Sleep deprivation cannot be avoided when you’re a mother. It’s part of the deal. Have a baby in the house and your lament at the lack of a good night’s sleep will consume your waking hours. But it’s how it goes and however long it takes for you to start to feel human again – weeks, months, years – will all be worth it because of that bundle in your arms.
But it’s the bundle’s sleep patterns that has many new mums confused and feeling pressured if their child isn’t doing what friends/books/health nurses tell them they should be.
Should my breastfed baby sleep through the night?
Author, lactation consultant, blogger and mother-of-three Meg Nagle, aka The Milk Meg, says there’s too much pressure on mums to get their baby to sleep through the night – even though it’s not a sleep problem if they do otherwise.
“So many expect babies or toddlers to sleep through, but the reality for a breastfeeding woman is that it’s really, really normal for their baby to wake to breastfeed – in fact it’s the biological norm,” Meg tells Babyology. “It’s not a sleep problem. They’re waking for a reason.”
In an excerpt from the Sunshine Coast mum’s book, Boobin’ all day…boobin all night: A gentle approach to sleep for breastfeeding families, she says all mothers out there question themselves and if they are doing it ‘right’ when it comes to sleep and how much or how little their breastfed baby is sleeping.
“Unfortunately what many women hear is that their baby should be sleeping through, that babies need to learn how to sleep longer, fall asleep without breastfeeding and that the crying or ‘protesting’ during the sleep training is what we are supposed to do,” Meg writes.
Different ideas about sleep training and feeding for babies
There was contention when Florida mum-of-two Karen Kirsner created a sleep training strategy, a mix and match of well-known sleep training methods, to get newborns to sleep for eight hours straight.
Her book, The Baby ‘Fast to Sleep’ Formula, outlines how she managed to get her son Sammy to sleep through the night at seven weeks old and her youngest son Sonny to sleep through at only six weeks.
But Meg’s theories are very different. “I come from the philosophy of following your baby and your own instincts while sharing and discussing what the evidence-based research shows in terms of baby sleep patterns and what is normal,” says Meg.
“Your baby does not have a ‘sleep problem’ because they will not self-settle or fall asleep on their own in a cot. Your milk is literally made to help them fall asleep while breastfeeding. It is how our bodies are designed. No crying involved, just pop them on! The only way a baby can communicate is through crying.”
Sleep consultant Heidi Holvoet, who offers help through Baby Sleep Advice, also says night feeds are quite necessary and unavoidable in young babies.
“A newborn baby should not be without feeding longer than three to four hours. From anywhere between four to six months and 12 months old, night feedings will no longer be strictly necessary,” she says. “Depending on the baby, she will continue to wake for feeding out of habit, or simply because she needs some reassurance.”
Meg reassures mums that night-time waking to breastfeed is “something that millions of us women do around the world every single night”.
“Trust your instincts and follow the lead of your baby. No mother looks back and feels guilty for cuddling or breastfeeding her baby too often,” Meg says.
“You cannot spoil a baby. You cannot cuddle them too often, breastfeed them too frequently or love them too much.”
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