Advice Column, Parenting

Sleep, Breastfeeding And Your Baby

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When should my little one be sleeping through?

Every baby and toddler has a unique sleeping and feeding pattern, so be careful of comparing your schedule with that of other moms. If you are comfortable and happy with how things are going, then there is no need to worry or intervene. This is a very rough guide if you aren’t sure what to expect:

Newborn~15-17H sleep in 24H, waking every 2-4 hours for feeding
0-3 months~14H sleep in 24H, with about 3 naps in the day and waking up 0-3 times at night for feeding. Longer night sleeps (about 5 hours) established by the end of 3 months.
3-6 months~13H in 24H, still napping about 3 times a day and waking 0-3 times at night.
6-12 months~13H in 24H, napping about twice a day. Night waking may increase in this period, although baby will only need 1 or 2 night feedings.
12-24 months~13H sleep in 24H, with about 1 daily nap and 1 night-time waking.

Breastmilk or formula milk?

Even though every mom knows “breast is best”, after 7 nights of not sleeping due to a hungry baby, it can be tempting to supplement with formula milk, which many believe keep their baba more satisfied. It is true that formula milk is more difficult to digest than breastmilk, which means night feeds won’t need to be as frequent in formula fed babies.

However, this doesn’t mean that breast milk is insufficient – far from it. In fact, one of breastmilk’s countless benefits is that it changes composition at night to help your little one sleep better. Night breastmilk has increased concentrations of tryptophan which increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that will keep baby calm and sleeping. A study in 2010 showed that whether a mother breastfeeds, formula feeds, or combines the two, it makes no difference to how much sleep she gets. Night-waking for breastfeeding and comfort are perfectly normal; however, if it is making life difficult for mom and is affecting the family, night weaning is possible – consult a professional about doing it in a way that is healthy for baby and the family.

Is my breastmilk really enough?

Mother’s milk is sufficient and perfect for baby under 6 months. However, babies may wake up hungry if they are getting inconsistent and unsatisfying feeds throughout the day. Ironically, giving formula milk or cereal at night instead of breastfeeding will inhibit supply of breastmilk, perpetuating the problem. Breastfeed on demand throughout the day to ensure regular and adequate nutrition. If you have to be away from little one for a few hours, express milk in between feeds.

Folklore suggests that drinking a glass of wine or beer, especially before the last breastfeed of the day, improves milk supply and helps baby sleep. Research shows that while alcohol in your breastmilk does make baby fall asleep faster, it results in shorter sleep times – not very helpful at all! And while the occasional single serving of alcohol is safe during breastfeeding, consistent and regular alcohol consumption can affect neurological and motor development.

Good news is that moms shouldn’t have to give up their precious morning coffee – studies show that a moderate intake of caffeine (up to 5 cups of coffee) has no impact on baby’s sleep patterns, especially if you consumed caffeine regularly during pregnancy. Trust your instincts – if you can see baby becoming more alert and restless after a lot of caffeine, then try decreasing your intake.

What about solids?

A night feed of baby cereal, or even cereal in a bottle throughout the night, can seem like the perfect solution to an exhausted mommy, even when baby is younger than the recommended weaning age of 4-6 months. Unfortunately, research shows that cereal has no impact on baby’s sleeping duration, and in fact introducing solids before 4 months may shorten sleep duration until 2 years of age! Besides this, feeding infant cereals too early carries several risks, including impaired growth and development, nutrient deficiencies, risk of overweight later in life, and choking (especially if fed from a bottle throughout the night).

Adequate iron, magnesium or zinc is essential for a good night’s sleep – make sure that you are getting enough of these minerals in your diet, or via a good supplement, while breastfeeding. After 6 months, include sources of these minerals (animal meats, iron-fortified grains, nut butters, legumes, dark green vegetables) in your child’s solids, or supplement with a health professional’s guidance.

Give it time!

There are many reasons for night waking, from illness to simply seeking contact with mom or dad. Waking at night is normal for infants, and they will eventually grow out of it as part of normal development!

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