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How To Master Breastfeeding At Night

Breastfeeding at night is exhausting! We’re going to bust some common myths and help you master breastfeeding at night with your sanity intact.

breastfeeding at night

Breastfeeding at night is exhausting.

It’s hard going from a full night’s rest to waking up every 2-3 hours if you’re lucky. 

And those soul-crushing nights when you can’t get your little one back to sleep and they won’t stop crying are the worst.

Now you’re crying because you feel like a terrible mom and you still have no idea what the heck they want!

You’ve gone through your mental list of options and none of the usual tricks have worked.  

I feel your struggle!

Girl, me and my daughter are up at 1 am sitting on the couch. I tried and tried to get her back to sleep but nothing worked. She even ate dinner because “solids before bedtime helps them sleep longer.”

We hear so many stories and are told we need to do this and that to survive breastfeeding at night, but the secret is…every baby is different!

And do you want to know another secret? 

What works for Becky’s family may not work for your family. 

Yes, I’m up at 1 am watching my daughter play with the 1 ounce bottle I pumped out of desperation. 

But that’s because I know I can take a nap later so it’s not a big deal to be up in the middle of the night.   

Sometimes your baby is waking up at night not only because they’re hungry or lonely but also to help protect them from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). 

Did you know breastfeeding helps reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS? This is why it’s highly recommended to breastfeed for at least the first 6 months of life. (source)

I have so many questions that randomly pop in my head during the middle of the night so I figured you may have those same questions. 

Nighttime waking is normal and shouldn’t feel like an inconvenience. Yes, you’re going to be more tired when you start your morning routine. But they’re only little for such a short period of time. 

We’re going to bust some common myths and help you master breastfeeding at night with your sanity intact.

Here’s what we’ll talk about:

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Safe Sleep

Where should my baby sleep?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends your baby sleep:

  • In a bassinet, cradle, or crib in the same room as you until preferably 1 year of age but at least the first 6 months to reduce the risk of SIDS
  • On a firm sleep surface. This includes a firm mattress with a well-fitted sheet
  • On their back (not side or stomach)
  • With no soft object or loose bedding like blankets, toys, pillows, or crib bumpers
  • And no sleep positioners like wedges or anti-roll pillows

These safety measures will help prevent SIDS by as much as 50%!

Is it ok if I bed-share or co-sleep?

First, let’s go over the difference between bed-sharing and co-sleeping. 

Co-sleeping is when your baby sleeps near you which is recommended for the first year of life. This means having your baby on their own sleep surface while still in your room. 

This helps reduce the risk of SIDS by 50%.

Bed-sharing is under the big umbrella of co-sleeping. 

With bed-sharing, your baby is in the bed with you. They can be in a co-sleeper like a DockATot or sleeping right next to you while you’re in a curled position creating a safe space for them with your body.

People find this to be dangerous because you may accidentally roll over on your baby. According to La Leche League International, “Rolling over on your baby is virtually impossible because you have the cuddle curl and responsiveness of a breastfeeding mother.” 

You should NOT bed-share if you:

  • Smoke
  • Use alcohol, sedatives, or drugs that may alter awareness
  • Have a premature or low birth weight baby

Follow the Safe Sleep 7 to ensure you are practicing safe bed-sharing. 

Co-sleeping is very beneficial for your baby! 

You and your baby will get more sleep, it’ll make breastfeeding easier which will help you breastfeed longer, and your milk supply will be maintained. (source)

Sleeping through the night

What is meant by sleeping through the night?

If you ask 5 different medical professionals what sleeping through the night means you’ll get 5 different answers. 

Some may say if your baby sleeps 5 hours of unbroken sleep then they are sleeping through the night. 

Others say if your baby sleeps 8 hours of unbroken sleep they are sleeping through the night. 

The important thing to understand is that your baby will start sleeping through the night when they are developmentally ready

Putting yourself back to sleep is a learned skill babies aren’t born with. 

They’ve been warm and snug in your belly so it’s unrealistic to expect them to soothe themselves back to sleep when your comfort is all they know.  

Once they learn how to put themselves back to sleep they may still wake up throughout the night, but now they know how to put themselves right back to sleep without assistance from you. (source)

What can I expect at each age for sleeping through the night?

This also varies from child to child. 

I still wake up in the middle of the night and listen to my stomach growl because I’m too lazy and comfortable to get out of bed.

Therefore, I don’t expect my baby to be able to sleep through the night without a meal when she’s used to eating every 3 hours. 

Once your baby’s stomach gets bigger they won’t eat as often. At that point, you can expect them to start sleeping longer stretches. 

Here’s a rough estimate of sleeping patterns for each age group:

sleeping patterns by age group
Information via Huffington Post UK

My 8 month old is at stage 2 on a great night! As stated, this is a rough estimate so don’t call your pediatrician if your baby isn’t sleeping according to the graph.

Can breastfed babies sleep through the night?

For some reason, there are people who think a breastfed baby can’t sleep through the night because they’re starving. 

Although breast milk is easier for your baby to digest than formula making them hungrier sooner, a breastfed baby can and will eventually sleep through the night. 

When your baby wakes up at 4 am that doesn’t necessarily mean they are hungry. 

They may be lonely or miss the comfort and warmth of mommy. I know it’s hard to get up with them sometimes especially when you’re exhausted, but try not to deprive them of this comfort.

And, believe it or not, there are formula fed babies that wake up just as often as breastfed babies. 🙊

Is sleep training good for babies?

Sometimes you may be desperate for a longer period of sleep and decide you want to sleep train your baby.

According to Psychology Today:

“First, babies should not be “sleep trained” in the usual sense of the term, which means being taught to sleep alone. It is painful for a baby to be alone. Why torture them? Figure out a different way to be with them—babyhood does not last that long. It’d be better to have a sleeping surface next to the caregiver’s bed when the baby is very young and otherwise co-sleep. At least, that is our human heritage.”

Milk supply

How will my baby sleeping through the night affect my milk supply?

If your baby has slept for a longer than usual period of time, you may have woken up to soaked bed sheets or breasts so full they feel like water balloons.

I also worried my milk would start drying up whenever my daughter began sleeping longer stretches at night. 

It makes sense that if your baby is eating less your body should start producing less milk. 

The short answer to this question is that everyone’s body reacts differently.

If you’re worried about your supply dropping you can always pump right before you go to bed instead of waking up in the middle of the night. 

Or if you wake up a few hours before your baby like I do, you could pump then so you’ll be full again when it’s time for your baby’s morning nursing session. 

A common myth is that the amount of milk you produce depends on your breast size. This is not true. 

Your body stores however much milk it thinks your baby needs. You may notice your baby eating more throughout the day to make up for missed nighttime feedings which will also keep your supply up. 

If you do notice a decrease in milk supply, try eating more of these foods and pumping more often.

Does wearing a bra at night affect milk supply?

Wearing a bra at night should not affect your milk supply if it fits properly. If the bra is too tight it can cause a decrease in your milk supply. 

Of course, wearing a bra at night is optional depending on your comfort level. 

I’m the mom who takes her bra off in the car on the way home so wearing a bra at bedtime would be super uncomfortable. But if you leak at night sleeping in a bra may be your only option.

Either way, a proper fitting bra should not affect your milk supply.

Night weaning

When should I stop feeding my baby at night?

When your baby is about 4 months old they are typically developmentally ready to sleep longer. 

As with any developmental milestone, babies get there at different times. 

Everyone’s baby doesn’t start walking at 11 months and everyone’s baby doesn’t start sleeping 5 hour stretches at 4 months. 

Follow their cues and they will let you know when they are ready to skip nighttime feedings. 

My daughter is 8 months and still wakes up every 2-5 hours (UPDATE: She is now consistently sleeping 7 hour stretches at 9 months). 

Sometimes she eats when she cries and other times I only rock her for a few minutes and she goes right back to sleep. 

Be vigilant for other reasons besides hunger as to why your baby is waking up. They may be teething, feel bad, or need to snuggle.

How do I stop breastfeeding at night?

If you feel like it is time to stop nighttime nursing sessions, it’s best to cut back instead of stopping cold turkey. 

Here are 5 ways you can wean your baby from nighttime feedings when they are developmentally ready. (source)

  1. Nurse more during the day
  2. Use your breastfeeding station to minimize distractions
  3. Only nurse on one side a few hours before bed so baby gets more hindmilk
    1. Throughout the night only nurse on the opposite side
  4. Incorporate dream feeds
  5. Have dad help so baby gets comfort if you know they are not hungry

Is it bad to nurse baby to sleep?

Some sleep experts say that if you nurse your baby to sleep they will become dependent on you to fall asleep and this will become a hard habit to break. 

According to Kellymom, “Breastfeeding your child to sleep and for comfort is not a bad thing to do– in fact, it’s normal, healthy, and developmentally appropriate.”

According to Psychology Today, “Young infants should not be forced to fall asleep without comfort; they may need to nurse to feel relaxed and safe enough to enter sleep.”

I still nurse my daughter to sleep at 8 months and she’s also fallen asleep fine with her dad giving her a bottle. 

Again, every baby is different so do whatever works for your family.

Longer and better sleep

How can I change my baby’s sleep pattern from day to night?

It’s no secret that babies couldn’t care less if it’s day or night. They do their own thing regardless of how we feel about it. 

But it’s not their fault. They are born without a circadian rhythm which is essential for telling night from day. 

To help them figure it out sooner than later, here are a few things you could try:

  • Open the blinds during the day so they can see the sunlight
  • Be fun and playful during the day
  • Establish a bedtime routine so they know it’s time for bed
  • Skip naps close to bedtime
  • Keep lights dim at night
  • No playing during the night- strictly business

Making daytime fun and exciting while keeping nighttime dark and calm will help your baby distinguish the difference.

Do you unswaddle baby for night feedings?

A few things you may want to consider when deciding to unswaddle or keep your baby swaddled while breastfeeding at night. 

Temperature

If it’s pretty cold in your house, it may be more comfortable for your baby to remain swaddled. 

My daughter will only sleep if it’s really cold so I kept her swaddled as much as possible during the night. 

Keep in mind your body will warm her up as well so you don’t want her to get overheated if it’s warm in your home.

Waking baby

If you unswaddle her this may wake her up. If you are trying to keep your baby awake for a nighttime feeding then unswaddling will be a good option.

Feeding your baby while swaddled will help her know it’s still nighttime and it’ll be easier to get her back to sleep with less disturbance.

If she’s always swaddled at night and unswaddled during the day this will help her establish a routine and learn that the swaddle means bedtime.

Is breast milk different at night?

This is something I recently learned and the answer is yes! 

Nighttime breast milk has more melatonin which helps make your baby sleepy since they don’t make their own melatonin until 3 or 4 months of age.

This quote from Psychology Today will help explain the changes that happen to your breast milk at night. 

“If still uncertain, be assured that breastfeeding is a natural way to help children sleep and provide important support for their growth. Parents should know that breastmilk in the evening contains more tryptophan (a sleep-inducing amino acid). Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a vital hormone for brain function and development. In early life, tryptophan ingestion leads to more serotonin receptor development (Hibberd, Brooke, Carter, Haug, & Harzer, 1981). Nighttime breastmilk also has amino acids that promote serotonin synthesis (Delgado, 2006; Goldman, 1983; Lien, 2003). Serotonin makes the brain work better, keeps one in a good mood, and helps with sleep-wake cycles (Somer, 2009). So it may be especially important for children to have evening or night breastmilk because it has tryptophan in it, for reasons beyond getting them to sleep.”

So if you are pumping you may want to start labeling your breast milk storage bags as day or night.

Will giving formula or solids make my baby sleep longer?

This is an old wives tale that needs to go away already! 

I’ve been told (usually by grandparents) that I need to give my daughter solids or put rice cereal in her bottle to make her sleep longer. 

Not only is that dangerous (choking hazard and increase SIDS by putting her in too deep of a sleep), but giving your breastfed baby solids or formula at bedtime can cause their stomach to be upset and make them sleep worse. 

Formula is harder for babies to digest which is why they stay full longer. 

And like something you’ve eaten may upset your stomach, the same could happen to your baby. 

Giving her solids before bedtime could give her a tummy ache and make her wake up more frequently throughout the night.

How do I get my baby to sleep longer during the night?

This is the million dollar question! By now you’re aware that your baby will start sleeping through the night when they are developmentally ready. 

But if you’re losing your mind from lack of sleep (I totally understand), you can try to implement some of these tactics:

  • Establish a bedtime routine
  • Swaddling (try using a sleepsack)
  • Dream feed
  • Keep nighttime dark and quiet
  • Wean nighttime nursing sessions
  • Put your baby to bed before they get too tired

staying awake

How do I keep my baby awake while nursing?

It’s so hard to keep them awake long enough to eat when they’re sleepy. 

A few quick tricks you can try are:

  • Changing their diaper
  • Burping them
  • Rub their hairline with a cool wipe
  • Switch them to the other breast
  • Skin to skin

Moving them around while trying not to wake them up completely is like balancing on a tightrope. 

I would always feed my daughter on one side, burp and diaper change, and then feed her on the other side. This would keep her awake long enough to get full and sleep a bit longer.

How do I stay awake at night?

It’s so hard to be jolted out of your dream about sleeping through the night by the horrific cries of your baby at 3 am.  

And then you get in your comfy rocking chair that’s putting you to sleep more than your baby. 

Try these tips to help you stay awake during those late night/ early morning nursing sessions:

  • Grab your phone- play a game, browse through Pinterest, buy things you don’t need on Amazon
  • Watch TV
  • Read a book
  • Get up and walk around to rock your baby back to sleep
  • Quietly eat a snack (potato chips may not be the best option)
  • Talk to your husband with the useless nipples

Whatever you do, you may want to avoid calling or texting people in the middle of the night. Lucky for me I have plenty of nursing friends who work night shift so I know they’re awake. 

But your bestie may not be too happy if you wake her up at 3 am and she has to get up for work at 6 am. Oops!

Famous last words…

So, did I answer your questions about all things breastfeeding at night? 

I hope I’ve helped you feel better about waking up a few times a night because your baby needs you. And mama you are not alone! 

At times you may want to give up on breastfeeding your baby because it is difficult and a lot of responsibility falls on your shoulders and if that’s the case, take care of your mental health first. 

Find ways to make nighttime easier such as co-sleeping or pumping so someone can help you. 

Eventually, they go to sleep and you will too.

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How to survive breastfeeding at night when you're exhausted
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