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How To Breastfeed At Night

Medically Reviewed by Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Updated
Breastfeeding tips to get you through the night.

Are you struggling to find a solid nighttime breastfeeding routine?

Mastering breastfeeding at night can be one of the most challenging obstacles new moms face — but one of the most rewarding.

We’ll give you our top tips for breastfeeding at night so you can prolong your breastfeeding experience, get more sleep, and keep your baby fed and happy.


Why Breastfeeding at Night Is Important

We’ve all heard that breast milk is the most natural way to feed your baby, and it offers a plethora of health benefits for both you and your child. However, breastfeeding also comes with its fair share of sleep deprivation and frustration.

We’ve been there, and we understand how challenging it can be to function during the day after multiple nighttime wakeups. But don’t give up! About 20% of your baby’s overall milk intake comes from those exhausting late-night feeds (1). Also, your prolactin levels are higher at night, and breastfeeding takes advantage of the milk-making hormone to boost your milk supply.

Babies have small tummies, which is why they need to feed more frequently. The important thing to keep in mind while breastfeeding at night is that each week will get easier. Establishing a routine and good habits will make this mission entirely impossible!

If you work outside the home, your baby may do some “reverse cycling.” They may want to frequently feed at night when you’re together but not as much when you are apart. This protects your milk supply, even though it can make you tired during your workday.
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Editor's Note:

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
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What Nighttime Breastfeeding Does for Your Baby

Nighttime breastfeeding carries the same benefits as nursing in the daytime — with a few extra bonuses.

Babies who are breastfed through the night naturally develop better sleeping patterns because of the hormones breast milk delivers. It takes about three to four months before your baby’s circadian rhythm is developed, meaning in those early weeks, your baby has no idea night is for sleeping and daytime is for wakefulness. Tending to your baby’s hunger needs can create a reliable sleep schedule for you both.

One of the most significant benefits of nighttime breastfeeding is protection against SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Frequent waking and careful monitoring during the night are the best ways to avoid this tragedy.

Are Nighttime Bottles Bad for Your Baby?

While some moms switch to formula for those 3 a.m. feedings, it’s important to weigh your other options first and understand the advantages of each.

No matter how you do it, a fed baby is a happy, healthy baby — but you might be surprised to learn that breastfeeding at night can be easier than a bottle if you do it right.

Some downsides to bottle feeding during the night include:

  • Overfeeding: Bottles have a faster, easier flow than a breast does, which encourages your baby to keep sucking even after they become full. This can create bad habits, stretch the stomach, and make it harder to satisfy them in the future.
  • Difficulty digesting: The myth that formula helps babies sleep longer is just that — a myth. Formula is actually more difficult to digest and takes longer to break down in your baby’s stomach (2).
  • More work: When you think about it, preparing a bottle is a lot more complicated than just offering your breast. Why waste precious sleep mixing formula, warming a bottle, and then holding it?

Of course, every family has unique needs. Breastfeeding for the first year will do wonders for your baby, but it’s important above all else that they are fed — no matter how that happens.

Pumping Tip

Some women consider pumping enough during the day to last through night feedings. If this is you, be careful not to deplete your milk supply! Any time your baby takes a bottle at night, you should be pumping at that time to keep up your milk supply.

Tips for Breastfeeding at Night

So how can you breastfeed at night without becoming a perpetual zombie?

These are some ways you can overcome these hardships and make night feeding easier.

1. Establish a Bedtime

Nighttime is sleep time. Establishing a bedtime with your baby at a young age helps make breastfeeding at night easier for you both.

2. Try Dream Feeding

Dream feeding is when you feed your baby one more time before you retire for the night. Gently wake your baby to feed, giving them nutrients to help them last through the night. Even if your baby is barely awake, they may latch and nurse if you offer the breast. It’s very important to remember to keep things calm and low-key to ensure they fall back asleep easily.

3. Get Organized

Keep your nursing area tidy, organized, and easily accessible. No one wants to fumble around in the dark in the middle of the night. You’ll reduce the time you spend awake and keep things peaceful so your baby isn’t stimulated enough to stay up after eating.

What do you need at hand for night feedings? Diapers and wipes, a nursing pillow if you use one, burp cloths, and anything else you typically use during feedings.

4. Sleep When Baby Sleeps

Fighting off exhaustion will be much more challenging if you focus on resting only at night. A handy rule of thumb to follow for maintaining your energy levels is to sleep when your baby sleeps. If you can’t sleep during the day, at least rest when your baby is napping.

5. Wear Accessible Clothes

Minimizing the steps to get a feeding underway means getting back to sleep sooner. You might try loose-fitting clothing for easy access. There are also nursing gowns made specifically for breastfeeding at night.

6. Share the Room or Co-Sleep

It can be okay to breastfeed in your bed while lying down in the middle of the night, but only if you are in no danger of falling asleep while you do it. Return your baby to their bassinet or crib when you’re done feeding.

7. Don’t Watch the Clock

Stop making this a chore! It takes some practice to adapt to frequent feedings at night with a positive attitude, but it’ll do wonders. We grow up accustomed to sleeping through the night, but if you set that habit aside, this is just another way to bond with your bundle of joy.

Research shows that when parents change their attitudes about night waking, what seemed like a problem becomes much less stressful (3).
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Editor's Note:

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

How To Breastfeed a Sleepy Baby

It’s common for some newborns to sleep through their feedings, making their mothers believe they’re full. Unfortunately, these limited feedings lead to increased hunger and late-night crying.

Prevent this by ensuring your baby gets breast milk with every feeding, even when they’re sleepy. Babies can nurse up to 14 times a day, so if you notice your baby is feeding less than eight times a day, there’s a chance you need to start waking them up to feed.

After two to four weeks, babies begin to stay more alert during their feedings. However, newborns need lots of sleep, and it’s not unusual to have to feed a sleepy baby who has trouble getting their fill.

Follow these steps to help your baby stay awake long enough to fill their rumbly little belly.

1. Feed Frequently

Feeding every two hours is common for babies. Even if your baby is sleeping, offer them your breast frequently. They may only suckle a bit, but you’ll be back in another two hours for more. Eventually, they’ll understand what is happening and feed more.

2. Pay Attention

Being on the breast naturally relaxes your baby and often works like a pacifier. They enjoy the closeness, which means they might not be sucking hard enough to get a real supply of milk.

Pay enough attention so you can feel the difference between their sucking for food and comfort. Encourage your baby to continue swallowing by gently squeezing some of your milk onto their lips and tongue.

3. Stimulate Your Baby

It’s important to keep things low-key at night, but you also have to ensure your baby is getting fed. Try gently talking to them, making eye contact, and caressing their cheeks. This will keep your baby alert enough to get the meal they need before going back to sleep easily.

4. Try Skin-to-Skin

Our maternal instincts kick in more than usual when our baby is against us without clothes in the way. Including skin-to-skin contact during feedings has tons of benefits, but one of them is to encourage your baby to stay awake (4).

5. Include Other Activities

Because babies have such tiny tummies, breast milk doesn’t stay in their bodies for long. Make it a habit to change their diaper before every feeding. This will help your baby associate the action with the need to stay awake for their meal.

When Will My Baby Sleep All Night?

Babies will start sleeping a full eight hours anywhere from 6 to 12 months of age. Breastfed babies tend to hit this milestone later in life, but about 70% of all infants have started sleeping through the night by 9 months old (5).

Sleep Note

There’s no surefire way to get babies to a full eight hours of sleep faster, but you can foster healthy sleeping practices to help everyone get more rest every night.

How to Start Night Weaning

Often nighttime feedings are the last to go when your baby weans. If your baby is old enough, you can try to speed the process along. Follow these four tricks to make the change as seamless as possible.

1. Start Slowly

The biggest mistake you can make while weaning is rushing it. Babies rely on routine, and they see feedings as a source of comfort. Reduce the time spent feeding gradually, so it isn’t a sudden, jarring change.

If night weaning is going too fast for your baby, you’ll know it. Your baby will be fussier while breastfeeding and will likely demand to nurse more. Back off for a few days or weeks, then try again.
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Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

2. Increase Daytime Feedings

Keep your baby full, and transition them into filling up before bed instead of through the night. Add more time to daytime feedings, and include one right before bedtime in the evening. Paying attention to your baby’s hunger signs can help you regulate a good daytime pattern.

3. Get Some Help

You don’t have to do this alone! Even if your baby isn’t hungry, they may wake up during the night. You don’t always have to be the one to go to them. In fact, it’s better that your partner or a trusted family member does the comforting during the weaning process.

4. Introduce Solids

By 6 months of age, your baby can start eating solids, so don’t be shy about introducing some new foods to keep them fuller longer. Baby food digests more slowly, meaning their sensation of a full belly will last.

Important Note

Introduce these foods slowly, and monitor for adverse reactions (6).

Ready for the Final Secret?

Every breastfeeding mom dreams of the light at the end of the tunnel — a full night’s sleep! Don’t despair; it’s not as far off as you think.

Implementing small changes, sticking with a routine, and enlisting some extra can help make sleep happen in the blink of an eye.

The most important thing to remember is that night waking is normal. None of us sleep every night without at least waking to look at the clock, adjust our pillows, or roll over to get more comfortable. Your baby’s the same way.
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Editor's Note:

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
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Medically Reviewed by

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC is a writer, editor, and board-certified lactation consultant for two busy pediatric practices. She is a former La Leche League Leader, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and Certified Infant Massage Instructor.