Everything seems harder at 2am! EVERYTHING. I'm pretty sure that nearly all of my postpartum meltdowns happened at night. I remember sitting awake, ok sobbing and awake, at 3am with two crying babies on more than one occasion. Night breastfeeds are hard. They can also be beautiful and when you're not having a breakdown, taking the time to soak in all your sweet baby love in the night can be amazing. While these bonding hours can be amazing, sleep is also essential for both you and your babe. In a sleep deprived state it can be hard to feel the love so let's talk about ways that you can learn to love the night feeds and feel less like a zombie in the morning.
1. Be prepared.
When you hear your baby stir in the night you often only have a few minutes to intervene before you have a fully awake and crying baby. If you aren't wearing breastfeeding accessible pj's or you sit down only to realize that your footstool is out of reach, you need a drink of water, your breastfeeding pillow is downstairs and you are out of diapers, you will find that the situation quickly spirals into a meltdown for everyone.
Before you go to bed, taking a few minutes to prepare your nursing space can save you valuable time when your baby wakes for their night feed. Make sure you have everything you need close at hand and ready to go. Your house is probably cooler in the night so hang a blanket on the back of your nursing chair, set a glass of water on the night table, keep your slippers at your bedside so your feet stay warm, stock up the diapers, wipes and burp cloths, have a breastfeeding pillow on every floor of your home and keep a footstool close by to increase your comfort while sitting awake and feeding.
2. Keep your baby close.
When your baby wakes in the night you will want your baby to be close so you can respond to their needs quickly. The younger your baby, the more likely they will be needing a feed in the night. When your baby is hungry it can quickly turn to h-angry and now you have to calm an upset baby before they're settled enough to feed. Allowing your young baby to sleep in a bassinet at your bedside, a co-sleeper, side car bed or safely bedsharing will help you respond to your baby when they need you. Sleeping close to your baby may also help to link your sleep cycles which means that you will settle back to sleep easier and the sleep you do get will be more restorative.
3. Set the mood.
Make your night nursing space warm and comfortable. Since your home is likely cooler in the night you might want a small heater that you can turn on while you sit and feed. A blanket, slippers or warm socks can also help. If you need to use a light in the night be sure that the light is soft and dim. A blue light night light can inhibit melatonin, our sleepy hormone, making it difficult for you and babe to settle back to sleep. Instead, if you need to use a light, a red light bulb can help encourage melatonin production making it easier for everyone to settle back to sleep.
4. Get out of bed.
I know how hard it can be to get out of bed to nurse in the night. However, I assure you that your baby will latch and feed better when you are sitting upright in a chair. The bed is often the hardest place for new mom's to breastfeed. It's difficult to sit upright, you often sink back into pillows and this makes it hard to latch your baby. The older your baby the easier it gets but in the early days, getting out of bed will ensure that your baby feeds as well as possible which means their bellies will be fuller and you may get more sleep between feeds. Make sure your chair is comfortable and supportive. It should have a high back so you can rest your head and arm rests at an appropriate height to support your arms, shoulders and upper back. A footstool can help bring your baby up to the breast to reduce strain on your arms and upper back.
5. Learn how to feed lying down.
If co-sleeping works for your family and you are able to bedshare with your baby safely, feeding in a side lying position can be very helpful. However, until breastfeeding is well established I always recommend getting out of bed and sitting in a chair to ensure the best latch and feed. It can only take one bad latch to cause a lot of nipple damage so while you are both still learning, getting out of bed to feed is always the best option. As your child grows and you both feel more comfortable breastfeeding, being able to feed side lying is a godsend. You can latch your baby and fall back to sleep while they nurse. Safety is always of highest importance when sharing a sleep space with your baby and nursing in a side lying position.
6. Learn breast compression.
Breast compression is a technique introduced by Dr. Jack Newman. Breast compression helps to encourage milk flow while your baby is nursing. This helps to keep babies interested while at the breast rather than quickly falling back to sleep before their belly is full. It also helps to transfer more high fat hind milk during a feed which may help to sustain your baby longer in between feeds which means... more sleep for everyone! The timing of the compression is what's important. Ask for a one to one breastfeeding consultation to review breast compression and visit this blog post, Breast Compression.
7. Ask for help!
This might seem simple but over time, sleep deprivation can significantly affect the emotional and physical health of you and your child. Night feeds are essential for young babies but there comes a time when night feeds are no longer needed for nutritional purposes. If you feel that you child has reached this point but seems intent on continued night feeds, ask for help! As an IBCLC Lactation Consultant I can help you determine the nutritional need for night feeds and as a Holistic Sleep Educator I can help you gently wean night feeds when the time is right for everyone.