7 Sleep Tips for Breastfeeding Babies and Parents Practicing Elimination Communication
This is a guest post by the founder of my *favorite* resource for helping baby sleep without crying it out. Please enjoy Nicole Johnson's post below, and leave a comment at the end! xx Andrea
Parents of newborns know that the baby will wake at night multiple times to eat, pee, poop, and then go back to sleep. In the early days, waking up at night with the baby is expected and, possibly, even welcomed. Since you can worry a lot about your baby in the early days, it’s comforting when you know they are waking at night to eat and, hence, gain weight!
As the days turn into weeks and even months, though, you expect your baby to wake less at night. Eventually, you hope your baby will even sleep through the night! But what if your baby is dependent on breastfeeding to sleep and waking every 1-2 hours all night to breastfeed back to sleep? Is there anything you can do about it?
Yes! This article is a guest post from Nicole Johnson, founder and lead sleep consultant of The Baby Sleep Site®, sharing 7 tips on how to help you baby sleep in longer stretches at night.
1. Have an Age-Appropriate Sleep Schedule
Setting up your baby for success is one of the best things you can do to help your baby sleep better. One of the first steps in helping your baby sleep better is to put them to bed at the “right” time. But sometimes that time is not based on the clock but how long your baby has been awake. Our bodies release hormones to fight fatigue, so if your baby is over-tired, it will be that much more difficult for your baby to not only fall asleep but stay asleep. Take some time to review your newborn baby’s sleep schedule each week or your older baby’s sleep schedule each month.
2. Maximize Daytime Calories
All babies need 20-35 ounces of breastmilk each day. When you’re breastfeeding, it’s hard to know exactly how much your baby may be getting at each feeding, but keep in mind the more they consume during the day, the less they will need at night. In general, an average size feeding after 2-3 months old is around 4-5 ounces. So, most babies will need approximately 6-8 feedings each 24-hour period. That means if you are feeding your baby 4 times during the day, it’s very unlikely she needs to eat every 1-2 hours all night, for example. That will help you have more confidence that your baby will not go hungry if you start changing his sleep habits.
Please Note: Always check with your pediatrician before you begin night-weaning, though, as you do want to make sure you choose the right number of feedings for your individual baby.
3. Massage Your Bedtime Routine
The first step in helping your baby sleep better at night is helping him or her learn how to fall asleep without a nipple in their mouth. The reason for this is that if your baby is dependent on breastfeeding to sleep, they will associate that with going back to sleep through the night. Instead, we want to breastfeed as part of the bedtime routine, but then have your baby fall asleep without the nipple in their mouth. So, instead of ending your bedtime routine with breastfeeding, consider doing at least one or two steps after the routine that does not include breastfeeding.
4. Introduce a Lovey
If your baby is old enough, you could consider introducing a lovey or replacement object. A lovey is something your baby can use for comforting and self-soothing. Sometimes parents transfer their scent to a lovey by sleeping with it themselves to help associate the lovey with comforting, too. For safety purposes, you aren’t supposed to put anything in your baby’s bed until they are at least a year old, but since attachment often takes time, it’s better to start sooner rather than later.
5. Substitute Breastfeeding With…
As a “baby step” consider substituting breastfeeding with something else such as rocking, patting, etc. Even better if Dad or your partner can help with that part! Although this may not get you that much more sleep long-term (though it could!), the theory is that it will be easier to change a less-favored habit than breastfeeding back to sleep and this can reduce the amount of crying or upset greatly. A great time to do this is when your baby may be eliminating during the night rather than waking to be fed.
6. Have Realistic Expectations
In my 10+ years of sleep consulting, I’ve heard so many stories about when a baby is ready to go all night without breastfeeding at all. In other words, when your baby will sleep all night, as in 11-12 hours, without eating. In my experience, breastfed babies tend to eat longer at night than formula-fed babies. Furthermore, it is usually best for mom’s milk supply to keep at least one night feeding until 9+ months old. Although there are some breastfed babies who may night-wean by 6 months old, in my experience, it’s more common to have at least one feeding until 10-12 months old.
7. Promote Sleep Independence
And, finally, one of the biggest puzzle pieces that leads to better sleep at night is for your baby to be able to sleep more independently. Although babies need us some of the time, once they are old enough, they can sleep more independently. When you feel your baby is ready and your family is ready for a change, you can consider gentle sleep training where you teach your baby how to fall asleep more independently and learn some self-settling. There are many ways to teach these skills, including gentle sleep coaching methods, where you are there every step of the way teaching this wonderful skill to your baby.
We hope these tips have helped you have confidence that you can breastfeeding and improve your baby’s sleep at the same time! We’ve helped many families improve sleep while also maintaining their breastfeeding relationship and strengthening their bond with their baby. And, if you want to have a library of resources at your fingertips as your child grows and you grow your family, you may want to consider becoming a member of The Baby Sleep Site. In the Members Area, there is a library of resources that grows with your child including e-Books, case studies, sample schedules, a custom schedule generator, live chat with a sleep consultant, and more. You’re never alone in your journey to better sleep!
Nicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys and owner of The Baby Sleep Site. When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems – he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! She got busy and thoroughly researched literature and scientific reports until she became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep”. If you have your own sleep issues, Nicole and her team at The Baby Sleep Site® can help! Download the popular free guide, 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night, to get started today.
Thank you for the wonderful post, Nicole! I've been a big fan of yours for many, many years and I hope my readers will go to you with all their sleep issues. A few more things before you go, y'all. xx Andrea
Everyone...please leave a comment below with the #1 point you took from today's post.
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Great tips! my 9 mo old will settle beautifully for sleep with my husband , but with me he will latch on and off. Grab a pacifier, latch on latch off squirm pacifier and repeat. This goes on for quite a while! I can tell he is so tired, but can’t tell if he’s really still hungry or just trying to wean from nursing to settle each night. We sometimes use this time to switch from nursing to diaper change and attempt to potty, but he’s fighting that unless he’s distracted by something to hold while he there.
He’s got his tiny potty, but I haven’t finished reading the book! We try to potty him at least twice a day but it’s not consistent yet.
It’s great you figured out dad can get him settled easily! I’m happy to hear you are easing into EC, it really is fun. xx Andrea
I think it is so sad not to allow your baby to breastfeed whenever they need to – for nourishment or comfort. I understand parents needing to keep their sanity, but co-sleeping and breastfeeding back to sleep is a wonderful way to not lose much sleep and ensure your baby feels safe and loved all night long. The thought of replacing a warm mother full of milk with a stuffed animal is so sad and reminds me of the Harry Harlow experiments. Helping your baby sleep is one thing, but forcing them to sleep the way you want them to is another. As a mother, I feel like a lot of the advice out there is geared more towards mom’s convenience, rather than what is best for the babies development.
Agreed. I would not want to teach my child to be attached to a material object rather than a human relationship.
There’s definitely not one way that works for every family. I’m so glad that co-sleeping and night nursing works for you! xx Andrea
As a mother who doesn’t mind nursing my baby to sleep, and doesn’t want to replace it with anything, thank you for the validation.
Exactly, if it is working for both of you just keep at it! There’s a lot of parenting advice in the world, take it all in and then do what is best for your family. xx Andrea
If a baby is waking every two hours at night to breastfeed, I would just accept that as natural human behavior, rather than viewing it as a problem that needs a solution. I think the real problem that needs fixing is implementing better maternity leave, so that moms have the time and energy to tend to their children at night.
If a baby is waking every hour at night, past newborn cluster feeding, my advice would be to see an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. An IBCLC can do a weighted feed to see whether the baby is transferring milk effectively. If Baby is not getting enough milk at each feeding, she my wake again soon still hungry. For example, a tongue tied baby may not effectively transfer milk from the breast.
Breastfeeding is intended to soothe a baby to sleep and tryptophan levels in breastmilk fluctuate throughout the day and night, in order to establish circadian rhythms.
For anyone looking for support with breastfeeding or a better understanding of what is natural, I recommend attending a La Leche League meeting or reading “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”.
My baby and I share wonderful sleep, bed sharing, breastfeeding, and pottying when needed.
My sentiments entirely! I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking this. I’d be glad to hear any comments from Nicole about this.
Everyone has different needs for sleep. My boys are now 3 and 7 years old. I did EC with both of them and breastfed them both for 21-24 months. I’m a huge advocate of EC and breastfeeding. However, everyone’s circumstances are different. I’m a single mom, parenting full time. I work. In the last month or so, I starting sleeping well for the second time in 7 years. (The first time was about a year in length after my first son starting sleeping through the night and before I was pregnant with my second son.) 7 years is a LONG time to go without adequate sleep. My focus, emotional well being and ability to restore were compromised greatly by a lack of sleep. So, EC and breastfeeding are great, but if you can’t take care of yourself and therefore your children because you’re exhausted, they have to take second place. You can do attachment parenting while helping your child develop positive sleep habits.
Well said Kate! Everyone does have a unique situation, there is no one way that works for everyone. xx Andrea
So helpful! I like point number 3 about massaging the nightly routine!
I am so glad you found it helpful! xx Andrea
My #1 takeaway was to have realistic expectations if I’m breastfeeding. Nice to know that breastfed babies typically take longer to sleep through the night, and that this is equally important to keep my milk supply up. Just a good paradigm shift.
That is a great takeaway! xx Andrea
#3… almost ready for the second baby to come, thanks for everthing
This will be good to keep in mind with your new little one. Wishing you a wonderful birth! xx Andrea
Thank you for the tips! I’ve been struggling with how to get my 1 YO to sleep without the breast when I put her to bed. I will try tip #3 and change up the order of bedtime routine.
Also, how can I get baby to take a lovey? She will do this in the carseat, but when I’m breastfeeding her she throws the toy to the side and puts her hands back on my chest. I’ve just been setting it beside her in her crib after she falls asleep.
I hope #3 helps you adjust your bedtime routine! Maybe the lovey will go over better once you rearrange the bedtime routine. xx Andrea
SO awesome that these concepts are being shared for me today. I am literally on the brink of deciding what to do with our sleeping arrangements feeling super tired from nursing my 1 year back to sleep after 2 night time pottyings and a few upset moments due to some teething last night …. mama tired . We cosleep which I love but after reading this and learning so much about toddler Indepence thru EC I really want to teach him about sleep. And maybe the cosleeping is causing him to wake? After all if someone kept baking cookies next to me all night while I slept I’d probably wake up wanting cookies ….right? I struggle to this day with the three year old sometimes spending 30-60 minutes laying in the room waiting but I think this comes for me from a lack of routine for him. Is it time to give up the co sleeping ? Can I keep the cosleepin without breast feeding? Definitely lots of good tips here to start on a path to changing the routine . But then Heidis comment sounds like us if it’s not broke then don’t fix it? I’m always seeing how it works both ways haha
From our experience, I can confirm that some babies sleep better in their own bed. We‘ve been cosleeping for 4 months. Since our bed is small and hubby needed more space at times, we had a baby bed also in our room. Baby girl started to sleep better when in her own bed, next to me. Then hubby suggested we let her sleep in her room where she has a second bed and see. I missed her so much and couldn‘t sleep the first few nights. She slept 7 hours straight!!! Now she is 7 months old and sleeps most nights in her bed. She wakes up only once at night. I am very attentive to her needs. When she is in a phase where she needs mama at night, we cosleep. I can see that from how she holds on to me during the night routine. During those nights she wakes up every two hours. Sometimes even every hour. Otherwise she sleeps in her bed. I do carry her a lot during the day. We only use slings, no stroller. She knows I‘m here for her and she is safe.
You can co-sleep and night wean. Tip #5 will help you. xx Andrea
I’m definitely struggling with nursing to sleep! Going to try and make a few changes to her bedtime routine to try and break that sleep association!
That’s great Theresa! xx Andrea
Thank you, Andrea! This was so helpful!
I am so glad to hear it! You are welcome. xx Andrea
I love the substitute idea & I need to begin to implement it! “Moot” (Milk) is such an easy & convenient option. I need to find something easy and convenient so I have begun resting my hand on her but also feeding her. I keep trying to move to the hand only but she keeps waking up and asking for moot. It’s difficult, thanks for the other tips too!
I’m so happy this information was helpful Emma. I think your plan is a good one, just keep at it. She’ll get there. xx Andrea