Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sleep Training and Breastfeeding

     Sleep training is understandably a popular subject among sleep deprived new mothers.  Unfortunately popular methods like BabyWise and the Ferber method can decrease milk supply dramatically.  I recently had a mother contact me who was using the Ferber method.  Her 5 month old baby who was previously gaining weight well had only gained 3 ounces in six weeks after starting the Ferber method*.  This can occur because a baby is not feeding frequently enough during the day and then is not being fed when he wakes in the night.  Please know that sleep should take a back seat to weight gain.  And waking at night is not only healthy for milk supply, but there may be other benefits as well.  Breastfed babies have a lower incident of SIDS.  We do not know whether that is due to the superior nutrition in breast milk or whether it is because they wake more frequently at night.  Breast milk is more easily digested than formula so it is normal for the breastfed baby to feed more frequently than a formula fed baby. 
     Having stated the case for night nursing, I do not want for you to loose all hope that you will ever sleep all night again.  Here are some things you can do to gently guide your baby into a longer nights sleep:
1.  Make sure that your baby feeds frequently during the day.  A baby under 6 months of age should feed at least 8 times per 24 hour period.  The baby 6-12 months normally feeds 5 times per day.  Getting more feeding in during the daytime hours, will help with less feedings at night.
2.  Unless you want to practice attachment parenting and the family bed, you can start with the baby in his or her crib at the beginning of the night.  If after nursing the baby at bedtime, you put the baby in a crib, when he learns to sleep through the night, he is already in his own bed.  This prevents the baby from waking just because he smells your milk.  (Note:  If your baby is not gaining weight properly or you are trying to increase milk supply, you should certainly take the baby to bed with you for unlimited feeding.)
3.  Try to keep your baby on task when feeding during the day.  If your baby is distracted, try nursing in a quiet darkened room or use distractions for the older children to be less of a distraction for your baby.  One of my favorite tricks is to devide toys into bins and bring down a fresh bin of toys right before nursing.  Another is to have a drink or helthy snack ready for your toddler so his needs are met before you start.

Additional Tips for Moms:
1.  Don't let sleep training "experts" fool you.  It is not normal or even healthy if you look at the SIDS studies for a baby to be alone in his crib for 12 hours.  Count it a blessing if your baby sleeps for 5 hours so you can get some REM sleep and jump for joy if he sleeps for eight hours at any given point in time.  This is the norm for breastfed babies. 
2.  Sleep when your baby sleeps.  It may be necessary for you to get a nap during the day or even go to bed a little earlier if your baby goes to sleep early for you to get your much needed sleep.
3.  Know that normal "schedules" go out the window when your baby goes through growth spurts.  Even if your baby was sleeping for 5-8 hours, during the 3 week, 6 week, 3 month or 6 month growth spurts, feeding will be more frequent.  This is normal and usually only lasts 5 days if you do not delay the feedings.

     Breast milk supply is all about supply and demand.  Weight gain is based on total calories consumed in a 24 hour period.  If your baby is distracted during the day and not feeding well, it is important that he or she gets her calories at night.   You are a good mother, if you were not you would not be reading articles to learn more about parenting your baby.  Every child is different and norms do not hold true with every child.  All I can do is give you information based on training as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and 20 years of experience.  I hope this article helps you to protect your milk supply and meet your breastfeeding goals.

*Note:  The average baby from 6 days to 6 months of age gains 5-7 ounces per week.

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