Almost every new parent is functioning in a sleep-deprived state. Breastfeeding moms have it especially hard. Yes, moms who formula-feed will struggle with sleep, too, but hopefully they have a partner who is sharing the overnight bottle feedings. As a breastfeeding mom, however, all the feedings fall on you. But you need sleep! So how can a breastfeeding mom, get the sleep you need to function and feel great?
Getting more sleep as a breastfeeding mom can be a tough proposition. But there are strategies you can utilize to maximize the rest you get even between all those feeding sessions. Here we’ll cover how much sleep you need as a breastfeeding mom and why it’s important, as well as our top 7 tips that will help you slip in as many zzzs as possible.
How much sleep do breastfeeding mothers need?
When we’re talking about how much sleep a breastfeeding mother technically “needs” it’s really the same amount any other person technically “needs.” Obviously the number won’t be the same for every person, but every human needs a proper amount of sleep to function well.
This study from Infant Behavior and Development looked at the connection between breastfeeding and short sleep duration. It categorizes “short sleep duration” as less than 6 hours of sleep per night and “normal sleep duration” as 6 hours per night. This leads us to believe that shooting for 6 hours per night as a breastfeeding mom is a good goal. Some will do fine with a bit less, some will still feel like they didn’t get enough with more than 6.
Ultimately, if you’re sleeping less than a total of 6 hours per night (which is probably a lot of new, breastfeeding moms) you’ll want to work on utilizing our tips below to try to draw out that nightly sleep or fit in some daytime sleep where you can.
Why Sleep is So Important for a Breastfeeding Mother
Sleep is important for everyone, so I won’t sit here and act like it’s more important for a breastfeeding mom. The problem is, however, that breastfeeding moms are probably at the tippy top of groups of people getting terrible sleep. Which means you probably need a reminder on why it’s so important to at least TRY to get the minimum number of hours of sleep to keep your body healthy.
And if you’re wondering if lack of sleep can affect your milk supply, the answer, to some extent, is yes. However, this isn’t something you should be too worried about. For one, new moms don’t need anything extra to stress about, and two, if you’re breastfeeding on-demand whenever your baby needs to nurse, then your body will keep producing breast milk.
The biggest concern with lack of sleep for a new mom is how it can affect your mood.
According to a study posted by the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health, women with postpartum depressive systems were sleeping an average of 80 minutes less per night than women who were not depressed. Poor sleep quality was a strong predictor of increased PPD symptom severity, as well.
In short, the main reason you need to focus on more sleep is to take care of yourself. Your baby will ultimately get the sleep they need (even if it’s in several bursts over 24 hours), but you will have to work harder to make sure you’re getting yours. Doing so will help brighten your mood and help you feel well so that you can give your baby the best care while you are awake.
Top 7 Tips for Getting More Sleep as a Breastfeeding Mom
You might be thinking the top tip should be to sleep when your baby sleeps. I can’t tell you how many times I received this advice. But I feel like this is so much easier said than done. When I was breastfeeding each of my babies, I was so happy to have a moment to myself when they went down for their (short) naps, that sleeping was actually the last thing I wanted to do even though I was exhausted.
So yes, of course, nap when your baby naps if you can! But I think we all know this already. Instead, I’ve rounded up the best (not as obvious) tips that worked for me to get the best sleep I could as a breastfeeding mom and I’m so happy to be able to pass them on to another sleepy, hard-working mama like you.
1.) Room Share with Your Baby
One of the best ways to help you get more sleep is to room share with your baby. Better yet, use a co-sleeper bassinet so that your baby is essentially right next to you as they sleep. Now, don’t confuse this with bedsharing as we follow all guidance by the AAP and co-sleeping in the bed is not recommended. However, a co-sleeper offers a safe sleeping arrangement where your baby is as close to you as is safely possible.
The reason room sharing is so helpful initially is because you don’t have to go to your baby’s room to feed them in the middle of the night. Having your baby right by your side in a co-sleeper means you can pick them up, feed them while you’re still half asleep, then put them down and go right back to sleep. Using a co-sleeper like this one was one of the best purchases I made with my third baby.
2.) Add a Morning Pumping Session
How does adding in more work by way of pumping allow you to sleep more you wonder? Well, as a breastfeeding mom you are the only one who is able to feed your baby. By adding in a pumping session per day, you enable one bottle to be given to your baby either everyday or at least every other day, thereby giving you one less session that you need to nurse and someone else can take over the bottle feeding duties.
Though I wouldn’t recommend choosing an overnight feeding to swap out your breastfeeding for your partner to give the baby a bottle, the first feed or last feed of the day (so you can either sleep in or go to bed early) is a good place to start. You don’t need to worry about your supply dropping because you are just substituting a breastfeeding session for a pumping session instead.
3.) Cluster Feed in the Evening
Cluster feeding sessions in the evening work well to get your baby topped off with extra calories before they go down for the night. Even if your baby doesn’t demand a lot of feedings in the evening (some definitely will) you can offer the breast to your baby to ensure they are fitting in enough feedings before you put them down for the night.
This will hopefully help them sleep a longer stretch at night. (Do make sure you’ve gotten the go ahead from your doctor, however, before you start letting your baby go 4-5+ hour stretches at night between feeds.)
4.) Use Sleep Aids with Your Baby That Help Them Relax
Helping to teach your baby to be an independent sleeper will help you get more sleep, too. And this doesn’t necessarily mean sleep training, which is best done around 4 months of age, but instead means utilizing routines and sleep aids that calm and relax your baby so they can sleep their best.
Utilizing a weighted sleep swaddle or sack like the one from Dreamland Baby increases serotonin and melatonin in your baby’s body to help them sleep. The gentle weighting feels like a hug and will help your baby fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Additionally, implementing a nightly routine (discussed here) will help your baby to fall asleep more quickly, making it easier for you to go back to sleep in the middle of the night, as well.
5.) Implement a Dream Feed
This is one of my top recommendations for getting yourself some extra sleep. I have seen moms call this method selfish, but taking care of yourself is never selfish...especially when it helps you to be a better caregiver for your baby.
We have an entire post devoted to the dream feed and how to implement it, but here it is in a nutshell:
Step 1: Breastfeed your baby at their normal bedtime (perhaps around 7 pm)
Step 2: Between 7 and 10, you can enjoy your quiet evening with your partner
Step 3: Wake your baby for a dream feed at 10 pm (or when you want to go to bed/how long you can stay awake)
Step 4: Feed your baby as quickly and calmly as possible. This will top them off so they hopefully have their longest stretch of sleep.
The dream feed is for YOU. It allows you to get a good long stretch of sleep (the quality restorative type you need) that you can count on each night.
6.) Breastfeed A Lot By Day
Breastfeeding many times a day can get exhausting, but feeding your baby more during the day means they’ll need to feed a less number of times during the night.
Every baby thrives off a certain number of calories each day that comes in the form of the number of ounces of breastmilk they consume within a 24-hour period. On average, a baby between the ages of 1 and 6 months takes in an average of 25 ounces of breastmilk per day (according to Kelly Mom). A younger baby won’t have the ability to drink all of those ounces during the day, but a baby closer to 6 months might.
Now you don’t want to push your baby to drink more than they want to, but between offering your baby the breast a lot by day (and during evening cluster feedings) there’s a good chance your baby will be more than willing to drink up most of their calories during that timeframe - allowing them to sleep long stretches at night. Which means...you sleep more, too!
7.) Go for Morning Walks in Sunlight
This one might seem a bit unconventional, but getting out in the sun each morning can work wonders for your sleep. This isn’t just true for new moms for everyone. According to Verywell Health, light is the principal control of our day-night cycle and helps regulate sleep. Getting light exposure is best done within one hour of waking if possible. Not only can the sunlight help with your sleep, but it can also really brighten your mood.
As new moms, it’s easy to stay stuck inside, and getting outside for a morning walk and work wonders for your sleep and overall well-being.
When do breastfed babies sleep through the night?
So with all this lack of sleep in the early months, one of the top questions we and the sleep consultants we work with is, “When will my baby sleep through the night?!” The truth is that it really ranges from baby to baby, even among all the ones who are breastfed. Here is what you can hope for:
- 6 - 8-hour stretch of sleep for a 6-month-old baby
- 8 -9-hour stretch of sleep for a 7 - 9-month-old baby
- Up to 12 straight hours of sleep for a 9 - 12-month-old
Of course these are just averages, and we recommend you check out our article, “When do babies sleep through the night without feeding?” to find out what to expect for your breastfed little one.
A Word On Taking Something to Help You Sleep
When you are sleeping poorly, it is natural to consider taking some sort of sleeping pill or supplement. However, as a new parent you want to avoid this route if you can. Be sure you consult with your doctor before taking anything to help you sleep, even if it’s “just” a supplement or something you can get over-the-counter. Because as a breastfeeding mom, you have to be careful about what you put into your body, and some sleep aids should not be taken unless you can count on sleep a full 8 hours.
Remember, that this is just a phase, and soon your baby will be sleeping through the night. We recommend trying all of our strategies first, and if you’re still having a hard time, or the lack of sleep is negatively affecting your mood, definitely reach out to your doctor.