Nighttime Breastfeeding – 7 Reasons Why It’s So Important

Nighttime Breastfeeding - 7 Reasons Why It's So Important

Nighttime Breastfeeding

One of the most difficult aspects of caring for a newborn baby is the sleep deprivation that comes with it. Each night feed just seems to roll into the next.

As you start each day feeling as though you’ve barely slept a wink, you might start to question the wisdom of breastfeeding. The truth is, though, no matter how your baby is fed, nighttime feeds can be exhausting.

Understanding why nighttime breastfeeding is important for your baby and your milk supply can help you cope better with the lack of sleep.

Here are 7 reasons why nighttime breastfeeding is so important.

#1: Babies Have Tiny Tummies

A newborn’s tummy is tiny. At birth, it has the capacity to hold up to about 20mL of fluid, and gradually increases after that. Also, breastmilk empties from the stomach within about an hour.

For some newborns a pattern of feeding every one to two hours is common, and well within the wide range of normal. The good news is that frequent breastfeeds (and therefore milk removal) in the early days and weeks help to maximise your milk-producing capability later on.

#2: Nighttime Breastmilk Intake Makes An Important Contribution To Babies’ Total Intake

Breastmilk that babies consume through the night makes up an important part of their total 24 hour intake.

Research has shown that most (64%) of breastfed babies between 1-6 months of age feed between one and three times at night (from 10pm to 4am), and that about 20% of their 24 hour intake is from these night feeds.

#3: Breastfeeding At Night Helps Babies Sleep

Circadian rhythms are our internal body clocks. They are regulated by hormones which help us wake up and feel energetic during the day, and enable us to fall asleep easily at night.

Breastmilk contains tryptophan, an amino acid used by the body to make melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps induce and regulate sleep. Tryptophan levels in breastmilk rise and fall according to maternal circadian rhythms. Breastfeeding can help develop babies’ circadian rhythms, and help them to settle to sleep better at night.

#4: Babies’ Circadian Rhythms Are Still Developing

While breastfeeding might help establish a baby’s circadian rhythm, research has shown that the rhythm isn’t usually established until after 2 months of age. Therefore, it’s only after this time that your baby will have any significant physiological hormonal influence helping her body to know whether it’s daytime or nighttime.

So, regardless of whether babies are breastfed or formula fed, sleeping longer stretches at nighttime is a developmental milestone that all babies reach at a different rate.

#5: Nighttime Breastfeeding Is Necessary For Lactational Amenorrhea

LAM, or the Lactational Amenorrhea Method, is a form of birth control that is 98% effective if used correctly. If your baby is younger than 6 months, and is being exclusively breastfed (day and night), and if your menstrual cycle hasn’t returned, you can use LAM as birth control. It’s not uncommon for mothers to find their menstrual cycle returns when they cease (or significantly reduce) nighttime breastfeeding.

It’s possible to fall pregnant using most forms of birth control, even if the risk is small. If you’re strongly against falling pregnant too soon, you might like to consider using additional forms of birth control, for example, condoms. Here are some things to think about if you’re considering using the pill.

#6: Breastfeeding Is Protective Against SIDS

Perhaps one of the most important reasons for nighttime breastfeeding might be to help reduce the risk of sudden, unexplained death in infancy (SIDS). It might be that infant arousals are an important mechanism for survival, and these arousals are more frequent for breastfeeding babies.

Since breastfeeding is the normal way to feed babies, it should be the benchmark, or the control, with which other forms of infant feeding are compared. From this point of view, while breastfeeding doesn’t reduce the risk of SIDS, formula feeding increases it.

Australia’s leading health organisation, the National Health and Medical Research Council, indicates that not breastfeeding increases the risk of SIDS by 56%. Putting this into perspective, in Australia, the risk of SIDS is currently around 1 in 3000 births. Therefore, if all babies were formula fed, the 56% increase in SIDS would then mean that the risk of SIDS would increase to around 3 in 6000 births.

#7: Breastfeeding Mothers Actually Get More Sleep

Research shows that mixed feeding or formula-feeding reduces a mother’s total sleep time, and increases the time it takes to go to sleep, when compared with exclusive breastfeeding.

Other research has shown that mothers who exclusively breastfeed get 40-45 minutes more sleep than mothers whose babies are given formula. While 40-45 minutes might not seem like much, it can make a big difference to women dealing with sleep deprivation.

Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone for your baby, and is unrelated to how your baby is fed. In the meantime, embrace breastfeeding your baby at nighttime, knowing there are many good reasons for doing so. Before you know it your baby will be all grown up, and you might find that you miss those cuddly, peaceful nighttime feeds.


Last Updated: August 16, 2016


Renee Kam is mother to Jessica and Lara, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


  1. Yes all said is true am a nursing mother. Breast feeding at night has really helped me a lot.especially the LAM

  2. This is very informational and it makes me so proud to breast feed. I love it. And it is good for my daughter. Keep up the good work & spread the good words about breast feeding.

  3. Thanks for very helpful information. I want to ask a question related to my kid who is 1 year 2 months old now. She is taking breast milk till now but not gaining much weight. Her weight is 8 kg. It should be 10 to 12 kg. now I have started fresh cow milk but she is not taking enough milk. Can you please explain why she is under weight as she is taking breast milk uptill now?

    1. Why ‘should’ you child be 10-12kg? Me and all my siblings were right around 8kg at 1 year and we have all grown into healthy adults. Especially if your child is growing on the same growth curve this is nothing to be concerned about. Breastfed babies typically weigh less than formula fed babies as well – weight is not the best indicator of health. If she is dropping off the growth chart then you should talk with her doctor about this.

  4. thanks to this very informative and encouraging article for breastfeeding moms like me. nothing beats natural God given gifts to humanity…we breastfeeding moms are indeed so lucky to be able to produce the best food for our baby, not only do we nourish them physically but likewise their soul..breastfeeding have countless benefits for our babies but the mothers benefit more from this through this sacred bond with the child…I couldn’t imagine more happiness in the world than to see my child happy and content with my milk while lovingly staring at my eyes…

  5. I am breastfeeding my almost 4 week old baby girl but do so whilst sitting and her in upright sideways position across my chest. She sometimes gags while feeding so i am too scared to fall asleep whilst she is drinking. Could this perhaps be from the milk flowing to fast or from her swollowing air? Would it help to rather breastfeed her lying down?

    1. My milk supply does the same thing when it first let’s down. What I always do is pull baby off gently until that heavy feeling backs off a bit and then just watch baby really close, especially when they are really tiny, so that they don’t choke. In the beginning I usually breastfed sitting up as well until I felt confident she was safe for me to nurse laying down without gagging and choking 🙂 do what you feel best and safest for your little one though 😉 this method has worked for me with the last 6 kids of mine, but every baby is soooo different!

  6. lo is only 13 days, so I don’t have any long term experience, but we gave her fomlrua from days 3-6, when my milk finally came in. it was really delayed to a rough labour. she’s been ebf since then, even though I have tried to give her a bottle with some breast milk in it. she was not interested.

    1. Im not sure what you are asking? However, do whatever is right for you and your baby and don’t listen to anyone! boob, bottle, formula, breast milk, it’s all okay.

  7. Am breastfeeding my four months old baby but I have to leave for emergency trip for four days leaving him behind so can I breastfeeding him when I come back?

    1. Of course, just pump while you are away, however I am sure you have had to as you will be full of milk! I am so sorry you had to leave your baby suddenly I am sure that was upsetting.

  8. My baby is 1 years old, and LOVES to sleep with me, and breast fead all night.
    I also enjoy it. But am wondering if she’s getting enough sleep, since 2 hours after she wakes up, she goes back to sleep – for at least 1.5 hours.
    I also wonder if it damages her teeth.
    Her morning naps, I insist she take without me by her side, because otherwise she wakes up the minute I get out of bed.
    Is it time to insist she sleeps the whole night as well without the breast?

  9. My babygirl is 3 months old and i am exclusively breastfeeding her. Since 1.5 month old she is sleeping all night long. So i am not breastfeeding her during the night. Her weight is very good (6 kgs) and she is growing normally. Is it ok? Should i wake her up? Oh and my period hasnt come back. Am i safe regarding birth control? Thank you

    1. I breastfeed my son exclusively he is almost 2 months old, he feeds about every 1.5 to 2 hours, he usually wakes up on his own to feed, but if he hasn’t gotten up within the 2.5 hours I will wake him up to feed him. He feeds at least 4 times at night in which I make sure he’s latched and his nose is clear and just let him feed, during that time I try to watch him but wake-up to find that he is sleep and is no longer feeding. I get at least maybe 4 good hours of sleep, but I feel rested though. My cycle has yet to return which is a good thing. I do pump at least 2 to 3 times a day and maybe 1 time at night. He is a healthy chubby baby he gained 3 lbs in 4 weeks and is always growing and getting taller. I will say that I will continue to breastfeed and feed him at night until he is at an age where he can sleep through the night, but it won’t be anytime soon though. I love the connection that we have and will continue to feed my son until he weens or gets to 4 years of age.

  10. I would love to share your article on our LLL page but it tells me there is something unsafe and it won’t share.

    1. It might be because we had a SSL certificate expire very recently – we don’t need to use SSL as we don’t collect personal details. But I can assure you it’s safe 🙂

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