As a breastfeeding mom, you have some different challenges when it comes to night feeding baby. You can’t share the load with anyone – it’s all on you (even though pumping and formula moms often find themselves doing all the feeds anyway.) You can’t even take a break for one night.
What’s worse is that if you’re trying to follow the safe sleep guidelines, your hormones are against you – falling asleep with baby in a chair is unsafe and cosleeping isn’t recommended… but breastfeeding at night releases hormones that make you sleepy… So how do you stay safe, and still get back to sleep easily?
Then there’s also the leaky breasts, engorgement and letdowns to contend with.
How do you manage night time breastfeeding as a new mom?
Note: this blog post probably contains affiliate links, which means we may receive small commissions from purchases made through links in this post (at NO extra cost to you). You can read our full disclosure for more information.
1) Nursing PJS and Nursing Bras
As a new first time mom, you’ll need some pjs you can nurse in, like these.
Some moms like to just wear a nursing tank top which is easy to nurse in and also provides a place for your nursing pads to catch those leaks.
It’s a fact of breastfeeding a newborn that you’ll probably wake up at least once in a puddle of milk due to engorgement. This does get better with time… but until then, you’ll want to wear nursing pads to mop up the mess.
But. What if you aren’t comfortable wearing a bra or a nursing tank to bed? I don’t normally wear a bra to bed. What’s more, even if I wanted to, the soft sleeping bras were too small. Instead I wrapped my breasts in a thick layer of terry towelling under my shirt (kinda like an absorbent boob tube) – speaking of which, you can get this exact product that looks just like an absorbent boob tube and would be super comfy for sleeping in.
2) Prepare Your Night Feeding Station
Think mise en place! You want all the things you need to breastfeed close by for night feeds and, if possible, keep them in exactly the same place every time. You’ll get so good at finding the things you need you won’t even need to turn on the light!
You night feeding station might include:
- nipple shield, if you’re using one. (Wean off of it as soon as you can – washing the shield out after a feed really used to wake me up.)
- Lansinoh (good to have in the early days).
- breast pads.
- burp cloths for baby and to contain leaks.
- full water bottle.
- a small night light.
- a pacifier if your baby takes one.
- your phone, iPad, TV remote, kindle – anything you need to stay awake.
- anything else you regularly use while breastfeeding.
There are two main challenges to breastfeeding at night:
- staying awake enough to keep baby safe
- not waking up so much so you can’t get back to sleep!
Staying awake is hard because breastfeeding releases hormones that make you sleepy. This is one big reason many ‘lactivists’ also support co-sleeping.
Safety must come first however.
Feeding propped up in bed with pillows or on the lounge with cushions is an unsafe sleep space for baby. If you choose to feed this way, you MUST stay awake!
Learn how to set up your breastfeeding station here.
3) Keep Lights Low
You don’t want to wake up too much for the night feeds… and you definitely don’t want baby waking up and thinking it’s time to play!
Keeping the lights dimmed and towards the red spectrum will help you both go back to sleep after the feed.
If you’re using a smart phone or tablet, you can enable a ‘night mode’ where the screen will dim and become more red. You might find your phone or tablet can do this automatically, otherwise there’s an app for that!
4) Make Diaper Changes Easy
Or skip them… as a first time mom I changed my baby’s diaper way too often. Now, I realise that just because a diaper is a little wet doesn’t mean it’s worth waking baby up all the way to change it.
A poopy diaper is another matter and definitely needs to be changed. I found my baby learned the difference between day and night quite quickly (within about 2 months) and stopped having poopy diapers overnight (yay!)
How can you make diaper changes easier if you aren’t quite there yet?
- have a dedicated area set up by your breastfeeding station. You don’t need a change table, you can change your baby on the bed or the lounge or the floor just put down a portable change mat or a towel.
- keep a spare change of clothes by the change area in case of blowouts, leaks and accidents.
5) Stay Awake
Easier said than done. How do you make sure you stay awake for the night feed? It’ll actually depend how tired you are how much stimulation you need to stay awake.
At hospital this time around, I turned the overhead light on over the bed to keep myself awake and made use of the flashlight on my phone to stay alert during night feeds.
You might also like to try:
- listening to podcasts
- listening to music (not relaxation music!)
- set an alarm for 10 minutes
- watch TV
- browse the internet or read pregnancy/baby apps
- run wild on Pinterest 😊
The important thing is to find what works for you and go with it.
6) Make Sure Baby Stays Awake to Get A Full Feed
It’s really nice when baby falls straight to sleep again on the breast… unfortunately, if you take advantage of a nice short night feed, it’s highly likely you’ll pay for it in an hour or two with another night waking.
Try keep baby awake enough to feed effectively by:
- tickling his jaw line
- taking off some of his clothes
- changing his diaper
This is only really relevant during the newborn period when baby’s are still learning how to feed efficiently and they get sleepy before they’ve filled their bellies.
7 Things That Make Night Feeds Easier
There are some things that make night feeding way easier… and some that make it harder.
Sleeping In The Same Room
There’s one thing you can do to make night feeding far and away easier: have baby sleep in the same room as you and do all night time baby care in the room.
Sleeping in the same room as baby follows the SIDS guidelines, so it’s a good idea all round!
Keeping baby close by means you won’t have to wake up fully by heading off to the nursery for every night feed. Night feeds and baby care will be much faster and you can get things done and go right back to sleep.
One drawback of this is if baby wakes others sleeping in the room – though if your husband is a heavy sleeper and can sleep through baby noises, it could still work
Don’t Jump At Every Sound
Did you know, babies make noises in their sleep? Sometimes they even cry in their sleep. It’s also pretty common for newborns to grunt a lot in the early hours of the morning, even though they are still asleep.
It’s hard not to react to every sound. But, I found it good to remind myself that if baby needs a feed, he will cry and demand one. Other noises may be him waking up, or even putting himself back to sleep. And he probably doesn’t want to be interrupted!
Side Lying Breastfeeding Saves Energy
If you’re alone in the bed, try side lying breastfeeding. It’s a comfortable and relaxing position, so be careful not to fall asleep. If you think you’re at risk for falling asleep, don’t do it with your husband in the bed and remove the baby’s swaddle.
It’s a great idea to read up on safe(r) cosleeping, and follow all the rules in case you do accidentally fall asleep.
Keep Baby Swaddled
Keeping baby swaddled for the night feed means one less step between you and bed.
You have one less task to do. Baby doesn’t need to be disrupted after finishing his feed by getting back in his swaddle.
I’d only recommend removing the swaddle for a night feed if:
- you’re going to lay down and breastfeed
- baby is having trouble staying awake
You Get ONE Long Sleep – Milk It
Once your baby is back to birth weight, your paediatrician will probably let you know that baby can have one long sleep at night now. (And for the rest, expect 3-hourly-ish feeds.)
You NEED to take this sleep too for your health and sanity.
If that means you have to go to bed at 6pm for a while, you should do whatever it takes to get to sleep then too 😊 (Easier said than done if you have other littles, I know.)
Try a Dream Feed to Lengthen Baby’s Sleep
If going to sleep as early as baby isn’t an option, you can try doing a dream feed just before you go to bed.
Carefully and quietly pick up your baby and bring them to the breast. You want them to latch and start to feed in their sleep.
If baby doesn’t latch you can try to gently stir them until they take the nipple.
Dream feeding doesn’t always work, but when it does it’ll extend baby’s first night waking and allow you to get an extra hour or two!
The Mental Game of Night Feeds
Make no mistake, night time parenting is hard. It’s a battle. You just have to hold out and things will change for the better.
Consistency will make your life easier.
As night wakings settle as your baby gets older, it’ll make your life easier.
Always remember: this too shall pass!
With my first I also liked to remind myself that I GET this time with my baby. No one else is up and hanging out with your little one at 3am. An attitude of gratitude goes a long way in most things.
I also try to smile at my little one every time (even if my eyes won’t stay open). Smiling makes me feel better and I’m sure it makes them feel better too.
Wrapping It Up
Night feeding is one of the hardest parts of new motherhood – you’re recovering from birth, learning how to breastfeed and it’s all on you. There are things you can do to make the nights easier and it starts with preparation – physically with the right gear and mentally with the right attitude.