May 19, 2020 10 min read

How You Can Have Amazing Sleep with a Breastfed Baby

About 4 weeks into the newborn phase, I shared my nighttime woes with pediatricians, lactation consultants, and other breastfeeding mamas. I expected to hear wise advice on how to extend my daughter’s nighttime hours (by 6 weeks, she was sleeping 4 hours at a time). The only “advice” I received was to “go with the flow” and “not worry about it.”

Have you been told the same thing? What about these?

  • It isn’t normal for a breastfed baby to sleep through the night.
  • These baby days will go by so fast. You won’t miss the sleep.

I believe you can treasure every second of babyhood without being exhausted. You can maintain your supply without sacrificing your baby’s independence. 

If you are desperate for some sleep, you’ve come to the right place.

I want to combat the myth that you’ll never get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night. Breastfeeding your baby should not and does not condemn you to months of awful, infrequent sleep.

I truly believe that these tips can boost your success with your baby’s sleep and improve your daily routines.

Baby Sleep Series

If you’re just tuning in, this is the fifth post in my new baby sleep series, From Sleepless to Slumber. Baby sleep is one of the most important (and scary) aspects of motherhood. If you’re preparing for your baby or in the mix of exhausted, sleepless nights, then this is for you! Make sure you download your baby sleep printables as well!

 

When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night Breastfeeding?

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase from one of the links I will make a small commission at no charge to you. I only recommend what I trust. Blunders in Babyland does not diagnose, treat, or give out any professional advice for any medical conditions.

Okay, before we get into the meat of how to get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night, I really want to make sure that we are on the same page with your expectations of newborn sleep.

You’ve probably already heard the main reason why breastfed babies struggle with sleeping through the night: their little bodies metabolize breast milk more quickly, so they require more feedings.

I’m not going to argue with that fact. It’s totally true. But, believe it or not, many breastfed babies are physically capable of sleeping through the night by 3, even 2, months.

Now, if you’re 4 months in and you’re finding it pretty hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, do not worry.

The goal of this post isn’t to make you feel bad that your baby isn’t sleeping for more than 3-4, even 2 hours at night. I want to encourage you and let you know that more sleep IS possible. 

How Long Should Breastfed Babies Sleep

So, to clear things up, what does sleeping through the night mean for breastfed babies?

The definition of sleeping through the night ranges a lot. In the early weeks, sleeping through the night is only about 5-6 hours of continuous sleep (from midnight to about 5AM).

By 3 months, that number extends to 8 hours of continuous sleep.  Research indicates that most babies can sleep through the night at this age. At about 4-6 months, your baby will consolidate his sleep and begin sleeping anywhere from 10-12 hours a night.  

Once again, stating these facts is not meant to discourage you. My baby slept from 8pm to 4am, with a dreamfeed no later than 11pm by 8 weeks. It was a natural transition because we used the methods I list below. My experience is vastly different than my peers, just like yours will be too. If your BFF brags that HER baby slept 10 hours every night by the time she was 8 weeks and YOUR baby only sleeps until 5AM, don’t feel bad.

However, if your baby is waking 2.5 hours every night, I’ve got great news: your baby can sleep more. We just need to figure out how.

So, What’s the Deal? Why Isn’t My Breastfed Baby Sleeping Through the Night?

I actually go over several reasons why any baby may have trouble sleeping in this post, but I do believe there are several factors that can make it more difficult to get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night.

  • She’s not getting enough calories during the day. Just when my daughter started sleeping through the night, she began waking up again. That was the first clue that my milk supply had plummeted. Or, even without a supply dip, your baby could be going through a growth spurt. Another huge contributor to not getting enough calories during the day is letting your baby nurse to sleep. This also increases the likelihood of snack feedings. 
  • Room sharing.  Many breastfeeding mommies loooove to room share. Studies show that room sharing can reduce the risk of SIDS and increase your supply. I room shared for the first 6 months of my daughter’s life.  Having said all that, room sharing can increase night time wakings.
  • Co-sleeping. Excellent for keeping your milk supply. Not so much for cohesive newborn sleep. When you co-sleep, Dr. Sears theorizes that your baby develops “protective arousal.” While protective arousal can be great for SIDS, it’s not so great for sleeping through the night.
  • Other factors:  tongue tie (tends to affect breastfed babies more), reflux, and hindmilk/foremilk imbalance.

This is what you’re up against, Mama. So, don’t feel bad if your baby isn’t sleeping through the night as quickly as other babies.

But don’t give up!

We’re about to talk about effective tips that actively combat these hindrances and gently train your baby to sleep longer and better. The best part is, these tips are subtle, quick wins that can produce immediate results.

New to Newborn Sleep? If all of this information is way over you’re head, you’re not alone! Let me just save you hours of searching through various baby sleep articles on Pinterest. I just took a newborn sleep class that is freaking phenomenal and dirt. cheap. It teaches most of the methods we’re about to get into and was actually created by a sleep consultant THAT BREASTFED HER BABY. Get it 10% off with my code BLUNDERSINBABYLAND

 

How to Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through the Night Faster (1)

5 Ways to Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through the Night

1. Full Feedings

Breastfed babies, especially newborn breastfed babies, have the tendency to snack. That is, they’ll suckle on your breast for a few minutes and once the oxytocin hits them, they doze off to sleep. Meanwhile, you believe that they are happy, content, and full.

If you ever want to sleep more than two hours at a time, it is absolutely paramount that your baby gets a full feeding.

Not only do babies with a nice, full tummy sleep much longer, but a full feeding also ensures that your baby is getting his calories during the day, instead of frequent snacks at nights.

What’s a Full Feeding?

Honestly, that depends on the baby. On Becoming Babywise first introduced me to this concept. Their definition of a full feeding (in the early days) is 20 minutes on each side. We were usually 20-30 minutes for both breasts.

The speed of your letdown and your baby’s own suckling habits can definitely vary the length of a full feeding.

The most important takeaway is to make sure she doesn’t fall asleep while nursing. Tickle her feet, use a cold towel, change her diaper. Anything you can to make sure that it’s a nice, full feeding.  

(If you’re still struggling with breastfeeding as a whole, DO NOT FEEL BAD. Despite what people say, it’s not the easiest task. The best breastfeeding resource I’ve been able to find is the Ultimate Breastfeeding Course by Milkology. It’s cheap ($19), only an hour long and filled with tricks on how to maintain your milk supply, get a good latch, and protect your breastfeeding relationship for the next year. )

2. Consistent Feedings

If you’ve read any of my posts, you know that I’m a pretty firm believer in a consistent routine.

Your baby depends on you to set the scope for her day, especially in the beginning when she doesn’t even know the difference between night and day. Babies that eat whenever they feel the urge (or don’t) during the day can’t be expected to act any differently during the night.

This is where you come in.

During the day, make sure that you establish consistent feeding patterns. For some babies, that’s being fed every 2 hours. For others, that’s 2.5-3. It depends on your baby: her age, weight, and development.

When you maintain a consistent schedule with a breastfed baby, something remarkable happens: her metabolism adjusts.

Just to give you a real life example, by the time my daughter was a month old, she had learned to expect her feedings every two hours. So, it was also easy for her to go longer stretches of time during the night, because her little body had naturally progressed into a daytime/nighttime rhythm.

Just to clarify, I did not force my daughter to wait between feedings and she didn’t cry for hours while I ignored her hunger. This was all a natural progression because of the simple Eat-Play-Sleep routine we practiced.

routine is seriously not as scary as it sounds. When you’re giving your baby full feedings, it almost comes naturally.  I go into much more detail about routines below and in my next article. 

(Fun fact: that newborn sleep class I mentioned earlier, Baby We’re Home, Now Let’s Sleep, actually teaches how to implement a gentle Eat-Play-Sleep routine.)

RELATED POST: How to Start the Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule

3. The Bottle Feed at Night Trick

This trick is so easy to implement and it can really benefit your baby as well. In the beginning, training your baby to take a bottle can be difficult. I combined this trick with the dream feed to help smooth out the training process.

Here’s how to do it:

Pump in the morning and feed that bottle to your baby at night, preferably during the dream feed (more on that in a minute). Your morning milk contains more proteins and can be the extra push your baby needs to sleep through the night.

(If you’re struggling with getting your breastfed baby to take a bottle, Brenda from Paper Heart Family also wrote a great article on which bottles are best for breastfed babies!)

4.  Dream Feed

Have you heard about the dream feed? It’s truly amazing. Basically, between 10-11PM, you feed your baby IN HER SLEEP. If done correctly, this feed will not disrupt your baby’s sleep schedule, and it eliminates the dreaded 12-2AM feed.

This technique can take a while to perfect, especially if you’re breastfeeding.

My biggest tip for success is to start with a bottle of expressed milk. The nipple on a bottle is much bigger and firmer, and easier to reach the roof of her mouth to stimulate her suckling reflex. After about a week or so with a bottle nipple, you can try your breast.

The miraculous thing about the dream feed is that your baby learns how to take the feeding while she’s asleep. It’s a great skill to have.

Once again, consistency is your friend here. I wasn’t consistent with the dream feed until about 8ish weeks. Once I offered the bottle to her every night, I began to notice amazing results.

How to Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through the Night

5.  Eat – Play – Sleep

And we’ve circled back to the eat-play-sleep routine! Let’s dig into this, because it truly is going to be THE trick that will get your breastfed baby to sleep through the night.

Imagine a world where you no longer have to constantly wonder why your baby is crying.

At 2PM, your baby begins to fuss. Instead of popping out a breast (which he rejects), changing his diaper again (and now he’s screaming louder), or trying to distract him with a rattle (full out meltdown), you know that he’s tired and it’s time for a nap.

Doesn’t that kind of predictability sound amazing??

Even if you’re not down with schedules, following this simple pattern will uncomplicate your life. Following this routine is so, so wasy.

Here’s how to do it:

When your baby wakes up, nurse him with a nice, full feeding. After that, begin play time. At the first sign of tiredness, you put your baby down for a nap.

Repeat.

That, simply put, is the Eat – Play – Sleep routine.  (The only exception to the Eat – Play- Sleep rule is at night when you feed your baby and directly put him to sleep.)

Just think of the benefits this pattern will provide:

  • It’ll eliminate much of the confusion with reading your baby’s cues
  • It establishes an easy, predictable routine your baby can easily keep up with.
  • You’ll ensure that your baby is getting enough milk
  • The Eat- Play – Sleep cycle helps your baby differentiate between night and day much faster

Are you thinking that there is no way life is that simple? But it is! I’ll go over how to establish a flexible routine in my next post.

Until then, promise me you’ll at least let this concept marinate for a while.

 

Bonus: What You Shouldn’t Do to Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through the Night

I’ve been talking to a lot of mamas and I’ve discovered that there are a ton of misconceptions (*cough* old wives’ tales*cough*) about how to get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night.

So here’s a list of what NOT to do to get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night.

( If you’ve tried any of these techniques, please don’t feed bad. On the surface, these look like great ideas. Unfortunately, many times it only ends up hurting your baby’s nighttime sleep.)

  1. Supplement with formula- This can cause your baby to have gas, reflux, and stomach cramps. No bueno.
  1. Thicken your breastmilk with infant cereal- Studies have found that there is no link between feeding your baby infant cereal and more nighttime sleep. If your baby is not ready for infant cereal, it can wreak havoc on his digestive system. Also, if done incorrectly, it can be an asphyxiation hazard.
  1. Cry-It-Out Inappropriately– Even Dr. Ferber admits that sleep training is worthless without knowing the foundations of great newborn sleep. If you try to Ferberize when you’re not meeting his real needs, you’re just letting your baby cry alone.
  1. Introduce solids too early-Once again, can cause digestive issues and in some cases, increased risk of developing food allergies.

Related Post: 5 Newborn Sleep Basics that Can Dramatically Improve Your Baby’s Sleep

Should I Pump if My Baby Sleeps Through the Night?

When your baby first starts sleeping through the night, you may want to pump at 2 AM. Over time, your body should realize that it needs to consolidate your production. This will protect your supply until you hit 6 weeks postpartum.

If you’re like me and naturally struggle with supply intermittently, then you may need to protect your supply even after 6 weeks.

If you do find that your milk supply is low, check out my post on how I doubled my milk production in 2 days to quickly improve it.

RELATED POST: How I Naturally Doubled My Milk Supply in 2 Days

You Can Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through the Night

You’re not a bad mom for wanting to get more sleep at night.

You’re sensible because you realize that getting more sleep helps your baby’s physical and mental development, and allows you to be the best mom you can be.

I hope this article encourages you and helps you realize that it absolutely is possible to get a breastfed baby to sleep through the night quickly. Don’t let other people’s misconceptions discourage you from doing what you know is best for you and your baby.

 


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