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How to get better sleep—even when you're breastfeeding

How to get better sleep—even when you're breastfeeding

Tips from a sleep expert

The first few weeks of your baby’s life are full of exciting new experiences – for both you and your baby. However, nursing mothers are up every few hours, day and night, to breastfeed. Breastfeeding can be a challenge – it takes practice and patience to master.

Making sure you’re taking care of yourself while breastfeeding is vital to staying healthy and keeping up with your breastfeeding goals.

Meet our expert

Physician Assistant, internationally board-certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and co-founder of Lactation Central, Chaya Lighten.

 

7 tips for better sleep while breastfeeding

1. Develop a soothing bedtime routine

Incorporating breastfeeding into your bedtime routine is a great way to bond at the end of the day. Use this time to prepare baby for sleep, but also to unwind. Dim the lights, swaddle, and nurse. The oxytocin hormone will kick in and you’ll both be feeling relaxed and ready for bed.

From the experts

“Bedtime is a special time for parents to reestablish their daily bond—especially if they are away at work during much of their waking hours…those days are limited. Before parents know it, their children will be constantly busy—not stopping to cuddle anymore as they set about learning, exploring, playing and growing more independent.” 

Chaya Lighten, MHA, RPA-C, IBCLC

2. Don’t stress over sleep associations

Some parents fear that nursing their little one to sleep will mean they’ll rely on it to fall asleep as they get older. However, it’s common and completely normal for your newborn to fall asleep while feeding—especially as a newborn.

From the experts

That close contact helps regulate temperature as well as heart rate, respiratory rate and blood sugar levels. When a mother breastfeeds her baby before sleep (even when clothed and swaddled), she uses her sensory input to directly calm and set the stage for sleep.”

Chaya Lighten, MHA, RPA-C, IBCLC

As your baby gets older and can go longer between feeds, be sure to nurse when they need to eat — not solely to get them to sleep. But when they’re a newborn, focus on feeding them as often as necessary to keep them nourished. Learning to self-soothe and breaking sleep associations will come later.

From the experts

“An infant that feeds every 2-3 hours on demand is biologically normal — but it is still important to learn baby’s language, meaning not every cry is out of hunger. Soothing, settling, swaddling and sleep should be tended to as well.”

Chaya Lighten, MHA, RPA-C, IBCLC

3. Never underestimate a nap

A lack of sleep can directly affect your milk supply, so it’s important you snag a few hours whenever you can. Instead of scrolling through social media or catching up on household chores, Chaya encourages moms to get at least one 2-3 hour stretch of sleep while the baby sleeps.

Those extra hours can make all the difference:

From the experts

My advice to new parents: don’t negate the power of a nap! One mother I counseled reported a significant increase in milk supply when she focused on increasing her sleep just a couple of hours."

Chaya Lighten, MHA, RPA-C, IBCLC

4. Use gently weighted Zen Sleepwear

Zen Sleepwear uses gently weighted Cuddle Pads that mimic your touch to help soothe your baby to sleep. Using Zen Sleepwear as part of your soothing bedtime routine can help relax your little one, which will allow them to focus on breastfeeding and prepare them for sleep.

From the experts

Breastfeeding offers sensory input that calms a baby and builds trust. The gently-weighted Zen Sack is another form of sensory input and why I used it for my toddler as a baby and use a weighted blanket for an older child with sensory processing challenges.”

Chaya Lighten, MHA, RPA-C, IBCLC

Help soothe your little one with the Zen Swaddle or Zen Sack

5. Keep baby close

Room-sharing can make breastfeeding significantly easier on the mother. Rather than having to wake up and go into another room to nurse, your baby is close by. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends room-sharing for at least the first 6 months.

Place the crib, bassinet, or co-sleeper right next to your bed and keep a nursing pillow nearby so everything you need is within an arm’s reach. You can even stay in the comfort of your own bed while nursing, just be sure to always return your baby to their separate sleep surface before going back to sleep.

6. Ask for help

No mom can do it all. But every mom is the only person who can breastfeed their baby— and it’s a lot of work. Take help where you can get it, because in order to continue breastfeeding, you need to take care of you, too.

From the experts

Often after baby comes, all attention is focused on the new arrival and caring for the new mother can become secondary in our culture. But to parent well, a mom must seek ways to reinvigorate herself.”

Chaya Lighten, MHA, RPA-C, IBCLC

Being able to sleep when your baby sleeps might mean enlisting the help of your partner, family member, or friend to soothe baby if they start fussing while you’re getting that nap in.

7. Consider a lactation consultant

If you’re facing breastfeeding challenges, consider going to a lactation consultant for help. Just because breastfeeding is a natural process and experience doesn’t mean it comes easy to all mothers.

A board-certified lactation consultant can help with:

  • Knowing what to expect before baby arrives and troubleshooting possible challenges
  • Painful and/or difficulty latching
  • Low milk supply
  • Slow weight gain
  • Breast refusal after bottle introduction
  • Re-lactating after a period of not nursing
  • Nursing with an adoptive child
  • Detecting lip, tongue, and cheek ties
  • Developing a game-plan for going back to work
  • Introducing solids

Professionals like Chaya and Lactation Central and Togethernest Family exist to help new parents through their breastfeeding journey and beyond.

Breastfeeding is so sweet and intimate but can become complicated. Remember, you don’t have to go it alone, and with time it should get easier—there is always a light at the end of the tunnel: “I always remind parents of newborns that those early days pass quickly, that in a month’s time, baby will be sleeping longer, and it will continue to lengthen with age.”

 

More on our expert, Chaya Lighten

Chaya has been using her expertise to aid breastfeeding dyads for over a decade. As a PA in the pediatric unit at an inner-city New York hospital, a mother of a large family, and a Healthcare Administration Master’s degree-holder, Chaya has extensive pediatric experience and is well-versed in all things baby.

More on Lactation Central and Togethernest

Lactation Central is a team of board-certified lactation consultants, nurses, and doulas that provide in-home and online services to help new families navigate breastfeeding.

Lactation Central’s sister company, Togethernest brings together professionals that help parents transition to having a new family member- one that may seem to commandeer all efforts for self-care. Their team includes post-partum doulas, lactation consultants, a post-partum fitness instructor, pelvic floor physical therapists, and nutritionists and a strong referral base for mental health professionals.

Christina Alario

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