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Making It Work

Nighttime Nursing

From New Beginnings, Vol. 28 No. 3, 2009, pp. 32-33

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine New Beginnings, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of New Beginnings to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I have recently returned to work and my baby is five months old. My mother is looking after him during the day while I am away and he happily takes a bottle of my expressed milk from her when he is hungry. However, he has started to wake much more frequently in the night to breastfeed and I am finding this exhausting. How have other mothers coped with nighttime breastfeeding when they have to rise early to go to work?

Response

This is a totally normal response from your baby and it's called "reverse cycling." Your baby is catching up on both calories and mommy time that he's missed during the day while you were gone. My way of dealing with it is to cosleep. I found some guidelines to follow to ensure my baby's safety and I happily took her into my bed.

Now, when she wakes, I can just latch her on and we both go back to sleep. She gets the extra milk she needs and we both get the extra snuggle time we need to reconnect. I allow and encourage her to nurse frequently at night because it means I can pump a little less during the day and still fulfil her nutritional requirements plus I just love having her cuddled next to me. There's nothing like it.

Paige Silcox
Nashville, TN, USA

Response

I had a similar experience to yours about 15 years ago when I returned to work part time, five months after the birth of my first baby. Oskar was cared for by his father and received my expressed milk in a bottle but preferred the "real deal," taking only the minimum by bottle during the day and concentrating on nursing in the evening and at night. Like you, I found this absolutely exhausting but, at the same time, accepted that this was his way of making up for lost time and "reconnecting" with me after our daytime separation.

Bed sharing became part of the solution for me but at that point I had still not mastered nursing lying down. I had to sit up every time to nurse, which wore me out and made my back ache. It also meant that Oskar tended to wake right up again every time I laid him back down at the end of a feed, particularly since he was at that time sleeping in a "side-car" crib (attached to our bed) and it probably felt cold and lonely when he was returned to it, by comparison with the warmth and closeness of my body while nursing.

As soon as I got the hang of nursing lying down and brought Oskar into our bed to sleep, we all started getting much more rest despite the still frequent nursing sessions. With my four subsequent children I have practiced bed sharing from the start and now hardly notice how often I wake to nurse during the night.

Back then, before bed sharing, in order to keep sane and not become completely exhausted, I simply had to give up all attempts to do anything other than nurse on weekday evenings. I would just come home from work, eat supper, and then go straight to bed with my little one. As time passed, long nursing sessions in the evening would sometimes mean that he woke less frequently during the night, though this wasn't guaranteed. However, being in bed for about 12 hours in total usually ensured that I got plenty of rest and at least a few hours of proper sleep. And, of course, this allowed plenty of time for cuddles and mutual "nurturing."

Maybe you can use or adapt some of these ideas for yourself. If not, you might be able to take heart from the fact that your baby will very soon be ready to start solids and this might relieve a little of the pressure on you, at least as the sole provider of nutrition. I'm hoping that you find a way to get some well-earned rest while still remaining warmly bonded with your little one.

Gwyneth Little
East Lothian, GB

Response

Once my firstborn outgrew the bassinet and I outgrew my worry about her "needing her own space" the best place for us both to sleep was together. I knew I would get the most rest and she would get the most nutrition and comfort in a cosleeping arrangement. My husband and I suspected that it might make a transition to her own room or bed a bit difficult, but we also agreed that in the grand scheme of things this was a temporary situation. She is now three years old and, though quite capable and happy to spend the first half of the night in her room, she will come in to be with us or one of us will go to her for the other half of the night.

With the arrival of my second child, we coslept from birth. Again, it felt right, as I have to work outside the home. Once my alarm goes off at 6 am, I easily transition her to my husband without having to wake him fully. They continue to sleep (tummy to tummy) until one of them decides the day should get started (usually my daughter). This situation works for us. I have been able to meet my older daughter's needs for over two and a half years, through her first teeth at six months, all the way to molars, simply by providing her with my presence and the pain-relieving properties of nursing. Sometimes that is all that would work to settle her back to sleep and ease the pain of new teeth appearing. My second daughter, while a different personality, is still settled in much the same way. Add in the fact that both girls reverse cycled a bit, being in close proximity allowed me to be functional for work the following day. Just remember, there's no one-size-fits-all solution, but you will find one that works for you both.

Tiffony Kidd Schindler
Northern NJ, USA

Response

I experienced a similar pattern with my son at around 12 months. After getting up repeatedly in the night to nurse him, we tried cosleeping; but he wriggled about too much and once I was awake I couldn't get back to sleep so that I felt exhausted and ill prepared for a day's work. We then found a solution that worked for us. I'd nurse James at bedtime on a mattress on the floor, next to our bed, and then when he awoke in the night, I'd climb in with him and then back to the big bed once he'd settled down. It wasn't long before he was sleeping for longer stretches and I only nursed him last thing at night and early in the morning, which was a lovely start to the day before I had to leave for work.

Debbie Smith
Oklahoma City, OK, USA

Safe Sleeping Tips

DO:

  • Make sure your baby is sleeping on a clean, firm, non-quilted surface.
  • Sleep facing your baby in bed -- your thigh should prevent him slipping under the covers.
  • Check for gaps your baby might get trapped in, for example between the gaps in the bedhead of a wrought iron/metal bedstead.
  • Provide a smoke-free environment.
  • Place your baby on her back to sleep.

DON'T:

  • Bedshare if any person in the bed has consumed alcohol, taken drugs (illegal or legal) that could make him/her extra sleepy, or is too exhausted to be aware of your baby.
  • Bedshare if any person in the bed is a smoker. Exposure to cigarette smoke increases a baby's risk of SIDS.
  • Bedshare if any person in the bed has an illness or condition that affects his/her awareness of your baby.
  • Bedshare if the parent sleeping next to the baby is markedly obese, unless the mother is breastfeeding and has considered how to compensate in some way for the greater weight differential.
  • Bedshare if older siblings who do not understand the risks of suffocation are sleeping in the same bed with infants under 12 months old.
  • Bedshare if any pets will be sharing the bed.
  • Sleep with your baby on a waterbed, recliner, couch, or armchair.
  • Place babies in an adult bed alone and unsupervised. Never leave an infant alone on an adult bed.
  • Use thick bedding. (Sheets and blankets should be porous, preferably cotton. In cold weather, use layers of thin bedding rather than one heavier blanket.)
  • Dress baby too warmly -- if you are comfortable, your baby probably is too. Remember that close bodily contact increases body temperature.
  • Have strings and ties in hair or night clothes -- these pose a strangulation risk for the baby.
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