It is a truth universally acknowledged that a breastfeeding mom will never be able to sleep train her child...or is it?
The most common concerns I hear from parents are about night feedings. I want to be very VERY clear that I will NEVER ask a parent to cut a night time feed. That is the choice of the parent and I would never make it for them, nor judge them for whatever decision they come to.
There are a few myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding and its relationship with sleep and hopefully I'll be able to dispel those here!
Myth 1: Mom and Baby suffer during sleep training.
Actually, there are a number of benefits to everyone sleeping better at night! The immune system repairs, neural pathways are forged, the brain develops and growth hormones are secreted, all during REM sleep. That's why newborns need to sleep so much, there is SO much going on in their tiny little bodies.
Studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on milk supply in moms. It's hard to nourish a growing body when you don't have any strength or stamina. In addition to this, overtiredness can look like hyperactivity or hyper arousal making it more difficult for baby to focus on getting a nice full feed. Instead, baby starts to "snack and snooze" and may eat for 5 or 10 minutes at a time without getting any of that good hind milk.
We also know that a lack of sleep has a direct impact on mom's mood and can cause impatience and irritability. This of course, makes it hard to care for a new life which is demanding SO much from you. There have been many correlations made between sleep deprivation and the occurrence of postpartum depression in mothers.
Myth 2: My baby NEEDS to eat during the night.
This very well may be true for those first 3-4 months, but let's talk a bit about how many feeds babies should be getting every day. Babies should be eating every 1.5-3 hours so, in a 24 hour period there should be:
1-2 months: 7-9 feeds
2-6 months: 6-8 feeds
6-12 months: 4-5 feeds (12 hour period)
12 months and up: 1-3 feeds (12 hour period)
Of course, some babies will demand more than this and some will eat less. The only real thing to follow here is YOUR baby's cues and your gut instinct. "Feeds" refers to breast or formula with the general assumption that parents will start to introduce solids any where between month 4 & 6. Babies need about 1000-1200 calories per day and, when you think about it, that's not a lot of food. If after the 4th month baby is getting enough to eat during the day you will probably see them drop their night feed all on their own.
Myth 3: My milk supply will drop.
Most often, I work with parents after their child is 4 months old. At that time, there is a distinct drop in breast fullness which can be totally alarming but is completely in the range of normal.
We know that breastfeeding is a supply/demand relationship, if the demand is high, supply will follow suit. If a parent decides to pull a night time feed without then compensating during the day there will be a dip in supply.
If Mom is dehydrated, there can also be a dip in milk supply. Staying hydrated is crucial to ensuring that there will be enough milk for baby. A good rule of thumb is to take your weight and divide by 2 and that's how many ounces of water you should be drinking every single day! Another thing to consider, is mom getting enough healthy fats in her diet? Fats are the building blocks of hormones and some great foods to find these healthy fats in are olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and nuts.
A healthy diet and plenty of water are great tools for keeping Mom's milk supply adequate for baby's needs.
Myth 4: My baby will lose weight.
One of my clients told me, "sleep training won't work, my baby doesn't eat well enough during the day". Well, sometimes we need to change the cycle. By encouraging nice full feeds during the day and minimizing or eliminating calories during the night mean that baby will shift toward taking more calories in during the day. If baby isn't eating well during day feeds, it could be a product of hyperarousal or overtiredness. This can only be helped by implementing a good nap routine.
Keep in mind, if baby is on a healthy curve weight is not necessarily a factor to rule out sleep training. If your doctor shares no trepidation and has not indicated that baby is well below average for his size and age then you don't really need to be concerned about dropping night time feeds. The World Health Organization has a incredibly accurate chart for measuring where your child falls on the curve.
If, however, your child falls well below average and your physician has expressed concerns, it is not a good idea to even consider dropping that night feed. Rather, we should focus on implementing a strong routine that will encourage full feeds.
Myth 5: My baby will starve!
Here's the thing about babies, they will not let themselves starve. Babies are SUPER resilient and we need to give them more credit for their ability to survive! Newborns SHOULD be eating during the night, but by month 3 or 4 you may notice that bay starts to sleep in longer chunks (if they are set up for success).
From 4-6 months, babies only need about 18-30 oz per day, after 12 months of age baby needs about 8-15 oz per day with 3 full meals. It can be hard to determine how much milk baby is getting if you're exclusively breastfeeding. One way to get a good estimate of how much your child is eating at each feed is to pump for a day and to feed via a bottle. When solids are introduced, avoid filler foods. Puffs, cheerios and goldfish all serve a purpose but also make sure that baby is getting plenty of nutrient rich foods. Cheese, butter, fruits and veggies are all wonderful nourishment for baby's development!
Again, each parent should decide for themselves how long they want to breastfeed and there should be ZERO shame in that decision. I strongly encourage all parents to follow their child's cues!
Good sleepers tend to be good eaters, and developing a routine where baby can thrive is a great way to ensure baby is getting enough to eat!