Breastfeeding baby to sleep through the night – a contradictory phrase, or a clever ploy?! I’ve heard it said so many times that breastfed babies sleep worse than their formula fed counterparts – but is it true? Nope, as it happens. Read on for the full lowdown…
Breastfeeding Baby to Sleep Through the Night
As I never tire of repeating, I’m a huge breastfeeding advocate. I fed my first daughter for about 21 months, and it was an incredibly precious time – until it wasn’t (my two have never been great sleepers!) and I found myself struggling to wean.
With my second we long surpassed that milestone, and I eventually weaned her shortly after her third birthday. It was not a decision I took lightly because it was not something she wanted, but I was done. I never imagined nursing for so long, but contrary to what others may believe, by that age we are not doing it for ourselves!
I was beginning to develop bouts of breastfeeding aversion and, while it was a bittersweet conclusion to our journey (I’d hoped Elfin would instigate the end), I’m convinced it was the right one for us at that stage.
Breastfeeding will always remain a very precious period of my life, for so many reasons. And I hope that the information I’ve put together here over the years will prove useful in your own journey.
Do Breastfed Babies Ever Sleep Through the Night?
Can it happen? Is it a thing? Am I kidding myself?
As for whether breastfed babies can sleep through the night, and whether nursing them to sleep is counterproductive, well – it’s complicated.
Firstly, you’d have to clarify all of the above, because of course breastfed babies can sleep through the night. But anecdotally I’ve heard the same stories as everybody else – they’re unicorn babies. But there’s even more to consider:
- What age is the baby we’re talking about?
- Is there anything else going on, such as a leap, or an illness, or an allergy?
- Is it even a problem anyway?
Society tells us again and again how our babies should behave, that they should fit in with our lives as far as possible, and that we should get them into a good routine where they sleep for as long as possible during the night, as quickly as possible. But the reality is quite different – because that whole idea literally goes against nature!
Ultimately, it’s probably not the best way to think about breastfeeding and baby sleep. A better way of looking at it might be to think about whether your baby is happy and healthy, and also whether their irregular sleep patterns are actually causing you a problem.
If you simply feel that your baby is not conforming to western expectations (which are not realistic for babies), and you are in fact, content with your situation – then choose to stop viewing it as a problem!
But, in terms of what’s typical behaviour when it comes to baby sleep and breastfeeding, and whether it’s a good or bad idea… Do you want the good news or the bad news first? I’ll go with the bad and rip it off like a plaster, then leave with you some hope…
Your Baby’s Sleep is Normal
The bad news is that whether you breastfeed or not, babies are designed to wake regularly for their own health, it literally helps to keep them alive. So, much though typical babies sleep schedules suck when you’re on your knees with exhaustion, try to keep in mind that your baby is doing what they’re supposed to do, and that it won’t last forever.
If you breastfeed your baby to sleep, allowing them to fall asleep at the breast, then it’s true that they’ll come to associate nursing with sleeping. But is it a bad idea?
It depends. Is it a problem for you? If it’s not, then there’s no need to change anything. If it is, then you might like to consider your options, which I’ll talk more about later.
Some babies will naturally start to sleep by themselves, some will nurse to sleep till they’re five years old or beyond, if you let them. Everything is relative, and you’re allowed to change your mind! You don’t have to have it all figured out right now.
That said, I truly do understand how awful it can be when your baby never sleeps. So I’ve collated lots of information that will hopefully help you in the meantime…
The Curse of Colic
I’ve lived through the horrors of colic with my CMPA baby and if this is something you’re dealing with, then you have not only my sympathy, but my empathy too. It’s horrendous and I understand that right now you are desperate.
Of course, platitudes will never be a substitute for sleep when you’re bone-weary with fatigue. So what options do you have?
Co-Sleeping, Or a Sleep Divorce?!
I was extremely private about it while it was happening, but out of sheer desperation, logistics, and simply not knowing what else to try, we ended up in separate bedrooms for around 9 months.
This was what I had beside me in bed for much of that time (and really, what’s so bad about this view?!):
Eventually when I no longer felt weird about it – it was about survival, not the end of our marriage! – I shared our why, and how it helped us. Read about our ‘sleep divorce’ to see whether this is something that may benefit your family too.
The bottom line is that when you’re breastfeeding, you need to be close to your baby almost constantly. And they should be with you for the first months of their lives anyway for their safety.
If your partner is getting up for work, it might make sense to consider a setup that doesn’t disturb them, so they can get maximum rest and be more use to you in the evenings.
When Your Baby Refuses Sleep…
There are few things more frustrating than when your baby shows all the signs of being utterly exhausted, yet they refuse to sleep.
You can shush, rock, pat – and they’ll just keep going like it’s an Olympic sport.
Here are all the possible reasons your baby may be exhibiting this behaviour, plus how to fix it:
The post also shares my brilliant tip for how to maximise your sleep without employing any kind of sleep training methods.
Unless your little one gets there first and beats you to it, there will eventually come a time that you simply cannot continue.
Some mothers, especially those who nurse into toddlerhood, may experience an aversion to breastfeeding. This was beginning to happen for me by the time I weaned my youngest daughter, affectionately known as Elfin on the blog.
If this sounds like something that may be affecting you, my post about nursing aversion may be helpful.
Whatever your reason, you’ll need to find a way to change your situation…
Gentle Night Weaning
Before we completely ended our breastfeeding journey I night weaned my eldest, Pixie. With a little bit of trial and error it worked like a dream and I was able to happily continue nursing in the day for some time, while benefiting from better sleep at night.
Read about how we implemented gentle night weaning to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Caveat: Elfin was extremely resistant to this strategy, and no matter how many times I attempted it, it simply did not work. My point? Babies are people in their own rights, and some will simply not respond to your efforts. Which is when other methods of getting more rest may be beneficial!
A Final Word on Breastfeeding Your Baby to Sleep…
I remember sometimes feeling unsupported for simply wanting what seemed best for my babies, and easiest for our family. But, as our young family grew and I gained confidence as a mother, I began to realise that our society places crazy demands on parents which can actually prove harmful.
…And that simply trusting your instincts offers you the very best guidance for how to parent.
Plus of course, while it feels like it will never end – it will. All too quickly. When this time has passed, no matter how testing it is right now – and trust me when I say I know how testing it is – you’ll miss it.
The newborn days are so hard. And so incredibly precious.