Archive for the 'Nighttime Nursing' Category

Handling Night Nursings

by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC

Of all the advantages of breastfeeding, many mothers are most grateful for the ease nursing brings to night feedings. With no preparation or waiting time, baby is calmed immediately and siblings’ sleep is not disturbed. If mother keeps baby close at night, she may not even have to get out of bed to nurse. With some practice, a mother can learn to nurse lying down, allowing her to sleep while baby breastfeeds. Once a mother finds ways to manage night feedings so that she awakens feeling rested, the question of when the baby will sleep through the night becomes far less significant.

When considering what might work best for your family, start by being open-minded and looking carefully at your own situation. Family and friends are always glad to offer their opinions and ideas, but what works well for one family may feel totally wrong to another. The best approach is one in which all family members’ needs are met. But no one approach will be right for all families at all times. Also, be willing to experiment with different approaches. After allowing some time for adjustment, if one approach doesn’t feel right, try another.

Keeping Baby Close

If sleep is a top priority, think first about sleeping arrangements that give mother easy access to baby. Many families opt to have their newborns sleep in a bassinet, cradle, or crib next to their bed during the early months.
Other families choose a “sidecar” arrangement, with the crib pushed firmly against the parents’ bed and the side rail removed so that the opening faces the parents’ bed. For maximum comfort and safety, the crib mattress is set at bed level and there are no crevices between crib and bed. To eliminate crevices, tuck a quilt or blanket between crib and bed. The sidecar makes night feedings easy because no one has to get out of bed for nursing. Baby can come into the parents’ bed to nurse with a minimum of fuss and be returned to the crib whenever desired.

Another set-up that has worked well for some families is to have baby sleep on a mattress or pallet on the floor next to the parents’ bed, with mother going down to the baby’s bed for nursings and returning to the big bed at other times.

Sleeping Together

Some families choose to bring baby into their bed for all or part of the night, with the mother rolling on her side to nurse whenever the baby is hungry. Like the sidecar, once baby is in bed with mother, no one has to get up to nurse. When mother and baby sleep together there is so little effort required for night feedings that many mothers never fully awaken during feedings and have no idea by morning whether or how often the baby nursed. Also, the baby may never even have to cry; as soon as the baby begins to root or squirm at the mother’s side, the baby can be put to breast.

Most families find that for comfortable co-family sleeping they need at least a queen-size bed. When a queen-size bed is not available, some families push together twin or double beds for more space. To prevent baby from rolling out of bed, the bed can be pushed against the wall or bed rails used.

Many parents hesitate to try sleeping with their babies, even though it may mean more sleep for everyone, because it is frowned upon by many in our culture. When considering this option, it may help to know that mothers and babies have been sleeping together since time immemorial in other cultures and in our own until the last 100 years. It has only been since the Industrial Revolution that some “experts” began recommending against co-family sleeping. And even after 100 years of such recommendations, surveys show that most parents in the U.S. sleep with their babies and young children at least occasionally.

Two of the most common reasons parents are cautioned against sleeping with their babies are fear of rolling over on the baby and concerns about starting a bad habit. While it is true that a parent should never sleep with a baby if he or she has been drinking heavily or is taking drugs that impair functioning, rolling over on a baby is not a danger under average circumstances. Adults maintain some awareness during sleep, which is why we don’t roll out of bed at night. Parents who sleep with their baby find that they are sensitive to their baby’s presence in their bed and that their baby, even as a newborn, is perfectly capable of rousing them if necessary.

On the issue of bad habits and dependency, William Sears, MD, pediatrician and father of eight, writes in his book, Nighttime Parenting:

How often have you heard ‘But the baby will get to enjoy it; he’ll become so dependent that he’ll never want to leave your bed’? Yes, of course, the baby will enjoy it….Yes, he will temporarily seem dependent and not want to leave your bed. This is a natural consequence of the feeling of rightness….You are not encouraging dependency when you sleep with your baby. You are responding to a need and teaching your child about trust. Your child will not grow up to be less independent because he slept in your bed. In my experience children who are given open access to the family bed in infancy become more secure and independent in the long run.

The answer to the oft-asked question, “But when will he sleep in his own bed?” varies from family to family and child to child and is much the same as the answer to the question, “When will he stop nursing?” When parent or child feels the time is right, both weaning and moving the child to his own bed can be accomplished gradually and with love by finding and substituting positive new alternatives for old routines.

Recent research has found that there also may be health benefits to sharing sleep with babies. The National Institutes of Health have recently awarded a $1 million award to sleep researcher, James McKenna, and his team, whose preliminary studies have found that sharing sleep with their mothers seems to help babies regulate their breathing and heart rate during the night, which may help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). McKenna notes that Hong Kong, Japan, and Pakistan, where mothers and babies customarily sleep together, have lower incidences of SIDS than the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Great Britain, where mothers and babies sleep apart.

Sleeping Apart

Due to personal preferences and individual situations, many parents choose to sleep apart from their babies. When mother and baby sleep in different rooms and the mother chooses not to bring the baby into her bed to nurse, there are still ways to get more sleep. For example, setting up an adult-sized bed or putting a mattress on the floor in the baby’s room would enable the mother to nurse lying down and get some sleep until she decides to return to her own bed. This is a more restful alternative than staying awake through each feeding.
When mother and baby sleep apart, another challenge is keeping baby asleep while transfering him from arms to bed. Some babies settle themselves easily when put down, but others wake immediately when moved. For this second type of baby, Dr. Sears suggests nursing through the initial period of light sleep, which he says is usually about twenty minutes, until baby enters a deep sleep (when he feels like he’s melting into your arms) before trying to put him down. Another time-tested suggestion is to wrap baby in a blanket during nursings and leave him in the blanket when putting him down, so that the warm blanket spares him the shock of the cooler sheets.

The early months of parenting are exhausting under the best of circumstances. It is well worth it for each family to give some time and thought to approaches that will help them get the most rest while meeting their baby’s needs at night. The question of “when will the baby sleep through the night?” probably assumed the proportions it has because of the inconvenience of nighttime bottle feeding–getting up with the baby into what may be a chilly house, waiting while the bottle warms, fighting sleep, and being fearful that baby or bottle may be dropped. When a nursing mother takes full advantage of the natural convenience of breastfeeding, this issue loses much of its significance, allowing her to fully enjoy her baby at his current state of growth and development.