Getting Sleep With a Breastfed Baby

I cannot remember how many people told me to sleep as much as possible before Baby Girl was born, because I lost track. It was the only thing moms were united on. Every single one told me, sleep! Sleep like your life depends on it! I would smile and nod because that’s what I do when people give me unsolicited advice (even if I vehemently disagree with it though that wasn’t the case here) and think to myself, I can only sleep so many hours in a day, what do you want me to do, quit my job and sleep full time?

I did worry that I’d be a sleep-deprived mess when Baby Girl arrived, though. I’m a person who loves to sleep. I’ve always considered 10 hours a night to be a mandatory minimum, and 13 is my “happy purring” number of sleep hours. You know, when you wake up and you feel like a contented cat? That’s never happened to you? It’s just me? Okay. Anyway, I knew I’d be getting less sleep and I was concerned it would make me psychotic.

It didn’t. Baby Girl is 5 months old, which means I haven’t slept through the night in something like 8 months (that last trimester really does ease you into the no-sleeping-through-the-night thing, though getting up to pee is nothing like getting up to feed a baby. And then getting up to feed them again. And again).

I know a lot of moms do get to that stressed, exhausted stage of sleep deprivation, and I know it can have a negative impact on breastfeeding. I can’t lie, there have been a few nights when I sat up, bleary eyed, and glared at my sleeping husband so hard he should have died, but I can count the times that’s happened on one hand.

Getting More Sleep

I think a part of that is how we sleep with Baby Girl. We started out thinking she’d sleep in a crib in our room, but we assembled the crib in the nursery and didn’t realize it wouldn’t fit through the door. Since neither of us were ready to take it apart, and I wasn’t willing to have Baby Girl sleep in her own room right from the get-go, we had to figure out something else.

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For the first three nights we bed-shared. (Bed-sharing is when your baby sleeps in the bed with you, co-sleeping is when they sleep in the same room as you.) Looking back on it, we had no system and we were probably being super un-safe. It did mean that when she woke up hungry I was right there to feed her, but nobody was sleeping well (except her. We think). Obviously that wasn’t going to work for the long term.

My husband went out and bought a bassinet for beside the bed. Co-sleeping worked really well for us, though I kept bringing Baby Girl into the bed with us for the morning (which for me started around 4 or 5, depending on when her last feed was). Then one night it got really cold and Baby Girl’s hands were freezing when I fed her so she slept in the bed that night. And the next. And then it was still cold (because it’s winter and we live in Calgary) so before we knew it she was just sleeping in the bed with us.

This time I had read the Safe Sleep 7 from La Leche League, and we implemented some other safety rules for bed-sharing. Baby Girl always sleeps on her back, there’s nothing she can get her head stuck between or under, the bed is flat and there are no pillows or blankets near her face. She sleeps next to me. Neither of us smoke, and we don’t go to bed tipsy, so those aren’t factors for us (though if you do smoke bed-sharing might not be something you want to do. Read the safety guidelines and make the best choice for your family).

All the things I’d read about mothers and babies having a rhythm, about mothers waking up moments before their baby, of having some kind of weird sense during the night hours – it’s all been true for us. I don’t really wake up to feed Baby Girl anymore. We’ve figured out how to nurse lying down and sometimes I wake up to find her nursing without my help. Most of the time I wake up just enough to make sure she’s latched on properly (the one time she latched just to the side of where she should I wound up with a crazy hickey on my boob. Not something I want to do again) and then we both doze back off.

Do we worry that she’ll sleep in our bed forever? Sometimes, but I also worried that I’d be pregnant forever (I went 12 days over my due date) and that didn’t happen. Just like she won’t breastfeed forever, or fit in her car seat forever, or always need to put everything she holds into her mouth, she’ll outgrow her need to be next to us and she’ll move into her own bed.

I know bed-sharing doesn’t work for everyone and it might not always work for us either. I know many, many moms who prefer to co-sleep with a bassinet or an in-bed sleep basket. I know other parents who prefer for their baby to sleep in another room (though studies show that having your baby in the room with you has a positive effect on breastfeeding).

In the end you have to find a solution that works for your family. Knowing the normal patterns of infant sleep and development can help when it looks like you’ll never sleep again, and if you’ve got a colicky baby this book might save your sanity.

Check out our Table of the Best Breast Pumps Here!

What ways have you found to get sleep while your baby is breastfeeding at night?

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