I have breastfed all four of my children. In fact, I am still feeding my now 15 month old youngest daughter, Zara. My experiences with each of them were different with various levels or ease or difficulties.
When I had my 2 boys, they were not “good” sleepers as babies. Dylan, my eldest, did not sleep through the night even once until he was nearly 2. I thought that was what all babies did. I accepted it. As he was my first baby, I merely followed his schedule. He keeps me up feeding through the night and I caught up when he napped through the day. As he was my first child and was under no pressure to return to work quickly, I had that luxury.
When I had my second son, I had no such luxury. He too kept me up feeding through the night, but I still had to adhere to the daily parenting routine that went with having an older child. Whether my baby boy had slept at night or not, even if he finally wanted to sleep when it was time for me to get up, I still had to get up and deal with breakfast, the school run and the rest of the day with my older son. I was exhausted. Broken.
Something had to be done. My baby was bobbing on and off the boob all night and I was a walking zombie all day every day. So I did what I always do when I run into a parenting problem, I went into crazy research mode and read everything I could get my hands on with regards to the subject.
I came across lots of advice & interesting points, but one thing in particular stood out, it was something of a light bulb moment. It was the most common sense that I had ever come across, I was amazed that I had not thought of it myself. I was eager to try putting this new theory into action immediately. As soon as I did, I was pleased and amazed to find that by restless baby boy slept for longer and longer between feeds. It was a miracle! Yet so simple.
Think about this…
If, for dinner, you only to eat one or two spoonfuls of food, you would be hungry again very soon. You would no longer be starving, but it you would not be anywhere near full enough to be satisfied for very long before you wanted more food. The same principle applies with babies. It is obvious and makes perfect sense. Yet, when I had my sons, I would feed them when they woke at night for a few minutes, then, the moment they drifted off, I would eagerly place them in their cots and immediately go back to sleep myself. Every time, without fail, they would wake, only a handful of minutes later, and I would wake back up, groggy having just drifted off, and almost in tears begin to feed them again.
Here’s the secret…….
Next time you are feeding your baby, remember that if they fall asleep while feeding it is not necessarily because they are full. Small babies get tired before they get full. If you put them down the second that they doze off after feeding for only a few minutes, I guarantee that they will be waking you for a second helping very soon.
Here’s the answer. When your baby wakes at night, look at the clock. Start a timer if you like. I discovered this great app that helped me time my feeds, plus how much the baby sleeps. It is great to see the correlation between longer feed and longer periods of sleep.
Next accept that you will be awake for some time during the feed. I suggest turning on a dim light, wiping your face with a damp cloth, have a big drink an queue up an episode of something that you are really into. I found NOW TV was my best friend. Check out my post about TV Shows To Binge Watch While Breastfeeding for ideas.
Feed your baby. When they begin to drink off, use breast compressions to encourage the flow of milk and remind your baby to feed.
When they drift off entirely and cannot be woken by breast compressions, if they have not yet been actively suckling for 20 minutes, remember that they are still not finished. Change their nappy, take off a layer of their clothing, put back on a layer of clothing, give them a gentle wipe with a damp cloth. Do whatever you must to wake them enough to finish their feed.
Once they have finished their minimum of 20 minutes active feeding, more if they wish, you can place them back in the their cot, safe in the knowledge that they have a full tummy and a dry bottom, and you have the best opportunity to get some rest for a few consecutive hours.
In doing this, not only will you be ensuring that they are full enough to sleep for a much longer stretch before becoming hungry again, you will also ensure that they will feed past the thirst quenching “fore milk” to the calorific and more nourishing “hind milk”. Encouraging your baby to feed in this fashion will aid their weight gain far better that feeding for the same number of minutes but spread more randomly through the day.
So give it a go. Tempting as it is to close your eyes as soon as your baby closes theirs, this method will see to it that the sleep that your baby sleeps in longer blocks so that you can too. If you are anything like me, you will find it so much harder being woken at that moment when you have only just reached the land of nod than if you have stayed awake for a bit then been able to sleep for a few consecutive hours. While staying awake for a moment longer than you previously thought was necessary seems counterintuitive, it might just save your sleep.*
How do you handle night feeds? Do you go straight back to sleep as soon as your baby does? Or encourage them to get a fuller feed?
Don’t forget to checkout the other posts and the breastfeeding series;
* NOTE : Newborn babies or babies of a low weight will need to be woken to be fed at least 4 hourly to be fed, counting from the beginning of the feed. Speak to your health visitor if you are concerned.