How Much Sleep And How Many Naps Does My Baby Need? How About My Toddler? Sleep And The Breastfed Child…

Sleep becomes a bit of an obsession when we have our baby. Even if we are happy with how our baby is sleeping (or not sleeping) we are constantly asked if our baby is a “GOOD” baby (are they sleeping), how long are they sleeping for, are you getting any sleep, how much they are napping, etc. etc. We think about it constantly, worry about it and generally experience some sort of anxiety about it at various times throughout the early years of parenthood.  So what’s the deal with sleep deprivation? Will my child be doomed if they do not sleep enough?!

Ok, so there is no question that sleep is important.  BUT people are missing the big picture here.  So often I hear people go ON AND ON (OK, and when I mean “people”, I mean those who are pro cry-it-out, pro sleep training, pro your baby getting “enough” sleep at the cost of ignoring your baby’s cries) about how important and crucial it is for your baby or toddler to be getting “ENOUGH” sleep.  Yes, lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems, but how do you know when it has gone from normal to “problem”?

Let’s start with normal sleep behaviour of a breastfed baby… 

1. Babies will often fall asleep happily at the breast, but will wake if put down and therefore have shorter naps if they are not held or put back to sleep by breastfeeding.

2. Babies will often wake up about 30-45 minutes after falling asleep for their nap when they are in their lighter sleep.

3. Babies and toddlers will wake frequently to breastfeed at night.

4. Babies and toddlers tend to “cluster feed” in the early pre-dawn hours leading up to the eventual “wake up!” boob.

5. Babies will go through cycles; for some weeks or months they might nap quite well.  Then they will start to nap for a shorter time period and will need more frequent breastfeeds during the nap or night to stay asleep.  You might describe them as unsettled or “cranky”. This could go on for a few days or weeks. You will start to go insane and then magically they will start to sleep longer for their naps and will be more settled at night. You may, or may not find the reason why this happened.

6. Sometimes their nap will happen while they are breastfeeding. They will happily latch on and NOT.LET.GO! For the entire nap…this is what I like to call, “the nap boob”.  This will happen sometimes and will often be random; maybe due to an increased need to be cuddled, fighting an illness or feeling unsettled for a number of reasons. 

7. Each of your children will probably be completely different with their sleep patterns, even if you breastfeed them and mother them the same exact way! My middle boy LOVED and still LOVES to sleep! He happily fell asleep while breastfeeding until he was 3 and a half years old! Breastfed for a nap every single day until he weaned and would not only nap for at least two hours but would easily fall asleep at the breast at night at 7:30pm too. No problems at all…and seriously the kid still loves his sleep! 🙂 

THIS IS ALL NORMAL! THERE IS NO PROBLEM HERE PEOPLE! THESE SLEEP PATTERNS ARE COMPLETELY NORMAL FOR BREASTFED BABIES AND TODDLERS!

breastfeeding to sleepWhen will I know it’s time for my toddler to drop their nap? Here are some signs:

1. They stop breastfeeding to sleep (and not just as a phase but for quite awhile) and you have to get creative! With my youngest boy it started to get ridiculous! He stopped breastfeeding to sleep for his nap so I would try in the baby carrier, then when that stopped working I would have to put him in the carrier while vacuuming!! My house was seriously clean every day but eventually the vacuum stopped working as well. It’s great to figure out little tricks (and my tricks gave me an extra six months of naps!) but eventually they will stop working.

2. They will nap but it will take you FOREVER to get them to fall asleep. 

3. They will start to show signs of actually being able to make it through the afternoon without having a meltdown! They will make it to 6:30pm (or whatever time you are happy with to put them to bed) and will easily fall asleep at the breast or while being cuddled. 

4. They will start going to bed REALLY late if they have a nap. They will nap later in the afternoon (when you finally get them so sleep!) but will then torture you into the late hours of the night while you hold your eyelids open with toothpicks.

…and my thoughts on the research (from my article on sleep training)

“I have seen some sleep training websites list research articles to support their claims that babies who learn to fall asleep on their own and through the night will do better in school, have less chance of being obese and have an increased ability to learn. WHAT?! To use these studies as support for the argument FOR sleep training or to scare you into thinking your baby who is not sleeping as much as the chart states is misleading to parents. There is NO research to support the claim that babies and toddlers who fall asleep at the breast and breastfeed throughout the night are more likely to be overweight, have trouble in school and have a harder time learning. In order for a study to look at the differences between the two we need a longitudinal study which specifically compares those who are exclusively breastfed to sleep and through the night with those who are sleep trained and night weaned, leaving out variables which can also affect the results AND have it be peer reviewed. Once this has happened, let me know, I’d love to see the results!”

Here are some sleep charts that I found on Pinterest (unfortunately there was not an original source. Please let me know if you have that information!)

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and another one…

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Notice something? They are not identical! There are some variations in many of the sleep charts (which tells you something!! It’s not an exact science)!

So what is the bottom line? Look at the WHOLE PICTURE. Look at your child, look at how they are responding to the changes in their sleep patters. Do they need more sleep and struggle if they miss their nap? Then get creative, breastfeed them to sleep in a carrier, go out in the morning so they fall asleep on the ride home or on the walk home, vacuum like me, get into bed with them and take a nap together while breastfeeding on and off…whatever it takes! Then drop the nap completely when they stop working as well. When I realized he was giving up his nap I cried! I was not ready! He was “only” two and I felt the pressure to have him nap still! But once I could let the idea of the nap go we were both happier. I stopped spending so much time trying to put him to sleep and we just enjoyed the day together and I really enjoyed his new early bed time!! Is your child meeting their developmental milestones? Are they happy and healthy? Then great! Trust your instincts and follow the lead of your child. Then keep on boobin’!   🙂

CLICK HERE for information on how to get your baby to take a longer nap!

CLICK HERE for information on alternatives to sleep training and why I’d like to burn every sleep training book in existence!

CLICK HERE for information on why babies and toddlers breastfeed so frequently (it’s not just about hunger)!

CLICK HERE for information on how to get more rest as an exhausted, breastfeeding mum who does not want to do cry it out or sleep training!

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2017-07-24T09:36:28+00:00 June 7th, 2014|Sleep Challenges|0 Comments