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Sleep training a breastfed baby: myth or reality?

Sleep training a breastfed baby: myth or reality?

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Sleep training your breastfed baby can mean more sleep without risking your breastfeeding journey.

*Please note that it’s normal for your newborn baby to wake up often during the night for feedings, and this also helps to establish your milk supply.  Between four and six months, most babies are developmentally ready to begin sleeping through the night.  This means they can have a five to six hour stretch without waking up for a feed.  

The goal of this post is not to make you feel bad that your baby is still waking up 2-3 hourly at night.  I want to encourage you that more sleep IS possible.

Why is sleep so important?

A good night’s sleep is just as vital for your baby’s health and development as the benefits of breast milk.  There is a lot going on in your body while you are asleep.  

  • It supports your immune system:  Our bodies release antibodies, cytokines, and T-cells, which all help fight infection, viruses, and inflammation. The less sleep you receive, the more difficult it is for your immune system to function.
  • It’s important for cognitive development:  When babies (and adults) are in REM sleep, their brain processes all the information of the day. Neural pathways are formed which facilitate future learning.
  • Is it wrong to breastfeed my baby to sleep? Definitely not!!!! Breastfeeding your baby to sleep can be an incredibly comforting experience for both you and your baby.  Some mothers feel that it’s not sustainable and it causes them more stress.

Adequate sleep is essential for both your child and you as a parent.  Most importantly, sleep deprivation increases the risk of developing postpartum depression and anxiety.   

SO, let’s bust some myths!

Myth #1: You can’t sleep train a breastfeeding baby

Some babies who have a feeding-to-sleep association, whether it’s breastfeeding or bottle feeding, may struggle to fall asleep again when they wake from a sleep cycle.   Sleep training is a process (not a quick solution) of teaching your baby to fall asleep without a prop (rocking, feeding, etc).  Sleeping and feeding will occur separately, so you can sleep train your baby while also allowing night feeds.  

Myth #2: Sleep Training means no more night feeds for my breastfeeding baby

It is perfectly fine to feed your baby at night while sleep training as long as they get a full feed (not just a tiny snack), they remain awake while feeding, and you can lay them down awake. If your child is older than 4 months and has had a full feed in the last 2-3 hours, I recommend allowing them at least a few minutes after they wake up to see if they will fall back asleep on their own.  Your child will still wake up in between sleep cycles, just like adults, and it may take them a few minutes to fall back asleep.

Myth #3: Your breastfeeding relationship will be ruined by sleep training.

I honestly believe the contrary is true: if both the child and the mother sleep better, the breastfeeding relationship improves.  Because of the feed-to-sleep association, I’ve previously dealt with mothers who considered giving up breastfeeding.  Please note that while some mothers do not find this to be at all exhausting and it is not inappropriate, for some mothers it can be extremely overwhelming.  When the baby started sleeping better, the mothers were more motivated to keep breastfeeding.

You can have both a good night’s sleep and breastfeed as long as you want to!

If you’re a breastfeeding mother and your child isn’t sleeping well, you don’t have to just accept it. Your child can and will learn to sleep independently and for long periods of time at night. Best of all, you don’t have to jeopardize your breastfeeding relationship in order to encourage and assist your child. I want you to have it all: a long-term breastfeeding relationship and enough sleep!

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3 Sleep Training Breastfed Baby Myths | Medela

Breastfeeding and Sleep Training – The Lactation Network

Sleep Training & Breastfeeding: All Your Questions, Answered (romper.com)

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