How do you get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night?
This is the question myself, and probably a billion other mamas of sleep-resistant babies, ask themselves frequently.
Breastfeeding takes a LOT out of mothers. Your body is producing milk constantly, which in itself is burning up calories and therefore taking up your energy.
Then there’s the fact that mamas has the boobs, which means mama is the only one who can do the breastfeeding! This is a huge task for mums.
Add into that the fact that a new mum is recovering from the trauma of giving birth. Plus there’s all of the physical healing you need to do. It’s totally understandable why we would want our babies to sleep well at night.
Do breastfed babies sleep less than formula fed babies?
The rumour on the mama grapevine is that formula fed babies sleep through, while breastfed babies do not. The solution? Switch that baby to formula pronto!
One of the issues with breastfeeding is you can’t tell how much your baby is had. You’re left guessing if they are actually hungry or just looking for your nipple to suckle themselves to sleep.
There’s no way of telling if they have taken a full 100ml feed or just sipped down 20ml. Some babies just love to snack 24/7 while others will take an enormous feed every three hours, day or not. They are all different.
There’s a bit of an issue here, because A) it’s not true and B) it says to mamas that are exhausted from nursing that they should quit for their own wellbeing.
Let’s dispel the rumour first of all.
The truth is that some babies are resistant to sleeping through the night no matter what you do. Switching your baby to formula will not result in a magical transformation.
The parents of formula fed babies have just as many sleepless nights and feel just as exhausted as breastfeeding parents.
BUT. We do have to be real here. SOME formula fed babies will sleep better. Sometimes the switch to formula does fill the baby up, because formula takes longer to digest.
That’s the key word here. SOME babies will sleep for longer on formula. Or maybe the switch to formula coincided at a time when the baby’s sleep patterns were changing anyway.
Even IF you have a chance of getting your non-sleeping breastfed baby to sleep through the night if you switch to formula, is that really what you want to do?
My point is, don’t let the possibility that your baby may sleep better on formula stop you from giving up on nursing, if you do not want to.
You should nurse your baby for as long as you want. There are other solutions to your problem.
There are a few things you can do that will set you on the right path to getting your baby sleeping for longer stretches at night time.
Before we get to the tips, one thing that is key to sticking with breastfeeding and coping with the physical pressure on you is to get more rest.
Stop putting pressure on yourself to do everything in the day. Stick to focusing on you and the baby. The dusting can wait until you’re feeling more energetic.
I had very different breastfeeding journeys with both of my girls, however I did eventually get there with getting them to both sleep through the night.
These are the things I tried that helped us grab back those precious hours of sleep!
1. A solid daytime routine
This is the thing to put into place above all others. You cannot do this with a tiny newborn, they just won’t conform to a routine for the first six to 12 weeks. That’s OK, you don’t need to panic about that.
However as your baby gets a bit older it’s a good idea to try some semblance of routine. The main reason for this is to ensure that while they are getting enough sleep in the day, because naps are important, they are not sleeping for too long during the day.
A three-month-old will generally take around three to four naps during the day, spread out over time with feeds between each one.
The other purpose of a routine is to make sure your baby is getting the bulk of their milk during the day, so they are not playing catch up at night.
A three-month-old will normally have around four to five feeds in the day and some can also have a dream feed at around 10pm.
2. A good bedtime routine
A decent bedtime routine is absolutely vital for getting your breastfed baby used to the differences between daytime and nighttime.
I have lots of tips for implementing a good bedtime routine in my post here.
3. Extra daytime feeds
If you think your baby is genuinely hungry in the night, try slipping some extra feeds in during the day.
For example if you’re feeding every three hours, why not try every two hours and see how they get on. Of course you should keep an eye on their weight gain at all times.
When your baby is feeding, try to make sure they are getting a decent amount and are draining the breast each time. Some babies are more into snacking than others. Try to encourage a longer feed by offering them the boob when in a quiet room with no distractions.
4. Limit the noise
If your baby does get up in the night, don’t make it an exciting affair. Do speak to them to calm them but do it quietly and calmly, don’t start singing lively songs and getting them worked up.
Try to emphasise that this is night time, and try to help them relax.
5. Blackout curtains
Blackout blinds or curtains can be particularly useful in the summer months. Blocking out extra light can help give your baby the signal that night time is for sleeping.
In order to reinforce this, throw open the curtains during the daytime and when they are playing as this will help them get their internal clock set.
6. Try to avoid changing nappies after bedtime
If they have done an enormous poo, of course you need to change them! But try to avoid it as much as possible in the night, as it can make them less drowsy.
7. Offer water
Once your baby is weaning you can try ditching the milk altogether and offering water in the middle of the night.
As long as you are confident your baby is getting enough calories in the day, then there is no reason not to give this a go.
Many babies, mine included, will use the breast to settle themselves back to sleep. It’s just too relaxing and warm to resist!
If you offer water, they are turned off pretty quickly. It may not work the first few nights, but persevere. It’s what finally worked with my second baby, who was very stubborn at night.
When you do try a radical change such as this, remember you need to do it for at least a week to see if it makes a difference. The first night you refuse milk at night, your baby will fuss and cry.
Eventually though this can have really positive results.
8. Try a dream feed
Many people swear by a dream feed at around 10pm just as you are going to bed. This never worked for me with either of my kids, but it’s definitely worth a try. You can always express some milk so your other half can give a bottle while you are catching up on sleep.
9. Consider a dummy
The dummy worked wonders for my first baby, though my second refused to even consider it.
Some little ones are particularly sucky and need it to comfort themselves to sleep. There is no harm in using this to help your baby drop off to sleep. My daughter ditched it at six months.
10. Use sleep cues
Using sleepy music and night lights can help to teach your child that it’s time for them to close their eyes and go to bed.
There are a lot of products out there, and you could spend an absolute fortune on various sound and light machines claiming to be the solution.
This may be a bit of a case of trial and error, but don’t forget you can get white noise and lullabies on YouTube for free. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on white noise machines.
If you would like to try a sleeping aid, I loved Ewan the Dream Sheep.
11. Offer clothes that smell like you
This is a good way of providing comfort to your baby. Try a soft cotton t-shirt which you could place underneath them. Try to tuck the edges underneath the mattress so that it isn’t loose.
You can also try offering a comforter such as a muslin which you could wear as a scarf for the day to pick up your scent.
Many babies will simply begin sleeping through when they are ready, but these ideas should at least lengthen your child’s sleep to a point that you can manage.
If you have any questions at all please message me or drop a comment below!