Nighttime Breastfeeding – 8 Reasons Why It’s So Important

Nighttime Breastfeeding - 8 Reasons Why It's So Important

Nighttime Breastfeeding

So, you’re home with your new baby. How’s she sleeping? Awake at midnight… 2:00am… 4:00am… 6:30am… maybe more, who knows.

It all runs together when you’re sleep deprived.

When you’re dealing with interrupted sleep night after night, you can start to question the wisdom of breastfeeding.

But nighttime nursing is important for your baby and your milk supply.

Here’s why:

#1: Babies Have Tiny Tummies

Did you know that a newborn’s stomach can only hold approximately 20ml of fluid? If the fluid is human milk, then it’s digested in about one hour.

It’s not until about day 10 that baby’s tummy is the size of a golf ball – or able to hold about 60ml. So, the one to two hourly feeding pattern many new babies adopt is likely pre-programmed and appropriate. But this means feeding more often at night, too. One benefit? The more feeding, the better the milk supply.

#2: Babies Consume More Milk At Night

One study showed that babies take more milk during the nighttime feedings than at any other time interval – about 20% of their daily intake was during the night. The majority of infants in this study nursed at night (64%) and they nursed between one and three times during this period. For babies whose weight is faltering, nighttime feedings may make a huge difference since more feedings equals more calories equals better growth.

#3: Breastfeeding At Night Helps Baby Sleep

Breastmilk contains tryptophan, a sleep inducing amino acid, moreso in the evening than at other times. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, which is the hormone that regulates mood as well as sleep cycles. Not only that, it improves brain development and function. You’re building your baby’s brain and helping him get to sleep by breastfeeding.

#4: Prolactin Levels Are Higher At Night

Prolactin, the milk-making hormone, has a diurnal pattern with higher levels noted at night. So nighttime nursing takes advantage of this natural variation to help keep your milk supply steady, or may even help if your supply is flagging.

#5: Nighttime Nursing Is Necessary For Lactational Amenorrhea

LAM, or the Lactational Amenorrhea Method, is a form of birth control that is 98% effective as long as it’s used correctly. If your baby is younger than 6 months old, your periods haven’t returned, and your baby is receiving nothing but breastmilk (day and night), you can use LAM as birth control. Researchers think that prolactin and nighttime breastfeeding may be two factors for suppressing the return of menses in breastfeeding mothers.

Some mothers find their menstrual cycle returns once they cease (or significantly reduce) nighttime feeding. However, like most methods, it’s not foolproof. So if you’re absolutely trying to avoid a pregnancy, keep an eye on your cervical mucus as well, or use condoms.

#6: Babies’ Circadian Rhythms Are Still Developing

Whether or not you’re breastfeeding, your baby may not have sleep consolidated into the nighttime hours until about 3-4 months of age. Long periods of uninterrupted sleep aren’t the result of whether you are breast or formula feeding, but rather a developmental milestone that all babies reach at a different rate.

#7: Breastfeeding Is Protective Against SIDS

Perhaps one of the most important reasons for breastfeeding at night is the reduction in risk of a sudden, unexplained infant death. It’s a hard thing to hear, but necessary to know.

An analysis of the results of eighteen studies have shown that the risk of sudden and unexpected infant death is significantly reduced — by around 50% — for mothers who exclusively breastfeed and for a longer duration of breastfeeding. The findings resulted in Sids and Kids adding, ‘breastfeeding if you can,’ into their SIDS protection guidelines. From their website: “According to research, breastfeeding babies more than halves the chances of a baby dying suddenly and unexpectedly.”

Sleep researchers believe that infant arousals are an important mechanism for survival, and these arousals are more frequent for breastfeeding babies.

#8: Breastfeeding Mothers Actually Get More Sleep

In their study about maternal mood and postpartum depression, Kendall-Tackett and colleagues found that breastfeeding mothers reported more sleep than mothers who were formula feeding or mixed feeding. Even with night waking, these breastfeeding mothers reported more daytime energy – a must when caring for a newborn. Other researches found that, on average, breastfeeding mothers get 40-45 minutes more of sleep at night, even though their sleep is still fragmented. While this may not seem like much, it makes a huge difference when dealing with sleep deprivation.

Babies need to eat at night and your sleep will be interrupted regardless. If you are formula feeding, you will need to get up and prepare a bottle. If you’re breastfeeding, you may just be able to bring baby into your bed and fall back to sleep while breastfeeding (follow these guidelines for safe cosleeping, though).

Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone unrelated to breastfeeding. So embrace your night waking with mindfulness – gaze at your baby, stay present in the moment while breastfeeding, and drift back to sleep, knowing you’re one of a multitude of women around the world waking at night to care for her baby.

References

  • Ball, H. L., & Russell, C. K. (2012). Night-time nurturing: an evolutionary perspective on breastfeeding and sleep. In Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development: From Research to Practice and Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Bergman, N. J. (2013). Neonatal stomach volume and physiology suggest feeding at 1‐h intervals. Acta Paediatrica, 102(8), 773-777.
  • Cubero, J., Valero, V., Sanchez, J., Rivero, M., Parvez, H., Rodríguez, A. B., & Barriga, C. (2005). The circadian rhythm of tryptophan in breast milk affects the rhythms of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin and sleep in newborn. Neuroendocrinology Letters, 26(6), 657-662.
  • Doan, T., Gay, C. L., Kennedy, H. P., Newman, J., & Lee, K. A. (2013). Nighttime Breastfeeding Behavior Is Associated with More Nocturnal Sleep among First-Time Mothers at One Month Postpartum. Journal of clinical sleep medicine: JCSM: official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 10(3), 313-319.
  • Doan, T., Gardiner, A., Gay, C. L., & Lee, K. A. (2007). Breast‐feeding Increases Sleep Duration of New Parents. The Journal of perinatal & neonatal nursing, 21(3), 200-206.
  • Galland BC, Taylor BJ, Elder DE, Herbison P. (2012). Normal sleep patterns in infants and children: A systematic review of observational studies. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 16(3): 213-222.
  • Kendall-Tackett, K., Cong, Z., & Hale, T. W. (2011). The effect of feeding method on sleep duration, maternal well-being, and postpartum depression. Clinical Lactation, 2(2), 22-26.
  • Kent, J. C., Mitoulas, L. R., Cregan, M. D., Ramsay, D. T., Doherty, D. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics, 117(3), e387-e395.
  • West D & Marasco L. (2009). The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk. New York: McGraw-Hill.
 
Last Updated: December 6, 2015

CONTRIBUTOR

BellyBelly.com.au


16 comments

  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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