How to Better Understand Baby Sleep
When I was pregnant with my first child, someone told me that having to pee often at night was God’s way of preparing me for the frequent night feedings to come! My fear of sleep deprivation and quest for a good night’s sleep began before my baby had even arrived.
My newborn did feed often. Especially at night. I am convinced he fed every 2 hours at night until he was well over a year old. While I enjoyed nursing my baby to sleep (and it seemed to be the best way to get him to sleep), I had the nagging feeling I was doing something wrong and that he would never learn to sleep on his own.
I know I am not alone. Sleep is a huge issue for new families. Parents of babies only two or three days old ask me if they have started a bad habit because the only way their baby will sleep is tucked into bed beside them.
Desperate for sleep, parents look for a baby sleep solution. I know I did. None, however, felt right to my parenting heart.
I love what IBCLC Meg Nagle (aka The Milk Meg) had to say about one of the common sleep training methods. She graciously allowed us to reprint her article below. We would love to hear your comments and learn what worked for you.
Why “Feed, Play, Sleep” routines make no sense for a breastfed baby…
*Just to clarify, I don’t think it makes sense for ANY baby, bottle or breastfed to be on this routine…however it makes even LESS sense for breastfed babies. Also, if you are doing this routine and it’s working for you then great! This article isn’t for you (although I’d love for you to keep reading anyway)! This is for the millions of women who are told they “should” be doing this routine but know it’s just not working for them and they are wondering why. Because the reality is that for most women who breastfeed on demand, it doesn’t work! Here’s why…
If you live in a western culture you will have definitely heard of the “Feed, play, sleep” routine. This is a well known and frequently suggested method of getting your baby into a little pattern of eating, playing and then yes, you guessed it…sleeping. Every day. Now as a exhausted pregnant woman (or new mother) how awesome does this sound?! Sounds great until the baby actually arrives and they are on and off the boob constantly.
We find ourselves reading these books and websites about this wonderful routine wondering, “What is WRONG with my baby?! He won’t sleep longer than 40 minutes and half that time my boob has to be in his mouth! He wants to breastfeed before waking, after waking, during his play time and then to fall asleep again! Why is my baby not fitting into this schedule?! What is wrong with me? Why is this happening?!”
I’ll tell you why this is happening…because your baby is normal. Your baby is born incredibly prematurely compared to other mammals. Your baby is an actual person. A person who cannot do anything for themselves. Your baby needs cuddles, breastfeeds, cuddles and breastfeeds. Breastfeeding is not meant to be scheduled. It’s makes no sense from a biological, cultural or evolutionary perspective.
Here is why this little routine does not make sense for breastfed babies…
- Breastfed babies have virtually all of their needs met by breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is not just about “feeding” but is about comfort, hunger, thirst, pain relief, boredom buster, tantrum stopper and basically answer to everything elixir. You may not know what is wrong with your baby but chances are…boob will fix it. So throw out that book that’s telling you to stretch out the next breastfeed until it’s “time”. Just whip it out. “When in doubt…whip it out”!
- Your baby is actually a person…not a cookiecutter clone.
This is something that gets my panties in a bunch…your little baby is a person. This little person is going through many changes. They’ve just gone from a nice warm womb to a cold, crazy world. Your little person is not going to follow a schedule…if they do then pat yourself on the back and do a happy dance that you have a little weirdo (and I mean in a good way) baby! But it’s definitely not the norm.
- Your breastmilk is MADE to put your little one to sleep.
As I’ve mentioned in my book and in my blog countless times, your milk has components in it to help put your child to sleep! It’s amazing! Just pop them on and watch them fall asleep. Most babies do this. This is not a habit that needs to be broken. It is what they are meant to do. It is important. It is the biological norm.
- A breastfed baby on a routine means less frequent draining of the breasts which means less milk production.
Breastmilk production is simple…supply and demand. The more well drained your breasts are…the more they will make. Trying to distract a baby to not breastfeed since it’s not “feeding time” can affect your supply and put you at risk for needing to supplement or pump. Even though these routines stress how you can be “flexible” with some of these times, books and websites state that at a certain age you can stick to these routines by the minute…try telling that to most breastfed babies or toddlers and they will respond with a cry asking to be breastfed!
- Breastfed babies need a breastfeed to help them work through feelings and to help calm themselves.
Breastfeeding is not just about “the milk”. Breastfeeding will happen at various times throughout the day and night that have NOTHING to do with hunger or the need for food.
- Bottle fed babies find comfort through a pacifier…breasts ARE a breastfed baby’s pacifier.
This is one of the biggest differences in doing these routines with a breastfed baby compared to a bottle fed baby. A baby bottle feeds because they are hungry. When they are no longer hungry you can give them a pacifier and either rock them to sleep or put them down to sleep where they nod off by themselves. Cue the breastfed baby…this baby breastfeeds TO ACTUAL SLEEP because this is how they pacify themselves! They’ll breastfeed to wake up, breastfeed during their play time and then breastfeed back to sleep. They are calmed at the breast.
Here is the typical recommended schedule for people on how to do the “feed, play, sleep” routine…
When your baby wakes up:
- Offer a feed.
- Change your baby’s nappy.
- Take time for talk and play.
- Put your baby back down for a sleep.
And here is how it usually goes for a breastfed baby who is fed on demand and is with their mother 24/7…
When your baby wakes up:
- Change nappy.
- Talk, Play, Feed
- Carry around.
Or to be more exact for the breastfeeding woman (because breastfeeding is not just about “FEEDING”…)
Now don’t think for one second that I don’t think routines are good ideas…Babies and children LOVE routines. They thrive on knowing what is going to happen when. However, I strongly believe that breastfeeding can happen before, during and after these rituals you do every day. Before sleep times you can read a book, sing them a song, give them a bath…all of this can happen while breastfeeding here there or everywhere in between these rituals you do. Remember your baby is a little human. A little person…and this little person needs frequent breastfeeds and frequent cuddles day and night. You are mothering through breastfeeding…not creating a soldier for the next graduating class of military cadets. Relax and just enjoy your baby.
In between breastfeeding her youngest boy, chasing after her oldest two boys, blogging and occasionally sleeping …Meg Nagle works with women to help them reach their breastfeeding goals! Meg has also written a book, “Boobin’ All Day…Boobin’ All Night. A Gentle Approach To Sleep For Breastfeeding Mothers” which can be found HERE.