I’ve blogged here about the importance of night time feeds, especially for breastfeeding mamas. But most adults are accustomed to sleeping through the night, thank you very much! and frequent night wakenings can be really tough on new parents.
So what can you do if night wakenings and breastfeeds are kicking your butt as a new mum?
Bring baby to you
If you can breastfeed lying down, then you’ll be resting while feeding, even if you’re awake. And if baby is close enough, you don’t have to get up (or perhaps even sit up!) to feed. This can be done either with a bedside crib or by bringing baby into bed with you.
In the UK and many western countries, we are told not to sleep with our babies for their safety. However, there is significant evidence that the risks rise with parents who smoke, mothers who have consumed alcohol or drugs, and sleeping with a baby on a sofa or chair. There are also increased risks from soft surfaces and soft bedding. There is not clear evidence whether a breastfeeding, non-smoking mother, who has not consumed alcohol or drugs, sleeping with her baby on a firm mattress, with soft bedding away from the baby, is more risky, as safe or even safer, than the “ideal” of sleeping with baby in a separate bed next to her. And keeping baby in the same room as the parents and breastfeeding are both known to be significantly protective against SIDS.
ISIS Online is a wonderful resource for properly evidence based information on infant sleep, but essentially, each family and each mother has to make their own choices, their own “risk assessment” as to what works for them and what they are comfortable with. You may well decide that you are comfortable with sleeping with your baby in a way where you have reduced all the risk factors as far as you are able, especially if that enables you to continue sleeping with your baby in the same room and breastfeeding.
Make night time feeds less stressful
Are you feeding at night sitting up uncomfortably in bed, getting thirsty and hungry and resenting the time spent awake, or the sleeping partner next to you? Change that picture around.
If you don’t want to, or haven’t yet cracked how to, feed lying down, then pay as much attention to making night-time feeds comfortable as you would day-time. Biological nurturing or laid back nursing works brilliantly in bed with extra pillows behind you. A V-pillow or nursing pillow can be great for this if you stick it behind your normal pillows. Or if you’re more comfortable feeding sitting up, can you have a comfortable chair next to the bed, or at least plenty of cushions to prop you up comfortably so you don’t expend energy simply holding the position while baby feeds?
Build your nest
If you have to get up, walk around, turn on lights and possibly get cold with every wakening, you’ll have a more disrupted night. Have a low level light you can either turn on easily from the bed or leave on. Before you go to bed each night, check you have everything you might need. Have a changing mat, nappies, etc next to the bed and change baby’s nappy on the bed between your legs. Have snacks and drinks right there, so you can refuel during or after each feed – if you’re dehydrated and starving by morning, you’ll feel those night feeds more and going to the kitchen will only wake you up more effectively.
Enjoy your quiet time
If you’re awake during night feeds, particularly if it’s just you (mama) and baby awake, then use that time for something you want to do. Read a book – an e-reader with a light, especially a gentle backlight, is brilliant for this. Listen to an audio book. Have a TV series to catch up on on a laptop. Listen to music.
And enjoy looking at the wonder of your baby at your breast! Night feeds can be a very special time with a new baby.
Share the night times
The wonder and the PITA of being a breastfeeding mama is that it’s really only you who can do it. Night feeds are important and if you’re breastfeeding, it’s important you do breastfeed for night feeds – tactics like trying to express for night feeds messes with the delicate balance of hormones and supply (and might lead to a more wide awake baby in the night!).
But that doesn’t mean you can’t get help.
If your partner takes on responsibility for night-time nappy changes and possibly burping and settling baby, then you can get a few more precious minutes of sleep with each feed.
A partner that gets you settled with a baby with a fresh nappy and then goes off to rustle up tea and toast (or whatever you fancy to eat at 3am!) for both of you can make the night feeds into a much more relaxing, special time for you as a family.
If your partner can’t help more, perhaps because they’re at their limit as well, or because they’re back at work, is there someone else in your family who could? If there isn’t, then perhaps a postnatal doula could give you a break? Some postnatal doulas do nights, taking on (if you wish) everything but the breastfeeding: bringing baby to you for feeds and then taking baby away (meaning you can feed in bed without worrying about falling asleep even if you don’t want to sleep in bed with baby), and dealing with all the nappy changes, burping, settling and 4am playtimes. Check the Doula UK website for postnatal doulas in your area.
Change your days
What could you do during the day to help you to cope better with night time feeds?
Babies do sleep. A lot, actually! Just not usually in a solid block during the night. So if you try to follow that old-wives phrase of “sleep when the baby sleeps”, you can actually get quite a lot of sleep in 24 hours!
This may mean that you need a lot more help with everything else, from making you meals, through looking after other children, to looking after the house. So many new mums try to conquer the world. When you’re a mum of a new baby, your “job” is to rest, recover (even if you had a glorious birth, pregnancy and birth still takes its toll on you!) and feed the baby. It is not your job to be cleaning the house, paying the bills and doing everything. Sadly, we often now live in such fractured, distanced families and communities that the postnatal time is not protected as it once would have been. Preparing antenatally, calling on friends and families, and investing in a postnatal doula will all help. This time is precious and is not something you can get back afterwards.
And if you have help, then someone else can look after nappies and taking baby between feeds, so that you can sleep for longer.