Breastfeeding and Night feeds

When you hear parents talking about night feeds for some it is a reflection of good parenting – having flexibility and meeting your baby and toddlers needs 24/7 but for others sleeping through is the optimum goal by making established routines.

There are so many myths and facts around night waking and breastfeeding. It is confusing to new parents and challenging for health professionals who are unsure of the correct advice to give to parents about what is the range of normal when it comes to night waking and night feeds.

The facts:

Night feeding is normal as is night waking. A recent study by Kent 2013 identified that only 36% of babies under 6 months fed only during the day and didn’t feed between 10pm and 4am. This means 64% of babies feed day and night. The majority of babies stagger their milk intake evenly throughout the 24 hrs.

When younger babies wake during the night they need parental help to help them fall asleep again. Despite it being biologically normal this poses some challenges when seeing night waking as a problem.

Many parents worry that if they don’t get their babies to sleep through they will face long term sleep problems – this is a myth. Many infants and children continue to wake for many reasons such as:

  • Seek reassurance
  • Hunger / thirst
  • Night terrors
  • Separation anxiety

Myth: Mums who breastfeed sleep less than their formula feeding counterparts.

In reality breastfeeding mothers get more sleep! – Especially when their babies are in close proximity. Not only do breastfeeding mums sleep more but they also get better quality sleep and this is due to the breastfeeding hormones prolactin ability to support instinctive nurturing and a deeper sleep state.


So how can mums cope with night feeds and night waking?

First accept that it is biologically normal for babies to want to be near and close to mum. Breastmilk is so bioavailable that they feed often to get what they need to grow and develop. It also supports mums milk production, minimises engorgement and mastitis and provides that emotional connection with your baby. Breastfeeding your baby also minimises the risk of low mood and depression when breastfeeding is going well.

As babies go through their growth spurts they may feed more frequently and cluster feed to support their body’s developmental needs and then may settle again.

They may feed more frequently when they teeth and are unwell as they seek comfort and reassurance and sometimes is not just food.

As they get to weaning night waking may be more prevalent as there is no evidence to support that getting onto solids will help them sleep through – occasionally the changes when you introduce solids can contribute to a change in night waking as their tummies adjust to digesting more complex food composition with tummy gripe, looser or bulkier stools. However they soon adapt.

Unfortunately, society and peer pressure have highlighted that successful parenting is achieved when your baby sleeps through however this is often not the case. Mothers who breastfeed their babies instinctively react to their babies need for comfort, hunger, thirst and relieving pain 24 hrs/7 days a week. Most babies wake in the night for formula.

Coping with sleep waking and feeding is an individual family approach.

When your baby is under 6 months you need to meet their nutritional needs when they need it. Some mums know that their baby has lots of frequent feeds at night and choose to co- room to make it easier as per recommendation from the Foundation of Sudden Infant Death to co-room. You may also consider co-sleeping but there are risk factors to consider and it is useful to discuss this with your midwife and health visitor to adopt safe sleeping practice in bed and on the settee.


Useful Tips

  • Rest when your baby rests – this is easier said than done especially if you have older siblings but try and look at ways that you all go down for a nap once a day.
  • Try not to be super mum – there is no need to always catch up on the household chores when your baby is napping, delegate some jobs and see if that mountain of ironing can be folded and put away rather than laboriously slave over it.
  • If you have a busy social life put aside 2 days in the week to have a restful day and recharge
  • Ask for help from family and friends – they all love to take baby out for a walk in the pram whilst you put your feet up.
  • Ask dad to help and bring baby to you and change their nappy if needed so you can feed in bed.

Before you know it you and your family will all be sleeping through – its not forever and it’s around those teenage years when your adolescence craves for bed and lie-in that you can reflect back and think we achieved the goal of our baby sleeping through, now we can’t get them out of bed!