Sep 15 , 2021
A newborn baby’s stomach is pretty darn tiny—about the size of a cherry, or a marble. By day three, it’s the size of a walnut. That’s usually not big enough for even 0.5 to 1 ounce of liquids. It’s no wonder they need to be fed every couple of hours, including at night. Still, it’s a lot to handle, especially when you throw spit-ups, bottles and dirty diapers into the mix!
Why do moms breastfeed at night?
On average, a newborn should be fed every 2 to 3 hours (or 8-12 times per day). In most cases—remember, every mom and baby has a different ‘normal’—you’ll nurse between 10-15 minutes on each breast for an average of 20-30 minutes total or until they feel empty. This is a good marker to have, as it’s usually enough time for your body to build up your milk supply. If you are a pumping mom, you'll want to adhere to the same schedule and process.
A big reason why lactation specialists recommend breastfeeding at night and not skipping any night time pumping sessions is because your body produces more prolactin at night. Prolactin is the hormone that promotes milk production and since moms vary in how much milk they store in their breasts, night feedings are a big way to meet their growing baby’s needs.
How long should I expect to breastfeed at night?
Usually, when your baby is around 3-months old, it is easier to get into more of a sleeping rhythm. Some babies will even sleep through the entire night. That said, other experts suggest continuing night feedings until they reach 18 months.
As every mom’s pumping journey looks different, we suggest listening to your intuition on what is best for you and your family and consulting your lactation consultant for advice on achieving your specific breastfeeding goals.
Is there an alternative to night feeding?
If night feeding really isn’t working for you or your baby, consult your lactation specialist. They may suggest power pumping. Our bodies produce breast milk on a supply-and-demand basis and when you empty your breasts more frequently, your body works to produce more milk.
Power pumping is a way of doing this with a breast pump rather than through breastfeeding. In short, your baby might consume enough nutrients during a power pump session and sleep through their next feeding, including one or more night feedings.
Tips for night feedings
Night feedings are tough, especially because they disrupt your normal sleeping pattern. This makes it extra hard to fall back to sleep and a lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems. Below are a few tips for making your transition to night feeding a smooth one.
Find a comfortable position
For ease of breastfeeding at night, many moms choose to share the bed with their babies. Research shows that having your baby sleep in your room rather than a separate room down the hall reduces the chance for SIDS.
To get into position, lie on your side and use pillows to support your head and, for added comfort, place one between your knees. Position your baby so they are on their side and line their nose to the level of your nipple. Their chin should touch your breast and their head be tipped back. There are a few different ways to switch breasts, including holding your baby firmly to your chest as you roll over.
As a side note, we did a whole post on how to take care of your back while breastfeeding and it’s a great starting point if you’re beginning to experience any pain or discomfort, or if you prefer to sit up while night feeding.
Keep the room dark
So that you and your baby are able to fall back asleep, keep the lights off and avoid looking at your phone—the blue light retrains the production of melatonin and makes it harder to sink back into sleepiness. Your eyes will adjust to the darkness after a few moments and if you do need a little light, opt for a night light rather than the bedside light.
Prep ahead of time
Getting organized before heading to bed will make night feedings easier. This means anticipating diaper changes and putting a bottle of water on your bedside table. Having towels or burp cloths nearby will help with cleanup; you can also use them to keep your baby (and you) dry and comfortable.
If you prefer or need to pump at night, you can also create a pumping station by your bed. Make sure you have everything you need on hand to reduce the amount of time you have to be awake.
Nap whenever you can
Babies aren’t the only ones needing lots of sleep. You do, too, mama! For those first few months, try to nap when your baby is napping or ask a friend or family member to care for your baby while you get some shut eye (this is where a freezer stash comes in handy).
As we mentioned earlier, frequent night feedings won’t last forever and soon enough, you’ll start getting those extra few hours of sleep back.