If you are a breastfeeding parent, your baby sleeping through the night is one of the most panic-inducing times of new parenthood (besides, you know, learning how to raise a tiny human)! You've gotten used to waking up every 3 hours at night, and then your baby does it — she sleeps through the night! Fantastic! But then, this happens: Your baby sleeps through her usual middle-of-the-night breastfeeding session, and your breasts are about to BUST out of the seams!!
As a mom of 3, I’ve been there; and as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I want to help you! This “phenomenon” can happen anytime from 2 months to 12 months old (or longer)! Quite a range here. Ultimately, the goal is that your baby is getting full feedings, sleeping well, and your lactating breasts stay healthy.
The fear is that you’ll get so engorged that you’ll develop a clogged duct, which will turn into mastitis, then both you and your baby are miserable. However, the reality is that you’ll probably wake up to breastmilk-soaked sheets and the sensation that you NEED TO FEED YOUR BABY NOW. This natural shift in your baby’s sleep habits is shocking to your lactating breasts, but gradually your milk supply will adjust (this is a good thing!), and you and your baby will get comfortable with this change.
So What Should You Do?
There’s no cookie-cutter way to do this whole breastfeeding thing. Every parent will have their own “style” of doing things. Therefore, here are three options for you if/when this happens:
Do nothing. Go to sleep as usual and wake up in the morning after a full night of sleep. :) Feed your baby, and if you're still engorged after the feeding, you can hand express or pump to drain your breasts the rest of the way.
Doing things this way will probably get your milk supply adjusted the soonest to this new change in your baby's sleep habits. You will probably wake up every morning (until close to the end of your breastfeeding journey) feeling very FULL, but that's ok. Your baby will have her biggest feeding of the day for that morning session and then smaller feedings throughout the rest of the day. That's expected for a breastfed baby.
Pump or offer a "dream feed" before going to sleep. What is a "dream feed"? Great question! Let's say you put your baby to bed at 7 pm (a common bedtime for babies around 3-4 months old), and she usually wakes up around 1 am for a feeding. You can try to preempt that feeding by feeding her earlier than 1:00 am. So you would get her from her crib and feed her while she's mostly asleep! Now, this doesn't work for all babies. Some babies full-on wake up, which defeats the purpose of the "dream feed." It may take a couple of nights of trial and error to figure out if this is an option that will work. Alternatively, you can pump your breasts for a short session (10 minutes) right before you go to sleep so that when you wake up in the morning, you're not SO engorged and uncomfortable.
Go to sleep, and if you wake up naturally because you go to the bathroom or are engorged, you can hand express, use an electric pump, or put on the Haakaa/silicone suction pump to give you some relief. In the morning, when your baby wakes up, you'll still have plenty of milk for that first feeding, and you won't have leaked breastmilk all over the sheets. HA!
So this begs the question…
Many parents will ask, “do I need to set an alarm to pump in the middle of the night to maintain my milk supply?” My typical answer is, “it depends, but probably not.” If you wake up to pump in the middle of the night, but your baby is consistently sleeping until the morning, you’re telling your body to KEEP MAKING MILK. You will continue to wake up feeling engorged and ready to pop! By choosing one of the options above, you’ll gradually give your breasts the message that they can slow down milk production in the nighttime because your baby just needs milk in the daytime.
My (and SlumberPod’s) ultimate goal for you as a new parent is that you and your whole family will get the sleep that you need. Sleep and rest promote lactation and allow you to be a [more] functioning and happy parent for your child(ren).
In a nutshell:
Remember to keep the milk flowing, massage your breasts, and assess overall breast health daily. This transition is one of many that will happen throughout your baby’s life. As parents, we learn to adapt and figure out what works best for our baby and our lifestyle. Whichever of the above options you choose, you’re the expert on your baby! You’re doing AMAZING! For help throughout any stage of your breastfeeding journey, reach out to an IBCLC!
Shaina Brickner BSN, RN, IBCLC
Shaina Brickner is an IBCLC in Los Angeles, CA, with a background as a labor and delivery nurse. She’s fueled by chai lattes with almond milk and runs her birth education and lactation consulting business, Preparented, while chaperoning her three kids to and from school, afternoon activities, and the park. You can find her at www.preparented.com or on Instagram with short and entertaining videos about birth, breastfeeding, and newborns.
Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees and/or contractors.