When breastfeeding at night and up what seems like every hour, how can you keep from becoming the zombie mom? We KNOW it can be hard!
A lot of bonding happens between a mother and baby when breastfeeding at night. The world is silent, and there is nothing to focus on but the little one tucked in your arms. While those bonding hours are amazing, but it’s easy to lose sight of the amazingness when you’re sleep deprived.
If you have other mothers in your life telling you how their babies started sleeping through the night right away, rest assured that every baby needs nighttime feeding. A newborn’s stomach can hold no more than 1.5 teaspoons of milk on the first day of life. By the second week of life, that stomach can hold no more than 3 ounces of milk, and it continues to expand gradually from there.
Related Article > 10 Scary Effects of Sleep Deprivation on New Parents (and Solutions!)
Does it make sense why your baby wants to breastfeed every couple of hours, including throughout the night? That tiny stomach can only hold a small amount of milk, and your baby is a calorie-burning machine as he or she grows. When your baby wants to feed but you want to remain a part of the still, quiet world outside your window, think of that small stomach and use the following tips to make breastfeeding at night more comfortable.
7 Ways to Make Breastfeeding at Night Work Better for You:
1. Preparation is Key
Breastfeeding at night often feels unbearable and overwhelming because mothers go into it disorganized. The baby’s screaming. You realize at the last minute that your nightgown doesn’t give easy access to your breasts. You get settled with the baby happily feeding only to realize that you’re cold and the nearest blanket is just out of your reach. Perhaps the footstool for your glider is pushed back just enough to prevent you from putting your feet up.
Where are the diapers? Where did you put that new pack of wipes? Oh, and what’s that wet spot? Are you leaking?
You can avoid this scenario by taking a few minutes to prepare for nighttime breastfeeding before bed each night. Start by stocking a tote, box or organizer that contains everything you need to feed and change your baby at night. Keep this right next to the chair in which you sit for those feedings. If you may breastfeed in multiple locations, keep a well-stocked kit in each place. Make sure all supplies are stocked before settling in for the night.
If you use your breast pump in the feeding process, put it in an easy-to-reach place along with everything that you need to remain comfortable. If you slip on a robe on your way to the baby, make sure to always hang it in the same place. Do you tend to get cold during night feedings? Put a blanket where it is easy to reach as well. Perhaps a small stash of snacks will make some of those feedings more enjoyable, so put them next to your feeding location. Oh, and don’t forget towels or absorbent pads to catch any leaks that may occur during feeding.
2. Keep the Baby Close
We’ve all heard horror stories about the toddler who refuses to sleep in her own bedroom because she’s been tucking in between her parents since birth. This makes many new mothers feel like they can’t keep their baby close at night, but there is nothing wrong with co-sleeping or at least keeping the baby’s bassinet or crib in your room while frequent nighttime feedings are needed.
You can invest in a co-sleeper that goes right in your bed, giving your baby a safe place to sleep while allowing you to breastfeed without leaving the warmth of your blankets. Another option is a co-sleeping bed that attaches to the side of your bed. You will have to move a bit more to make that work, but it’s still easier and faster than getting out of bed and walking to another room.
If you don’t like the idea of co-sleeping but want to take some of the frustration out of breastfeeding at night, move the baby’s crib or bassinet into your bedroom temporarily. Portable cribs are another option if you want to keep the full-sized crib in the nursery for naptimes. This arrangement allows you to get to the baby faster for feedings, and your little one still gets to sleep independently.
Related Article > Co-Sleeping Benefits for Mom and Baby
3. Set the Mood
One benefit to having a dedicated nighttime feeding space is the ability to control the lighting, temperature, furniture arrangement and background noise in that area. This is beneficial for you and the baby because your goal is to go back to sleep as quickly as possible.
Start by eliminating blue light from electronics. This includes the television, your cellphone, tablets and laptops. If you want to get more sleep, checking your email or scrolling through Facebook isn’t a good way to amuse yourself during night feedings. Research has shown that blue light from electronics stops the body from secreting melatonin, which makes it more difficult for you to fall back to sleep and stay asleep.
Next, check the lighting. You need a dim light that allows you to see what you’re doing and avoid bumping into furniture. Check all furniture in the room to make sure that you have easy access to the baby and to your preferred seating location. Ideally, you will have the option of picking the baby up, sitting and then gently returning the baby to his sleeping area without maneuvering around coffee tables, night stands and other items. Co-sleeping makes this much easier to accomplish.
Consider adjusting the temperature in the room as well. Babies sleep best in a room that is around 68–72°F. Adding a humidifier may help keep the room cool, and it’s a good idea to add moisture to the air when the weather turns cold. You may also want to add a soothing scent to the room, but make sure that it’s subtle. Lavender is a good option.
Finally, consider adding soft, soothing background noise that will help you and the baby remain in a calm, sleepy state throughout the feeding. It’s better to close your eyes and enjoy a few lullabies than to turn on your cellphone and get sucked into a game or social media site.
If there is one room of your home to keep uncluttered, this is it. Your goal is to slip in, feed the baby and get back to bed quickly. If seeing the time stresses you out more, remove or hide the clock. You will know that it’s nighttime and it’s time to feed, but you won’t get anxious over the specifics.
4. Rethink Your Nighttime Wardrobe
There is a growing market for nursing nightgowns and pajama sets suitable for all seasons of the year. Investing in a few sets will ensure that your clothing doesn’t interfere with or slow down the breastfeeding process. Some are so stylish and comfortable that you won’t feel bad wearing them all day.
If you don’t want to invest in nursing nightwear, make sure that you select clothing that still gives easy access to your breasts. Look at each top to ensure that lace, buttons and other embellishments won’t rub against the baby’s face during feedings. Also make sure that the fabric is soft so that it feels good against the baby’s cheek and your skin.
Your nighttime feeding attire is important because messing with your clothing for too long will get the baby worked up, increasing the screaming and decreasing your chances of getting back to bed quickly. If your top is uncomfortable for the baby, then that will interrupt the feeding process and lead to more crying and interruption for your entire household.
5. Rethink Your Feeding Schedule
If you put some thought into when you feed your baby, you might get a bit more sleep even with that little stomach needing a refill every couple hours. Here are some options to consider, but you should experiment and then select the method that works best for you and your baby:
- On-Demand Feeding – Some mothers are stressed out by schedules, so they prefer to just let the baby dictate the feeding times. This works well if your schedule makes it difficult to stick to specific feeding times or if following a schedule stresses you out more. As your baby grows, there are things you can do to substitute night feedings with solid sleep.
- Cluster Feeding – Instead of feeding your baby every two or three hours, start feeding every hour for the last three hours leading up to bedtime. This ensures that your little one goes down with a full tank, possibly giving you more than two or three consecutive hours to sleep before the next feeding. You can use this strategy during the day if you need to buy yourself time for a nap, phone call or work during daylight hours.
- Scheduled Feeding – This is the opposite of on-demand feeding because you keep your baby on a strict feeding schedule. You will need to remain flexible because your baby’s needs will change as he grows, and there will be times when he simply needs more or less time at the breast. The goal is to keep to a schedule so that your baby knows when to expect nourishment. It also allows your body to adjust to sleeping and waking at certain times. This is ideal if you will eventually return to work and want to adjust your baby to a schedule as quickly as possible.
There is no right or wrong way to breastfeed your baby. What works for you the first couple weeks may not work for you later on. As long as you know your options, you can adjust your strategy as your baby grows and as your lifestyle and circumstances change. If nothing else, allow your baby to feed on demand and use other tips presented here to make the process less overwhelming.
6. Empty the Breast
Your baby may want to eat a little and then drift back off to sleep, but that never works in a mother’s favor. The little one will burn through that nourishment quickly, which means more frequent feedings. You want that little belly to get full of high-fat milk so that you get a full two or even three hours of sleep between feedings.
Your breasts naturally keep the high-fat milk for last, so your baby will receive only light nourishment if he falls back to sleep too quickly. Gently wake him back up each time he drifts off, encouraging him to eat a little more. It’s best to drain at least one breast to ensure that the high-fat milk increases the baby’s satiety for a longer period of time. Gently massaging your breasts can also help release the high-fat milk faster.
7. Ask for Help
This sounds so simple, but it’s the tip that most new mothers have trouble implementing. If you aren’t getting the rest that you need at night, sleep deprivation will eventually interfere with your state of mind and productivity during the day. Asking for help allows someone else to step in before that happens.
One option is to pump during the day, allowing your partner to handle a night feeding or two with a bottle. If that’s not possible, you may also allow someone you trust to watch the baby during the day so that you can get in a good nap.
Enjoy the Bonding Opportunity When Breastfeeding at Night
Implementing some of these tips will help you survive breastfeeding at night until your little one can make it to morning without constant feeding and reassuring attention. In the meantime, remember that those late-night or early-morning feedings are gifts that you should cherish.
Your baby will only need you for feedings for so long, and it won’t be long before they’re sleeping through most of the night. Take advantage of this opportunity to feel those tiny fingers wrapped around your hand and make eye contact with the one person in this world who thinks you’re perfect in every way. By responding to your baby’s need for frequent feedings now, you’re setting him or her up for a healthier life in the years to come.
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