By Maria Besini | September 14, 2020
Are you a breastfeeding mama? Are you incredibly happy with your decision to breastfeed, but also exhausted from waking up constantly at night ending up with breastfeeding your baby back to sleep? If you are wondering whether any of this is normal, I hear you. I have been there, and I know how hard and challenging that is, even if I couldn’t admit it at the time.
If you’ve made it through the “fourth trimester” but still wake up numerous times at night and are wondering whether there is something you can do to minimize those night wakings, this article is for you. You will find that there are some powerful solutions that can help you get more sleep and feel better rested without risking the breastfeeding relationship. Our sleep doesn’t have to suffer when we breastfeed.
On the other hand, more and more moms somehow manage to find the strength to carry on, pull through, and reach the goal they had set themselves, even if they haven’t slept properly for months. But those moms may be putting their physical, mental and emotional health at great risk because of extreme fatigue and sleep deprivation. In some cases, this can lead to autoimmune diseases, postpartum depression and countless other health issues.
Additionally, there are some moms who struggle with challenges like limited resources, financial difficulties, life in a foreign country or an unsupportive environment.
Before we go on, I feel I need to note that breastfeeding is, of course, a very personal decision. So is the decision to stop breastfeeding, or the decision to avoid the breastfeeding path altogether. I am not against any of those choices – there are often very good reasons behind them, and my role is to support young moms 100%, regardless of their choice.
However, I do want to help young moms make this choice consciously, and for the right reasons. And in order to be a conscious choice, it has to take under consideration some facts, like the baby’s developmental stage and unique needs, but also the mother’s unique needs. Young moms need to be informed of all the alternatives, without external pressure based on outdated ideas and mixed societal messages. If a young mom believes that breastfeeding will lead to poor sleep and exhaustion, she will be less likely to give it a good go – but I am here to tell you that breastfeeding and sleep deprivation don’t go hand in hand.
Now, let’s see the SIX POWERFUL WAYS that will help you reduce those wakings.
Low level of iron, lack of Vitamin D, or other deficiencies can also cause babies to wake up at night. If you suspect something like that, check with your pediatrician. If your child has already started eating solids, make sure you provide her every day with foods rich in iron, as well as all the other nutrients and minerals that she needs.
A tongue tie or a lip tie. According to the Mayo Clinic, “breast-feeding requires a baby to keep his or her tongue over the lower gum while sucking. If unable to move the tongue or keep it in the right position, the baby might chew instead of suck on the nipple. This can cause significant nipple pain and interfere with a baby's ability to get breast milk. Ultimately, poor breast-feeding can lead to inadequate nutrition and failure to thrive.” And I would like to add that this also means more wakings! If you suspect your baby may have a tongue or lip tie, consult a specialist as soon as possible.
Craniosacral therapy. “Craniosacral therapy eases the tightness in the baby’s mouth, head and neck, leading to breastfeeding success. Birth also effects the alignment of the baby’s head and body. CST aligns the body structurally and gets all the systems working properly — eating, pooping, sleeping,” says CST therapist, Barbara Coon, LMT.
If you had a difficult pregnancy or labor, if you had a C-section, if your baby was in a difficult position, or if things overall didn’t go as you wished, consider seeing an osteopath with your little one. A few sessions could do wonders for your baby’s sleep.
Assessing mom’s health (physical and emotional) is one of the most important aspects as well. Considering that mother and child affect one another in so many ways, they both need to be healthy and happy. A mom who is not feeling well or is suffering from health issues won’t sleep well. Babies’ sleep is greatly influenced by parents’ sleep, potentially leading to multiple wakings at night. Don’t leave yourself behind. You can offer a lot more to your baby when you are strong and healthy.
But these are not the only benefits. Knowing when her circadian rhythms develop can help you be prepared about what you can practically do to promote the sync of her biological clock within the day/night cycle. It can also help you establish healthy sleep habits from early on, such as at 3 or 4 months, promoting longer stretches of sleep and smoother transitions as she grows up and her biological needs change. Another benefit is that learning the science behind your baby’s developmental stage will give you the confidence to counter all those limited beliefs and ideas that you may be bombarded with.
A relaxing, calm and predictable bedtime routine, including perhaps a warm bath, comfy pj’s, storytelling or singing etc, along with maintaining a peaceful atmosphere throughout this time, can prepare your baby’s nervous system for sleep within a context of love and safety. Grab this chance to spend some undistracted and connected time with each other. It can help the baby but also the mother to reduce stress which is a risk factor for low milk production and multiple wakings as well.
- it promotes the self-regulation of the body;
- it synchronizes the 24-hour cycle of the body’s circadian rhythms;
- it promotes the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone);
- it promotes the production of Vitamin D on the skin; and
- it reduces stress.
All the above mean less wakings and therefore more uninterrupted sleep.
Meeting your baby’s emotional needs – and not just the physical needs - (and the process of healing any kind of trauma, if any) creates a safe context for the baby, which means she will feel more relaxed and wake up less.
Remember that the best place for your baby is beside you – or even on you – smelling you, tasting you, hearing your voice and looking into your eyes. Use approaches that promote attachment like skin-to-skin contact, bathing together, bed-sharing or co-sleeping, baby-wearing, eye contact, one-to-one time, planning activities when she is awake and alert and introducing different kinds of play. In case of trauma, you can use therapeutic play, therapy for parents and other approaches to trauma resolution. And don’t forget to offer lots of cuddles and affection. Lean towards your baby, listen to him and learn to read his signs. All these methods can benefit both of you, by promoting a good night’s sleep and a healthy breastfeeding relationship at the same time. Needless to say that if any of the above bonding techniques doesn’t feel right for you or your baby, no problem at all! Choose what makes you both feel great.
And again, let’s not forget mom’s needs either. Listen to your needs, show compassion to yourself and ask for support whenever you need it. Put dad in the game -if he is not already in- and ask for external support in the areas where you need it the most. If you struggle emotionally, consider therapy. If you struggle to meet your needs, or you struggle with meeting all your baby’s needs, don’t hesitate to ask for help. You are not supposed to handle it all alone. Get the right support for you.
You could also find some relaxation techniques that suit your personality. There are so many to choose from – mindfulness, iRest, yoga or even just breathing. Try it! It can be more helpful than you’d think.
Whatever kind of diet you choose for your baby or toddler, make sure you are providing him with all the nutrients he needs in order to be healthy and thriving. If you are not sure you’re doing it right, consult your pediatrician or a nutritionist. Try to make conscious choices when it comes to nutrition, as it is one of the most important factors that influence sleep.
However, keep in mind that your baby may still wake up once until around the age of 3. This is absolutely normal developmentally and you don't "need" to do something to change that. The important element that makes those wakings normal though is that your baby or toddler is able to fall back to sleep within some minutes.
If you are unsure about what decisions to make, you can always ask for professional guidance and support to help you identify the root causes of your child’s sleep challenges and provide you with the right tools to resolve them.
I hope you found these suggestions useful. You can always get in touch with me if you have any questions.
One thought that I would like to leave you with:
The happier and more restful you are, the better your breastfeeding experience, and the better your relationship to yourself and your child. So there’s no time like today to change what is not working.