Breastfeeding a newborn at night

My baby is feeding a lot at night (night feeding)

A really common question that I get asked by breastfeeding mothers nearly every week, is about night feeding. Is it normal that my baby is feeding at night? and how long will it take before he actually starts to sleep longer?

Please bear in mind that there are lots of parenting books out there which are very regimented when it comes to sleeping at night – and a lot of these things are not based on evidence- and a lot of these books may even suggest that your baby should be sleeping much longer stretches by six months, or even as young as three or four months, and many mums can become quite anxious about this.

Certainly many of us have had these ideas entrenched in our minds for many years and we have tried desperately to get our babies to sleep longer, thinking that something is actually wrong if they are waking to feed.

Young mother breastfeeding her newborn baby boy at nightSo first of all it’s really important to know that lots of recent research is helping us to understand babies sleeping cycles and patterns a lot better, and we know now that it’s quite normal for young babies and older babies, and even toddlers to be waking up at night. Please bear in mind that health professionals over the years have taught mothers lots of different techniques for helping babies to sleep longer – controlled crying techniques and crying it out techniques. And we know now that a lot of these things have not really been based on good solid evidence around sleep patterns – and it’s also important to know that leaving babies to cry, certainly from this latest research is helping us to know that their levels of cortical increase, and this is a stress hormone which isn’t a good thing for babies. So this is a new understanding that we certainly didn’t have many years ago.

It’s also really important to know that when you are breastfeeding, night feedings can help to maintain your supply, and can also cause your baby to get as much as a quarter of his intake. So the truth is if you and your baby can relax into the night time situation rather than trying to fight against it, then this can be a really positive thing.

And bear in mind that every baby is different.  I see lots of breastfeeding mothers every week and some will tell me that their babies have started to sleep through after  a few weeks, while others have taken a few months, and for others they’re still waking up into toddlerhood – and bear in mind that in lactation circles they consider a five hour stretch as a full night’s sleep.

And there’s something else to consider when we talk about breastfeeding at night. There is a term called reverse cycling and that is basically when babies start to take more of the supply at night because of different circumstances. Now it might be that your baby has got to the age when he is starting to get very distractible in the day. That usually happens round about three to four months, sometimes a bit earlier, and those babies do faffy little feeds in the day, and make up their supply at night when it’s boring and quiet. It might also be that if you’re working during the week for instance, you’ve gone back to work, you will find that your baby feeds more at night (reverse cycling) to make up the supply that was maybe lacking in the day.

And night feeding is not just about your baby getting nutrition from the breast. Babies come to the breast for warmth, for comfort, and just to hang out -so a lot of psychology involved as well. And this is part of the norm. And we also know from research that all this wonderful responsiveness to your baby helps to develop security and confidence -lots of evidence around that for the future.

It’s also important for you to know that your baby may wake up for lots of other reasons as well. It might be that your baby starts to teethe – before teeth actually come through. Now some babies become very unsettled at that time and may wake up more for the comfort element when they’re going through that.

So that’s one reason- it might be that your baby has an illness e.g a cold – it could be anything like that, maybe an ear infection – any illness can cause your baby to stay awake more at night and wanting that comfort at the breast.Mom soothes a crying baby

It might be that your baby goes through a developmental spurt – maybe just learning to roll over or some other developmental change – and this can be another reason why babies suddenly start waking more at night. And there are growth spurts which can last two to four nights, where you’ll find your baby feeding daytime and night-time as well.  I would also really encourage you to look at the video related to safe sleeping when you’re breastfeeding – a really important topic.

I really do appreciate that the sleep deprivation that comes along with all this frequent feeding at night can take its toll on many mothers, and even from my own experience. I do remember it very well – but it is a temporary time and things move forward and your baby will fall into his developmental readiness for sleeping.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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