Breastfeeding FAQs: Sleep - Yours and Your Baby

Breastfeeding FAQs: Sleep - Yours and Your Baby's

Whether you're a new mom or a seasoned parenting pro, breastfeeding often comes with its fair share of questions. Here are some answers to common inquiries that mothers — new and veteran — may have.

Where should my breastfed baby sleep?

Although some mothers may want to keep their babies in bed with them to make breastfeeding more convenient at night, cosleeping with babies can be hazardous.

But you can still choose to keep your baby close and make nighttime feedings easier by letting your baby sleep in a crib, bassinet, or play yard in your room — right next to your bed, even — for the first few months.

You also can invest in a device that looks like a bassinet or play yard missing one side that attaches to your bed, allowing you to be next to each other while eliminating the possibility of rolling over onto your infant.

To make nursing in bed more comfortable, it may help to keep a donut-type nursing pillow on or near your bed or to use a "husband" back pillow with arms on each side.

Keep the room dimly lit for nighttime feedings and also keep stimulation (talking, singing, etc.) to a minimum. This will help your baby to realize that nighttime is for sleeping — not playing — and will encourage your little one to return to sleep sooner.

A word of caution, though: You should never let your baby sleep on a soft surface or in the same room with people who are smoking because of the higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Babies should always be put on their backs to sleep to help reduce the risk of SIDS.

My baby falls asleep while nursing. What Can I Do?

Your baby may seem to be snoozing away, but might actually just be peacefully nursing. However, if you don't feel any sucking, your baby may, indeed, be sleeping at the breast, especially if feeling satisfied after a good feeding.

Babies who tend to latch on incorrectly, though, will frequently sleep at the breast. If this happens, break the suction and reposition your baby onto your breast to include both your nipple and areola.

You can break the suction by slipping your finger in the side of your baby's mouth (between the gums) and then turning your finger a quarter turn to break the suction. (If you just pull your baby off your breast, it will likely startle your little one and hurt your breasts as well.) After you've broken the suction, try to burp your baby and switch your little one to the other breast.

If your baby is still falling asleep while feeding, undress the baby, tickle your child’s feet, burp your baby frequently, or try changing the diaper in between switching breasts.

Is it OK to nurse my baby to sleep?

Nursing your baby to sleep can become problematic as your little one gets older because he or she may need to nurse to take a nap or go to bed at night. It helps to wean your baby off of sucking for comfort and make breastfeeding sessions about nourishment not pacifying.

Also try to put your baby down for naps and bedtime slightly awake so your little one will get used to falling asleep without having to nurse.

Instead of nursing, you may want to offer your baby his or her thumb or hand to suck on. You also could consider giving your little one a pacifier. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends giving babies under a year pacifiers at naptime and bedtime to reduce the risk of SIDS. However, babies who are not interested in pacifiers should not be forced to take them, and pacifiers should not be put back in if they fall out once the baby falls asleep.

For breastfed babies, pacifiers should be introduced after breastfeeding is well established (usually after 1 month) to help avoid "nipple confusion."

If your baby has had a good feeding recently and you know that he or she isn't hungry, then it's OK to use the pacifier, although it's best to try to use it just for naps and bedtime.

When will my baby sleep through the night?

Newborns should be woken up every 3 to 4 hours until their weight gain is established, which typically happens within the first couple of weeks. After that, it's OK if a baby sleeps for longer periods of time.

But don't get your slumber hopes up just yet — most breastfed infants won't snooze for extended periods of time because they get hungry. Remember, breast milk is much more easily digested than formula, so it passes through babies' systems faster and, therefore, makes them hungry more often.

Newborns' longest sleep periods are generally 4 or 5 hours — this is about how long their small bellies can go between feedings. If newborns do sleep for a while, they'll probably be extra-hungry during the day and may want to nurse more frequently.

And just when parents think that sleeping through the night seems like a far-off dream, things start to get a little easier. At 3 months, a baby averages a total of 5 hours of sleep during daytime naps and 10 hours at night, usually with an interruption or two. Most babies this age sleep "through the night," meaning 6 to 8 hours in a row.

It can help to stimulate your baby during the day, keep things calm at night, and have a regular bedtime routine. But every baby is different so don't be surprised if your baby sleeps more or less than others.

Will it hurt my milk supply to let my baby sleep?

Letting your baby sleep through the night (usually around 3 months old) isn't going to hurt your breastfeeding efforts. Your body readjusts your milk supply based on when you nurse and how much your baby needs. Some babies will sleep through the night early but will make up for it during the day, so your breasts will accommodate.

As your baby matures and starts taking solid foods, the need for breast milk will diminish and your body will adjust for that too.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: June 2008

Related Sites

American Dietetic Association
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
La Leche League

Related Articles

Sleep and Your 1- to 3-Month-Old
Sleep and Your 4- to 7-Month-Old
Nursing Positions
Sleep and Newborns
Breastfeeding FAQs: Getting Started
Cosleeping and Your Baby