Advice on Night Breastfeeding

What is normal? This is a well discussed and researched topic in the world of breastfeeding with nursing professionals as well as breastfeeding supporters, but is often a worrying topic when it comes to mum to mum support especially when the topic is night breastfeeding.

For many parents sleeping through the night is a huge marker for “successful parenting”, returning to a period of continuous sleep, relationships and co-sleeping with a partner rather than 3 in a bed.

However, in reality is this what is normal? Or have we modernised parenting to conform to what society thinks we should do because our lives are busier, we work full / part- time and we come home later?
advice on night breastfeeding
Night time feeding

The Facts

The facts are that most babies breast or formula fed will have a period of night waking, some will self soothe others want reassurance and a cuddle, others are hungry, soiled, afraid or uncomfortable.

64% of all breastfed babies wake at night – the rest are only daytime feeders. As human milk is so easily digested and has the right nutrition unique to your baby you would expect that babies will feed more frequently day and night.

Co-Room/Co-Sleeping

As mammals we are programmed to nurse our babies and keep them close. It is a pattern that has emerged over the last 150-200 years that babies are separated from their mothers and placed in another room or nursery. The former group continued to co-sleep and co-room well into the last century and current evidence supports that when parents co-room with their babies there is a significant reduction in sudden infant death and improved breastfeeding rates.

Responsive feeding for all infants whether breast or formula is the current recommendation, whilst there is still conflict around controlled crying, establishing boundaries and routines. Babies are still in the 21st Century unable to read and go by their biological programming, they nurse when they are hungry, cold, want a cuddle, scared by noises such as the central heating, dad going to the bathroom, snoring etc. In a baby under 6 months it is advised to co-room at night with your baby. If a parent chooses to co-sleep then they are guided by the Caring for your Baby at Night leaflet recommendation by UNICEF.

Night Feeds while Weaning

The challenges arise when a breastfed infant is weaned and still wakes at night. With the current focus on child obesity many health visitors are advising parents not to feed at night as the infant doesn’t require the milk. However, we know that human milk is so much more than food – it’s full of immunological properties to keep them well, fatty acids to help mature brain development for speech, nervous system, motor skills as well as eye development.

It is a case of getting the right balance if baby isn’t progressing on weaning onto solids because he prefers the breast and filling up on milk then this needs a different approach, if he is still wanting night feeds choose to nurse less in the day to help with that shift.

If baby is gaining weight and concerns over potential hitting the top percentiles again it is a discussion to be had between the health professional and parents to see if less portion size at meals may help if little one is not dropping night feeds. It could be what he eats is giving him gripe, or teething, uncomfortable ear pressure.

For many mums with older infants it is a difficult time to balance – conflicting advice. What is important to remember is that your baby has fed when he wants for hunger, comfort etc and feels safe and secure knowing his needs are met with a cuddle and feed for the last however many months. To go from this to nothing is distressing for a baby – ‘where is mum, why is she not there, I am scared.’ They don’t understand that the idea or trend of minimising night feeds and to sleep through – they just want mum.

A Last Thought

There is no right or wrong –   it’s what works for you. Rest and recuperate where you can – some infants, children and adults are light sleepers others sleep through a storm. Babies are individuals and not one approach is right for all.

My observation of having three children of my own, all night feeders, is that when they hit adolescence you can’t get them to bed and there is no-way to rise them once in bed – they are continually tired and just want to stay in bedJ ...A world away from those early years. Sioned x

Further support can be sought at www.lullabytrust.org.uk

For some helpful tips on coping with the Night Feeds take a look at our mums’ tips here.

Or to combat that tired feeling, check out our Top 10 Beauty Tips to help you feel refreshed and re-energised here.