Here are things you can do to help protect your milk supply and get more sleep.
- Nap with your baby: Catch up on some of your sleep during the day by napping at the same time that your baby does if you’re a stay at home mom.
- Offer the breast more often during the day: Most babies *love* to breastfeed. When you’re awake, put your baby to the breast more often. That way they may take in more milk while you are also awake, which could minimize their night waking (no guarantees here…each baby is different). Offering the breast more often during the day also helps stimulate your supply. If you’re a working mom, try to mimic this by pumping more often. In addition to your complete 20 to 30 minute, double pumping sessions with the electric pump, if you have a handheld pump, you may be able to sneak in some extra 5 minute pumping sessions here and there during the day.
- Keep your baby with you in the evening to encourage cluster feeding: If you’re not feeling completely touched out by the end of the day, consider keeping your baby with you in the evening (in a sling, or on your lap) as you go about quiet evening activities (reading, catching up on e-mails, talking to your spouse). Most babies can sleep anywhere and don’t really need complete quiet to sleep. I spent many, many evenings cluster feeding at my keyboard while reading, writing, chatting with friends, or providing mom-to-mom breastfeeding support.
- Wake your baby to nurse before you go to sleep: I always woke up my baby to nurse before I went to sleep. Sometimes she was hard to wake, so I’d change her diaper (sure fire way to wake her up!) and then lay down and nurse her before going to sleep myself. That way I knew she had a dry diaper and a full tummy when I went to sleep, which made it more likely that I’d get a good stretch of sleep in before she woke me up. It also helped me take advantage of the sleep-inducing hormones that are produced during breastfeeding.
- Consider co-sleeping: Having your baby close to you makes it easier to tend to their needs at night without fully waking up the way you would if you had to walk down the hall and sit on a rocking chair or couch in another room. You can have the baby close by in a basinet or co-sleeper or bring them into bed with you if you follow strong co-sleeping safety practices. Deliberate, planned co-sleeping is very safe, whereas falling asleep with your baby by mistake or out of desperation when unprepared can be very dangerous.
- Find a daytime baby walker: Once you’ve passed the first few weeks, you’ll probably have a better idea of your baby’s internal clock. If there is a time of day when your baby is happy to go without nursing for a few hours and you have a friend, partner, neighbour, or relative who is willing to take the baby out for a walk in a stroller or a sling, then book them several times a week to do that. Nurse the baby, then push them out the door and lay down for an uninterrupted nap. Not only do you get some extra sleep during the day, but the baby also gets much needed fresh air to help them sleep better. Fresh air is great for mom too, so head out with baby yourself for a second walk at another time of day.
Okay, but I’m still not getting enough sleep!
What if you’ve tried all of that and you’re still not getting enough sleep? Some babies wake more often than others. Some moms need more sleep than others. Some babies nurse and then go right back to sleep, while others think that nighttime is play time. If you’re still at a loss and aren’t getting enough sleep, you can try implementing shifts with your partner, but you need to do so in a way that respects your baby’s nursing needs and also protects your supply.
Here are a couple of variations you could try:
- Dad on baby duty, mom on breastfeeding duty: Just because the mom is the one who breastfeeds, doesn’t mean she needs to be on nighttime baby duty. The dad could sleep in the same room as the baby (e.g. sleeping on a mattress in on the floor in the baby’s room) while the mom sleeps alone in the parents’ bed with ear plugs or a white noise machine. Instead of the mom having to be “on alert” for a waking baby, dad is “on alert” and mom can sleep soundly. The dad would be responsible for diaper changes, rocking the baby, re-settling the baby, etc. and for bringing the baby to the mom to breastfeed around once every 3 to 4 hours (i.e. if the baby wakes and it has been more than 3 hours since the last nursing session ended, dad would wake mom to nurse).
- Splitting the night: You can implement shifts, but they may need to be a bit shorter than the ones mentioned in the quote earlier in this article. For example, instead of 8pm to 1am and 1am to 6am, you might do 10pm to 2am and 2am to 6am, so that no shift is ever any longer than 4 hours. If you occasionally need a guaranteed longer stretch of sleep, you could leave a bottle of breastmilk out for your partner to take a nighttime feed. In that case, shifts of 8pm to 2am and 2am to 8am could even work every once in a while. Just be sure that you add in an extra pumping session after your long sleep stretch and that you don’t do it too often (or you’ll be signalling to your body not to make milk at that time of day, which will decrease your milk supply overall).
We used these tactics a few times on a temporary basis to get over a bad sleep period, but you could also implement them permanently if you needed to as long as you nurse, nurse, nurse as frequently as you can during the day. That may mean offering the breast even more often than the baby asks and could also mean adding in a pumping session or two during the day (e.g. pumping after the baby nurses or during a long nap). Whenever we did any of the nighttime shifts, I always nursed the baby as soon as I got up in the morning and then pumped on the other side to save that milk for another time.
Did you struggle with managing sleep, breastfeeding and PPD? What tactics worked your family?
Annie has been blogging about parenting, feminism and social change at PhD in Parenting since May 2008. She is a social, political and consumer advocate on issues of importance to parents, women, children and the earth. She regularly uses her blog as a platform to create awareness and to advocate for change, shedding light on positions, policies and actions that threaten the rights and well-being of parents and their children.