This is a question that I get asked ALL the time! Can I still sleep train if I’m breastfeeding? Ummmm…The answer is YES! Yes, you CAN! Sleep training and breastfeeding IS possible!
This is a common misconception around breastfeeding and sleep. Many breastfeeding books outright tell you that your EBF baby will NOT sleep through the night. Because many moms believe this, it ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy! The issue isn’t the breast milk itself, it’s the HABITS that tend to go hand in hand with breastfeeding. These habits are what tend to result in an EBF baby not naturally elongating their night sleep as they get older.
Let’s talk about some of the strategies that you can implement starting TODAY that can help your breastfed baby sleep longer at night.
Sleep Training and Breastfeeding
TIP #1 Make sure your baby is getting FULL feeds during the day (and at night!)
This means for a young baby, they will have to be undressed, and you may have to use a cool washcloth for the duration of the feed to keep them actively sucking. The benefit of a baby that stays actively eating for the duration of the feed is that they empty the breast. This ensures that they are getting the fuller fat, higher calorie hind milk that keeps them fuller longer and helps put on weight. You want your baby to stop eating because they’re FULL…. NOT because they’ve fallen asleep. This also helps a BF mom to understand when her baby is actually TRULY hungry. If your baby just did a full feed an hour ago and now they’re fussy, you are going to know that it’s NOT hunger-related, and more than likely your baby is tired and needs to be put down for a nap.
TIP#2 Separate feeding from sleep to support sleep training and breastfeeding!
Don’t fall into the habit of feeding your baby BEFORE every nap. Feeding will quickly be associated with sleep and before you know it your baby won’t be able to go TO sleep or BACK to sleep without a feed. By the time your baby is 3-4 weeks old you can start implementing an eat, play, sleep routine to your day. This goes a long way in helping your baby to go down for naps without a feed AND it helps tremendously with simply starting to implement some structure into your baby’s day. Baby’s like to know what comes next, so you will typically see a more content baby (AND a calmer mama) when there is a consistent flow to the day.
Utilizing the easiest time of day (usually the first half) to begin getting your baby used to being laid down in a crib or bassinet will help your baby to begin to get comfortable with this sleep space when he is awake. Once going down drowsy but awake starts to feel familiar to your baby you should see sleep naturally begin to lengthen.
TIP #3 Don’t use nursing as the ONLY way that you soothe your baby.
Utilize a variety of ways to soothe your baby so they don’t become completely dependent on the breast for soothing. This does not mean that you will NEVER use the breast for soothing purposes, but if you do it EVERY time it will be the ONLY way that your baby feels comfortable being soothed, and that typically becomes a major DRAIN to mom over time.
TIP #4 Introduce a bottle once BF is established.
But don’t wait too long or your baby will already have developed a preference for the breast. I like to have moms introduce a bottle at 2-3 weeks old. Any longer and baby will likely resist.
There are LOTS of benefits to introducing a bottle. The main one is that it takes some of the weight off of mom when someone else can feed the baby. This can give mom a much-needed break when she needs it and it can allow another caregiver to do one night feed, which allows mom to get one longer stretch of sleep. This is a game changer for most moms and helps her mental health exponentially in those first few high-maintenance months!
TIP #5 Establist a consistent wake-up & bedtime routine.
By 6-8 weeks begin to establish a consistent wake-up time in the morning ( typically between 7-8 am) and a fairly consistent bedtime in the evening. By right around 6 weeks your baby will start to naturally gravitate to an earlier bedtime usually between 7-8 pm. Prior to this, your baby will have been going down for bed somewhere between 9-11 pm. This naturally starts to shift earlier right around 6 weeks so take advantage of this natural transition and go to bed earlier yourself!
Starting the day at a consistent time and ending the day approximately 12 hours later goes a long way in helping to start establishing a more consistent daytime routine where eating and sleeping patterns begin to normalize. This should help your baby to naturally start sleeping in longer stretches at night as his circadian rhythms begin to take root.
If you follow these tips with your nursing baby you will see that a breastfeeding baby CAN sleep through the night. If you want a more comprehensive, customized plan, or if you just have a few questions that you’d like me to answer, reach out and schedule a call! I love to help moms navigate sleep training and breastfeeding 🙂