This article is an excerpt from my book, “Boobin’ All Day…Boobin’ All Night. A Gentle Approach To Sleep For Breastfeeding Families”. You can find an expanded version and much more on sleep here!
The (sometimes) sleeping breastfed baby from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant’s Perspective…
Why won’t my baby sleep? How can I get my baby to sleep longer? Why is my baby waking so much? Will I ALWAYS have to breastfeed him to sleep? Why will he only stay asleep when I hold him in the baby carrier?
Remember what it was like way back in the day when it was awesome and exciting to stay up all night? After having a baby our attitude about late nights change just a bit! As new mums we can feel so overwhelmed and we are bombarded with various advice (usually about sleep and breastfeeding), much of which has us going against our motherly instincts. But what if we were able to change the way we think about babies and sleep? Instead of focusing on the negative (such as the “why… why… why” questions focused on our baby) focus on the positive and yourself, focus on what you CAN change! It is not only normal for babies and toddlers who are breastfed on demand to wake frequently and breastfeed, but I am actually surprised if I come across a woman who has a baby or toddler who sleeps well at night! Instead of partying all night we are breastfeeding all night, this is motherhood.
Try asking yourself these questions instead:
What can I do to get more sleep? Who is available to come over for a couple of hours to help me today? What can I leave until tomorrow? What can I reschedule today so I don’t have to leave the house?
Yes, you can train your baby to sleep longer and sleep by themselves if you leave them to cry and practice “sleep training” or the “cry it out” method. Call it what you will but it all equals the same thing, your baby in distress and not getting their needs met. A baby crying is a baby communicating. There is research which shows just how stressful it is for babies who are left to cry. Their stress hormones are raised even after they stop crying. Thankfully there is another answer! We focus so much on our babies sleeping that we lose sight of the things that we are capable of changing to keep us less tired and have increased energy throughout the day and night.
As a mum to three boys and still breastfeeding my youngest, I understand extreme tiredness! I GET CRANKY AND EXHAUSTED! I complain to my husband! I cry! I feel as though I might go insane from lack of sleep at times! Yet most of the time just changing my thought patterns and HOW I am thinking about the situation can really change my feelings about it. We are so focused on the night that we forget all of the things we might be able to do during the day. Try this on for size…
1. Instead of, “Why won’t my baby sleep?” Try- “What can I do to get more sleep?”
SLEEP WHEN YOUR BABY SLEEPS DURING THE DAY!!!! Do not do laundry or cleaning or watching TV or look at Facebook (unless it is my page of course). SLEEP! So simple but SO VERY IMPORTANT. Even if you cannot fall asleep, just lay there with your eyes closed. You do not have to be sleeping to be resting.
Hire a mother’s helped to come during the day so you can get twenty minutes of shut eye. Put an ad in your local newspaper and find a babysitter in training or “mother’s helper” who loves babies and will charge next to nothing to just hold your baby or play with your toddler or older children while you take a short nap.
Go to bed when your baby goes to bed. This might mean putting older children to bed earlier as well. Put them to bed early or with a book if they can read and everyone go to sleep. Have a big sleeping party together on the floor if you need to!
2. Instead of, “ Why is my baby waking so much?” (which is completely normal) Try- “Who is available to come over for a couple of hours to help me today?”
- It is normal for babies and toddlers to have nights where they wake very frequently. This could be due to teething, going through a developmental milestone, growth spurt, general crankiness, getting sick etc. etc. When your baby has a night like this then see if you can find a family member, friend or hire a mother’s helper to come over. If you can afford it, hire someone to come in and clean once a week or every two weeks. There is research which suggests that frequent waking to breastfeed is a protective factor against SIDS. So it actually might be important for them to wake throughout the night to breastfeed.
- Find a friend who is happy to alternate coming over to each other’s houses. While they are watching your baby and/or children you can rest. Then the next time you go over to her house and do the same when she is tired.
3. Instead of, “Will I ALWAYS have to breastfeed him to sleep?” Try, “What am I wanting to do that is making me feel this is a chore or burden?”
- Breastmilk has components to relax your baby and help them fall asleep. Your baby is made to fall asleep at your breast and most every baby will do this. And it’s great for us! We do not have to rock or sing or pat our babies to sleep and pretty much wherever we go, we can bring them along and just breastfeed them to sleep! Yay! It’s a lifesaver at times. Go with it and follow the lead of your baby. These times with them, although exhausting sometimes (believe me, I know! Sometimes the LAST things I want to do is breastfeed my baby to sleep at the end of a long day) are precious and do not last long.
- If I am annoyed that I have to breastfeed my baby to sleep that night it is almost always because there is something I would rather be doing, or something I really have to be doing. Cleaning the kitchen, watching a movie with my husband, reading to my other children, or just doing nothing! Ha! What a crazy idea! If I can change my thinking though, then I can appreciate the needs of my baby at that time and stop being so obsessed with what it is that I have to do at that moment. The kitchen can wait, I can fall asleep next to my husband on the couch if I have to (at least we will be together!) and I can read to my children tomorrow.
4. Instead of,” How can I get my baby to sleep longer?” Try- “What can I leave until tomorrow?”
- It is completely normal for babies to take short naps sometimes and only want to be held while sleeping. You might want to invest in a comfortable baby carrier that you can carry your baby in while they sleep. Although this will not be ideal every day for you, there will be days where this is your magical answer. I can get many things done around the house this way and although he is thirteen months old, I am still able to carry him around comfortably on my back. I can also sit down and work at the computer with him on my back. ..
- Let go a bit of the “ultimate mum” thing. We all have to let some stuff go when we are tired. The house might get a bit messy, your legs might not get shaved for a month and you have to eat your lunch standing for two weeks in a row…but it does get easier! I promise!
- You cannot do it all, all at once. You cannot bake paleo muffins, make homemade soap and a DIY bookshelf you found on Pinterest all within the same day. IT CAN WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE LESS SLEEP DEPRIVED! And think “easy dinners!” this will save your sanity too.
GET SUPPORT, WAIT AS LONG AS POSSIBLE BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK AND FIND THE SLEEPING ARRANGEMENT THAT WORKS FOR YOU TO GET MORE SLEEP-WHETHER IT’S CO-SLEEPING, BED-SHARING, OR YOUR BABY SLEEPING IN THEIR OWN ROOM. We are all in this together. Let’s support each other! It’s all about building community support.
*Most important: Ask for help when you need it! Especially if you feel as though you are feeling so overwhelmed that you cannot care for your baby or you are feeling depressed.