There are many things that new mothers worry about with the impending arrival of their new little one. The delivery, baby clothing and supplies, feedings, sleeping... frankly, being tasked with caring for a helpless little baby and wondering how they'd ever survive with us caring for them!
Breastfeeding is something that can be incredibly important to new mothers wanting to be successful at doing so. Establishing a supply, figuring out the latch, learning the different holds, figuring out hunger cries, and ensuring that they are providing the valuable nutrients for a little body to grow and thrive. Unfortunately, it is commonly thought that if you want to exclusively breastfeed, you have to give up precious sleep and resign yourself to feeding your child at their every whim and call at all hours of the day and night. This does not have to be the reality.
Breastfeeding For Size
While breastfeeding gives your child life, it does not have to be your whole life. For the first 4 weeks, it is recommended and encouraged that you feed on demand. Newborns have a very short window of which they fit in eating and being awake - only 45 minutes to an hour. In that short time, they want to eat, be cuddled, and interacted with. After those 45 minutes are up, they are ready for sleep, which can be anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours long naps.
Additionally, the stomach of newborns are very, very small. On the first day of life for a fully-developed newborn, the stomach is the size of a shooter marble. By day 10, the stomach has grown to the size of an extra-large chicken egg. In comparison, our stomachs are closer to the size of a softball. With knowing this, babies will be driven by an instinctual need to eat, and they likely will need to feed every time they are awake. They are simply following the demands of their body, even though it does not have any rhyme or reason to it. (Actually it does... to THEM.) However, many parents are quick to assume that when their newborn is crying, it means that they need to eat or need a diaper change. The thought that the baby needs to sleep is usually the last thing that comes to mind, when in many case, it should be the first thought.
Simply put, if your baby has been awake for 30 to 40 minutes and they are start whining and fussing, it is likely that they are ready to sleep, not necessarily to eat.
After you've survived the first few weeks of your child's life, and you're ready for some sort of a schedule that helps keep things feel less chaotic and out of control, implement SLEEP-EAT-PLAY in your baby's routine. As young as your baby is, they will still benefit and thrive on routine. The SLEEP-EAT-PLAY routine is easy to implement and also helps prevent the dreaded eat to sleep association that many babies fall into.
What you do with this routine, is that immediately after your child wakes up, you feed them. This ensures that they will eat to eat. They will eat until they are full. And because they just woke up from a nap, they won't be looking to nurse to help them sleep because they are not tired. Since the body burns a lot of calories while sleeping, it will be demanding nutrients as soon as it can receive it. This is where the nursing relationship can blossom for moms and their babies. Interaction and cuddles are enjoyed and maximized at this time, as you're not struggling with a fussy, tired baby.
After they have finished eating, then you play. This involves tummy time, tickling their toes, and other sweet moments that you enjoy with your baby. Once your child has been awake for 40-50 minutes, then it's time for bed. Remember, during the first few weeks, your baby is able to handle short awake times. Do not try to make a baby stay awake longer than they can handle; this leads to them being overtired, and they will struggle to sleep at all, no matter what you do. This can also lead to nursing becoming a sleep prop, if you're having to nurse every time to get your child to fall asleep.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Another mistake that parents can make, is never putting their baby down to sleep awake. It is a common misconception that in order for a newborn to sleep, you must put them to sleep first before laying them in their bassinets or cribs. This is simply not true.
While eating or responding to loud noises by jumping is an instinctual thing, falling asleep on their own is not. Giving them opportunities to practice is an extremely important part of developing healthy sleep habits to where they are able to manage their sleep in their own way without relying on you (or nursing) to do it for them. By putting them down for bed or naps awake when it is time for them to sleep, gives your baby an opportunity to practice falling asleep on their own.
It is also extremely important that your baby stays awake for all feeds, even in the middle of the night. You don't want your baby to start believing that they need to nurse in order to fall back asleep. So tickle those toes, switch positions mid-feed, or interrupt them and burp them... whatever it is that you can do to keep them awake! After the feed is done, lay them back down in bed and let them go back to sleep on their own.
Breastfeeding Does Not Mean Giving Up Sleep
The most important take-away is that if you decide to breastfeed your baby and engage in a nursing relationship, you do not have to sacrifice your sleep to achieve a successful nursing relationship. Implementing SLEEP-EAT-PLAY is one of the best ways to ensure that your child will take full advantage of the feeds offered, prevent the creating of the nursing sleep prop, and allow them to practice falling asleep on their own. The breastfeeding relationship, nor your sleep, has to be greatly sacrificed in the process in order to experience success in either aspect.
If you are struggling with figuring how to maintain your nursing relationship with your child and get more sleep, reach out and set up a phone call with me and we'll chat about what's happening with you and your child, and how I can help you keep your nursing bond intact AND consistently enjoy a good night's rest.
I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant who works with families to help them resolve their littles' sleep issues. As a mom of two littles herself, Katie has walked in the shoes of her clients and is passionate about helping them re-discover peaceful sleeps in their own homes.