Can I Sleep Train and Breastfeed?
Mom guilt can be such a burden, am I right?? Pretty much any decision you need to make as a mom (or dad!) is a decision someone can shame or judge you for. As a mom, a sleep professional and Certified Lactation Counselor, I am a big advocate for doing what is right for your own family and situation. A hot topic in the world of parenting (and especially in sleep training) is breastfeeding. Should you do it? Can you do it? How can you do it successfully? And on and on…
To be completely up front…YES YOU CAN!
I’ve seen many people tout that breastfed babies are doomed to have terrible sleep due to the on-demand schedule many nursing mamas/babies follow. As you may have gathered about me, the biggest thing I focus on when it comes to getting your baby to sleep is their habits. Recognizing what baby relies on to help them fall asleep gives us a clue as to how their little bodies and brains perceive the process of falling asleep and staying asleep. My biggest advice I give when it comes to breastfeeding is this: Breastfeeding, even if you're an exclusive pumper, is a way to feed your baby. It shouldn't be the way that you use to get your baby or toddler to fall asleep. This, I might add, is the same advice I give to bottle/formula-fed babies.
Hear me out here. While nursing can comfort a baby to the point of sleeping, it quickly becomes a crutch for the baby to rely on whenever he/she wakes in the middle of the night. A baby who constantly nurses to sleep will expect to be able to nurse at any hour, forcing you to get up and have a feeding session when you’d rather be asleep. Our goal with sleep training is to teach baby how to fall asleep without props and fall back asleep when the inevitable nighttime waking occurs.
So what to do? It’s obviously important to make sure baby goes to bed with a full tummy. No one likes to wake from a peaceful sleep with a growling tummy! When you nurse baby in the evening, keep the lights on, and continue to gently shake or tickle baby’s feet or arms to keep them awake. Ideally, baby will feel full and drowsy after nursing, but still awake. This would be the ideal time to give them a kiss, place them in the crib, and shut the light off to signal bedtime. Simulating this routine allows baby to fall asleep on their own in the same way you do when you turn in for the night.
As always, it’s important to do what you think is best for your family. Don’t let the shame or opinions you receive from others guilt you into unhealthy habits!
I want you to have the breastfeeding journey that you want and to meet your goals. Sleep shouldn’t have to take a backseat either.
So whom would you say is the parent that gets the bulk of nighttime responsibility for getting up with your child? I know what you’re thinking…and yes, in my experience, it’s usually mom.
I don’t want to stereotype, but I usually don’t get calls where both parents share all the nighttime duties and everyone is sleeping like a baby all night. I usually get calls from exhausted parents who are having issues getting their babies to sleep and usually have to have something done to them to get them back to sleep at night, otherwise known as a prop. The most common of which usually is not Dad’s doing…
And the most common prop I see, by far, is nursing, which pretty much leaves Dad out of the equation.
Now, this is a problem for a couple of reasons. Obviously, if baby’s waking up six times a night and demanding Mom come in to nurse her back to sleep, that’s taxing on mother and baby. But there’s another person who tends to suffer in this scenario, and that’s Dad. It might be hard to imagine, some of you may be reading this in the middle of the night while baby is having a party, and you know your husband is in dream land in the next room.
But let’s not wish him to share in our pain just yet.
Dads want to be great dads. They want to have an active role in bringing up their kids, and they love it when they feel like they’re succeeding in that role. But because Mom is the one with the magical breast milk, touch and smell, Dad often feels powerless to help out in the sleep department, which means Mom’s up every time baby cries, and Dad, can’t do much but go back to sleep.
This can lead to some hostility from a sleep deprived Mom, who feels like she’s doing more than her share, and some defensiveness from Dad, who gets to feeling attacked for something he has no control over.
But here’s the good news for both of you…
If you’ve decided to give sleep training a try, I often recommend that Dad takes the lead… at least for the first few nights. That’s right! Go sleep it off, Mom. Dad’s taking point on this one. So when it comes to breaking the association between sucking (bottle, pacifier or breast) and falling asleep, baby tends to learn quicker and respond better when Dad comes into the room during the first few nights of baby learning to fall asleep independently. He can even give baby a bottle if you're still doing night feeds.
Here’s the funny thing. Whenever I drop this little tidbit on couple I’m working with, Mom lets out a big ‘yeeaaah’ and teases Dad about how he’s much fun he’s going to have getting up six times in the night.
But then, night one, as soon as baby starts to cry, Mom shoots out of bed and goes straight into baby’s room. Or even more regularly, Mom stands in the doorway instructing Dad on the right way to settle Baby back down, and corrects him every step of the way.
I have actually sent full-grown women to their rooms during overnight support packages.
If Dad’s going to get involved, he and Baby have to find their own rhythm, and Mom has to be able to let go of a little control. And as much as moms always say they’ll have no problem letting their husbands take the wheel, when it comes down to the moment of truth, many women want to jump back in.
So remember, Dad might just be the magical solution to your baby’s sleep issues, but give him a chance, he might just surprise you. Most of my clients see dramatic improvements in their baby’s sleep in just a couple of nights, so you won’t have to worry.
After that, you and your partner will have the evenings back to yourselves, and your whole family can get back to sleeping through the night.
Tired of being tired? Schedule a free call with me today and learn how to get started.
Christine Stevens has been recognized as one of the top sleep consultants in the U.S.
Christine Stevens is a Sleep Consultant for exhausted parents who want a solution that works for their parenting style. The want to reclaim their beds, their spouse and their sanity but they don’t know how to begin.
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