keep mothers from sleeping. Common sources of anxiety and stress are financial concerns, the baby’s illness, and sudden changes in a family’s situation. Breastfeeding can reduce anxiety and stress because:

  • The family does not have to spend money on infant formula or waste time preparing and storing it and washing bottles.
  • Mothers and their babies are less likely to be sick.
  • The family has food security and is more resilient in a crisis.

Breastfeeding may also improve the long-term quality of a child’s sleep as it decreases the risk of snoring in children (Sun 2019).

D) Lack of sleep does not decrease milk supply or affect its quality

Some mothers needlessly worry that if they are not well rested their milk will not be “good” or that they will not have enough milk to feed their babies. Unless mothers experience severe stress, they will generally have enough milk of excellent quality.

E) The down-up sleep cycle

Mothers may find that their baby falls asleep after breastfeeding but wakes upon being placed down, creating the down-up cycle. This cycle is normal.

Babies need to breastfeed to sleep and they need to be held. Putting them down wakes them up as they are suddenly separated from their caregivers and are scared. This cycle is normal. Some mothers assume the baby is waking from hunger because there isn’t enough milk or the baby has ”reflux” or some other illness. Rather, it’s because the baby does not feel secure and is afraid when not being held.

Most mothers will find a solution to this issue or the baby just grows out of this pattern. To prevent the baby from waking, you can try wearing the baby in a wrap during the day and sleeping with the baby near you at night.

F) Crying it out

Some mothers are advised to let their baby cry it out instead of responding to them. Research has shown that such extreme stress for a baby can have significant risks.

References

Hughes O, Mohamad MM, Doyle P, et al. The significance of breastfeeding on sleep patterns during the first 48 hours postpartum for first time mothers. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2017 Oct 12:1-5
 
Pennestri MH, Laganière C, Bouvette-Turcot AA, et al. Uninterrupted Infant Sleep, Development, and Maternal Mood. Pediatrics. 2018 Nov 12. pii: e20174330
  
Sun K, Guo Y, Zhang Y, et al. Breastfeeding and risk of habitual snoring in children: A meta-analysis. Matern Child Nutr. 2019 Feb 27:e12799