Breastfeeding and Sleep

Breastfeeding and Sleep

Though many jokes are made when a woman is pregnant about the sleepless years she has coming, no mother can be completely prepared for what life will be like with a new baby. While having a baby is a huge blessing, it may not always seem that way -especially in the middle of a night when a mother is exhausted but still awake with her nursing baby. And yet, while a lack of sleep is a huge issue in our western culture today there are many things mothers can do to maximize sleep at night. Here are 6 important reminders about sleep and a new baby.

  1. Babies aren’t supposed to sleep through the night.
    Their bodies need nutrition and physical touch at very regular intervals throughout the day and night to grow and develop properly. Breast milk is created to be digested quickly (twice as fast as formula) because babies need to eat often to grow their bodies and brains. Did you know a baby’s brain will triple in size during the first year of life? Breast milk is uniquely designed for rapid brain growth. If newborns slept through the night they wouldn’t get the nutrition they need to grow and develop as they should.
  2. We need to adjust our mindset.There is not a problem with your new baby who is up all the time wanting to nurse. This is how she was designed! Wanting to nurse all the time is not a problem that must be fixed but a reality that must be embraced. Rather than trying to change our babies, we need to change our expectations. The challenge is to figure out how meet your baby’s needs while meeting your need for sleep as well. Rather than buying into our culture’s belief that breastfeeding has to be synonymous with lack of sleep, we need to help new moms figure out how to do both well.
  3. If your newborn does sleep through the night regularly this should be a red flag.
    Sleepy babies can be babies in distress. They may be reserving their energy and sleeping more when what they really need is more food so they can grow and thrive. When someone says their new baby sleeps through the night, we shouldn’t wish ours would too. Rather, we should be concerned about the baby that sleeps so much!
  4. Co-sleeping does not carry the same risk factors for every situation.
    Fear has driven mothers today to do everything possible to keep their babies out of their bed. Doctors and health care workers actively tell mothers that their babies could die if they fall asleep together. While this is true and, sadly, happens far too often in western culture, it is also true that many breastfeeding families fall into an extremely low risk category when bed sharing is practiced using the “Safe Sleep Seven.” 1 What the western establishment has failed to tell mothers is that, under certain specific criteria, bed sharing with your baby may be the least risky option for your family.  Parents must be given all the facts to make an educated and informed decision. Families should know the following information:
    • 70%-80% of breastfeeding mothers will fall asleep with their babies at some point and creating a safe environment is much better than falling asleep on a couch, recliner, or other unsafe surface 2 In fact, even if a breastfeeding mom decides she never wants to fall asleep with her baby, it is imperative to create the safest nighttime breastfeeding environment possible, in the event that mom falls asleep while nursing.
    • Mothers who don’t co-sleep are at significantly higher risk of early weaning (and there are many known and well documented risks to formula feeding that can affect a child’s health over the course of his lifetime)
    • Situations where we hear of babies being smothered by sleeping in an adult bed usually have not followed the “Safe Sleep Seven” bed sharing guidelines. (Bed sharing should only occur if all of the “Safe Sleep Seven” criteria are met: exclusive breastfeeding; no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco use by either parent; no pets or other siblings in bed; covers are low on the bed and there are no cracks, unsafe surfaces, or possibility of baby falling out; baby sleeps on back when not nursing; unswaddled; and he was a full-term, healthy baby. Mothers instinctively use the cuddle curl position to protect baby as she sleeps (which is an innate protection mechanism). 3
    • When a mother and baby sleep beside one another (not in a side cot attached to a bed) their breathing patterns mimic one another so that mother is aware of baby’s sleep cycle and they sleep/wake together. This greatly reduces the risk of SIDS. 4
    • The very act of breastfeeding reduces a baby’s chances of SIDS …and since we know that mothers and babies who co sleep will breastfeed longer and that they will fall asleep together at some point whether planned or not, perhaps we should change our mindset. Rather than saying bed sharing is always dangerous, and then having exhausted moms fall asleep in very unsafe environments with their babies, we must do all we can to inform parents about the dangers of SIDS and how to create safe sleeping environments that encourage breastfeeding and bed sharing so both mothers and babies can get sleep. (The four biggest risk factors for SIDS are baby sleeping on stomach, smoking in household, leaving baby unattended, and formula-feeding.) 5
  1. Co-sleeping does not spoil your baby.
    Your baby has just spent the last nine months in the most amazing “bed sharing” space possible. And now we expect this new baby, who entered a new and unknown world, to not only sleep at night but sleep in her own space? Sleeping together or nearby will not spoil your baby or teach him bad sleeping habits. Babies need to be with their mothers. Babies need breast milk. And babies need lots and lots of physical touch. Mothers need sleep. It just makes sense that these can be safely combined for many families, just as has been done throughout the history of the world.
  2. Night nursing establishes a mother’s milk supply and helps her sleep.
    Night nursing is not only important for babies’ growth and development but also for a mother’s milk supply. Prolactin is a hormone that helps to build and maintain a mother’s milk supply and prolactin levels are higher at night. Nighttime nursing helps to establish a strong milk supply for the duration of breastfeeding. 6 The act of breastfeeding also produces oxytocin in a mother’s body, which helps her to relax. So not only does nighttime nursing help establish and maintain a mother’s milk supply, she is also more relaxed and can dose back off to sleep easier.

So, new mama, relax. Follow your maternal instincts. Don’t worry what the sleep experts and parenting books say…your baby hasn’t read them anyway. Enjoy your baby. Cuddle your baby. Nurse your baby. Hold your baby. Unwrap that tight swaddle and embrace all the hours each day you get to spend bonding and breastfeeding. Contrary to what our pop culture might try to convince you of, you are not spoiling your baby. All too soon you will be on the other end of raising your children and will wonder what happened to these early days.

You may also enjoy reading Getting Rest with a Newborn and Nighttime Nursing: My Story.

Getting Rest with a Newborn

Getting rest with a newborn!  It’s one of those things we all need. . . everyday. . . and yet seems impossible to get enough of when you have a new baby.  But a new baby does not have to be synonymous with exhaustion.  I have four children and I’ve tried a lot of different things to get rest since becoming a mom (some have worked, some have failed miserably).  Here are some strategies to help you get rest when you have a new baby.

  1. Breastfeed. On Demand.
    Did you know solid research shows that moms who breastfeed their babies actually get MORE sleep than their formula-feeding counterparts?  Perhaps its because a mom must arouse from sleep much more to mix, feed, and then sterilize a bottle, or perhaps it’s because a mom is so in tune with her little one that even if she’s not giving the bottle she usually wakes thinking of her baby (and then must deal with pumping and/or engorgement).  But breastfeeding on demand also satisfies your baby’s needs, allowing him to find contentment and peace knowing his needs are met. . . and by the person he loves most in his big, new world.  Nursing on demand also helps to protect against engorgement, which allows mom to get rest when the opportunities arise since she won’t be in pain from too much milk.
  2. Co-sleep.
    Sleeping with your baby nearby, whether in the same room, in a side-sleeping cot, or bed sharing (when all safety criteria are met) will allow for more rest for mom while baby breastfeeds throughout the night. For families that choose to bed share, it is essential that all of the “Safe Sleep Seven” criteria are met: exclusive breastfeeding; no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco use by either parent; no pets or other siblings in bed; covers are low on the bed and there are no cracks, unsafe surfaces, or possibility of baby falling out; baby sleeps on back when not nursing; unswaddled; and baby is full-term and healthy. Mothers instinctively use the cuddle curl position to protect baby as she sleeps (which is an innate protection mechanism). 1 We know that when mom and baby are sleeping together, mom exhales carbon dioxide which stimulates baby’s breathing. While there are always risks with exhausted mothers, newborn babies that eat throughout the night, and sleeping options, the evidence of SIDS deaths shows that the four biggest risk factors involve smoking, baby sleeping on stomach, formula-feeding, and baby unsupervised during sleep. 2 Families need to be aware of the safety precautions that should be taken for safe bed sharing, as well as hazards that can occur if mom falls asleep with baby on a couch or other unsafe surface.  The risks of early-weening due to exhaustion and the known dangers of formula feeding must also be weighed in regards to sleeping space.  Bed sharing can not only be practiced wisely, but also with exceedingly low risk for families that meet all seven safe sleeping criteria. 3
  3. Nap when your baby naps.
    Though it’s tempting to try to get other things done when your baby is napping, try not to do too much too fast after having a baby and make resting while your baby does a priority.  Researching on the internet, using social media, cooking, cleaning, etc. can all wait.  If you have other children you are caring for, allow them to have a “quiet time” at some point each day as well.  Whether they learn to play quietly in their room, read books, or watch a video, it is okay for them to have this down time while you and your baby rest as well.
  4. Let others serve you.
    Now is not the time to be supermom!  Accept all offers of help whether it’s cleaning your house, doing laundry, cooking meals, or going grocery shopping. . . don’t turn anything down.  Let your spouse, family, and/or friends help you out while you focus on feeding your baby.  And, don’t feel guilty about “not doing anything.”  You are doing a lot!  You are feeding and nurturing a new life!
  5. Get a sling.
    Sometimes a new baby doesn’t want to nurse, but doesn’t want to be set down either.  A baby can get so overly tired he finds it hard to then go sleep.  A sling or wrap can allow your baby to snuggle in close to mom (and hear her comforting heartbeat) while you still have two hands to get other necessary things done.  Sometimes these rests are just what your baby needs to be able to sleep better at night and throughout the day – sleep begets sleep.

Nighttime Nursing

Nighttime Nursing

Nighttime nursing is a hot topic among new moms, primarily because it seems to be synonymous with lack of sleep. This was certainly true for me with my first three kids! When I had my daughter in 2006 I had read and prepared not only for her birth but also parenting. Most of what I read strongly urged helping your baby “learn” to sleep and finding a “sleep schedule” quite early on. There was even great evidence stated as to how babies who sleep better are smarter and perform better in school. I was sold. I mean, who doesn’t want to help their child achieve their fullest potential?! At the same time, I was also sold on breastfeeding and knew that I was not about to supplement with any formula.

After my daughter was born, it quickly became apparent she had not read those same baby scheduling books. In fact, not only was she up all night wanting to nurse but this was also the time when she wanted to smile, coo, and play! Thankfully, she was my first child so I actually could sleep during the day when she slept. Each night I would nurse her and then put her in her bassinet, which was in our bedroom. I was determined she was not going to sleep in our bed, but by the second or third feed in the early hours of the night that seemed silly and by morning I would wake up with her beside me, snuggling away. As wonderful as it seemed, I still thought the “experts” had to be right and wanted to have her sleep in her bed. What I didn’t know is that babies consume 20% of their total daily milk intake during the night. Her nighttime nursing was perfectly normal for a new baby. Over the months she stretched out the length she slept before waking until she was pretty regularly sleeping from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. Around 6 months old I moved her to a crib in her room and when she woke in the morning I’d nurse her on an extra bed in her room where we’d both fall back asleep together. This lasted until she was almost two years old.

When our twins were born my world was turned upside down. They were 7 ½ weeks premature, we were living in Egypt, and we brought them home when they were just one week old. Since they were preemies, they slept all the time and I had to wake them for every single feeding. Night nursing really wasn’t the issue – it was 24/7 feeds, pumping, feeding that led to total exhaustion. I’ve written more about their birth and nursing stories in other posts.

As our fourth child was on the way I knew I was going to have to get sleep at night if I wanted to be able to parent my other, very active, children. From the very first night this little one slept in bed with me. I made sure we met all of the criteria of the “Safe Sleep Seven” to create a safe sleeping environment (exclusive breastfeeding; no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco use in the home; no pets or other siblings in bed; covers were low on the bed and there were no cracks, unsafe surfaces, or possibility of baby falling out; he slept on his back when he wasn’t nursing; unswaddled; and he was a full-term, healthy baby ). 1 Being an experienced nursing mom, breastfeeding while lying down came easy. I would rouse from sleep enough to help him latch on and then fall right back to sleep. I felt well rested each morning (even though he nursed throughout the night) and had many people volunteer that I didn’t look like I had a new baby. The very next statement was typically about whether he was sleeping at night. Most would then look at me with pity, as if they felt sorry for me my child was in our bed and not on a parent-led sleep schedule. Our culture thinks breastfeeding and sleep are contradictory for a new mom, and prizes scheduling a baby in order to sleep. Yet, babies haven’t read these books, nor were they designed to sleep through the night at early ages.  Babies are made to breastfeed and,  current research shows that nursing moms get more sleep than their formula-feeding counterparts. 2

Having done it both ways, I can surely say that creating a safe sleep environment and tucking my baby in bed with me was much easier and less stressful for our situation. I neither had to worry about getting my child on a sleep schedule nor get up and down throughout the night in order to breastfeed. We both got sleep, he got as much breast milk at night as he needed, and we both woke up rested and ready for the day.

Reverse Cycle Breastfeeding

Reverse Cycle Breastfeeding

Reverse cycle breastfeeding is when a baby changes his/her nursing schedule to be able to breastfeed more when he’s with his mother and eat less/sleep more when he’s away.  It occurs quite commonly when a mother returns to work.  Whereas her baby had nursed frequently throughout the day while they had been together, he now sleeps more during the day and nurses more frequently throughout the evening and early morning hours  to make up for the time away from mom during the day.  It can be a coping mechanism for babies to be able to tolerate being away from their mothers for long periods of time.

Reasons Babies Reverse Cycle

  • Return to work
  • Newborns who have not yet established a circadian rhythm with their sleep patterns
  • Toddlers who are easily distracted throughout the day and involved with all that is going on around them
  • Mothers who are overly busy during the day (frequently happens around holidays) and there is not much time for nursing throughout the day.

Tips for Handling Reverse Cycle Breastfeeding

Reverse cycling can be challenging when a mother returns to work as she is now working outside the home and usually not as free to nap and be with her baby as before.  However, breastfeeding is relaxing in and of itself and mothers should look at the extra time nursing when together as a good excuse to relax and rest.  Bed sharing or co-sleeping throughout the nighttime will also help a mother maximize her sleep while still frequently nursing her baby.

Babies are incredibly resilient and reverse cycle breastfeeding is just one testament to this fact.  If your baby is reverse cycling, it can be helpful to look at it as a positive characteristic.  Your baby is able to go with the flow of the day’s schedule and then snuggle with his favorite person in the world when you are together in the evenings/night/early morning. He is able to adapt to taking in just the basic requirements while away from you, waiting patiently for the most nutritious and best-tasting food ever made while in his mama’s arms at night.



Co-Sleeping is a broad term that can encompass anything from bed-sharing, a side sleeper attached to your bed, nearby Moses basket, or separate crib/cot in the corner of your bedroom.  Many use the term interchangeably with bed sharing but, in actual fact, it is broader than just bed sharing.

Research shows that even when moms and babies do not purposely plan to bed share, 70-80% of breastfeeding dyads will bed share at some point during the first three months. 1 Therefore, care should be taken to ensure a safe sleeping environment even if a breastfeeding mom does not plan to fall asleep with her baby.

There are many factors that help to make bed sharing safer and, armed with information, some families will choose to co-sleep but not bed share.  This still allows for many advantages to breastfeeding and will help a new mom maximize the amount of sleep she can get.  Whether baby is in a side sleeper attached to your bed or crib on the other side of the room, many mothers will scoop their baby up when he awakes, nurse him lying down in bed, and then return him to his separate bed once nursing is done.  Though there is more up and down throughout the night than if baby stayed in bed with mother, it still doesn’t take too much arousal to quickly get baby and lay back down to nurse.  Sometimes baby’s father may agree to bring baby back and forth during the night allowing mom to remain in bed.  Regardless, co-sleeping means baby is nearby and you can hear her awake before she is upset and crying, as what happens many times when baby is in a separate room. The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s Clinical Protocol #6: Guideline on Co-Sleeping and Breastfeeding says, “Because breastfeeding is the best form of nutrient for infants, any recommendations for infant care that impede its initiation or duration need to be carefully weighed against the many known benefits to infants, their mothers, and society….There is currently not enough evidence to support routine recommendations against co-sleeping.” 2 Co-sleeping allows you to respond to your baby’s needs quickly and helps both mother and baby maximize their sleep.

You may also be interested in reading about why it’s important to nurse at night, breastfeeding and sleep, and my story of nighttime nursing.

Why Breastfeed at Night

Why breastfeed at night? Sleep is something our bodies need and yet something that most new moms seem to feel deprived of.  Worrying about not getting enough sleep once your baby comes and then worrying about how to sleep more after your baby arrives can dominate a mother’s thoughts.

And then there’s breastfeeding and sleep.  These can seem to be completely contradictory.  Though the majority of moms want to breastfeed, many also want the “freedom” to have others give bottles at night because they believe they will get more sleep.  Breastfeeding is important and has lifelong health implications for both you and your baby.  The sweet cuddles and precious moments shared while feeding your baby at your breast will forever forge a bond between you and this new life.  So hang in there…because it is possible to not only get sleep with a breastfeeding baby, but also get more sleep than your formula-feeding counterpart!

Why is it important to breastfeed at night?

Nursing at night is important for a variety of reasons, here’s 5:

  1. To regulate your milk supply.
    Every time your baby breastfeeds your body gets the message to continue to make milk.  It’s the law of supply and demand.  An empty breast makes more milk.  If your baby nurses when she’s hungry your body knows to continue to make milk.  However, if your baby takes a bottle, then your body doesn’t get the message to make milk (unless, of course, you pump in which case you will not be sleeping) and your supply can be negatively impacted. The first six weeks or so after birth are critical in establishing your milk supply.  When supplements are given, your milk supply could be affected to the point that you never develop a full supply to feed your baby. (Conversely, always feeding on demand – and waking a sleepy baby – will allow your body to regulate enough milk for your baby…increasing enough to exclusively nurse twins or triplets even!)
  2. Prolactin levels are higher at night.
    Prolactin is a hormone that helps build and maintain your milk supply.  In the early weeks of breastfeeding, prolactin receptors are being laid down in your breasts to help regulate the amount of milk your body needs to make to feed your baby.  The more prolactin you have, the more milk your body makes. Prolactin levels rise with suckling; the more a baby nurses the higher the prolactin levels. 1 Prolactin levels are higher at night and nursing at night helps to establish a strong milk supply for the duration of breastfeeding.
  3. Babies consume 20% of milk at night.
    Feeding your baby throughout the night is important.  Babies take in 20% of their daily milk volume during the night! 2  Not only is this important to building and maintaining a mother’s milk supply but it also is important for proper growth and development of a new baby. Nearly 2/3 of babies are waking up at night when they are 6 months old. 3 Nursing at night is a need for your baby.  So, the question is not about how to schedule a baby so she can sleep at night, but how to manage night nursing so both mother and baby can nurse and get sleep. There are many strategies for getting rest with a newborn.
  4. If your baby begins waking at night again after sleeping through, he may still need milk.
    Some mothers find that their babies begin to sleep for a long stretch or through the night entirely by the time their babies are a couple months old, only to then begin to wake again a few weeks/months later.  As babies grow they become more interested in the world around them and many begin to nurse less during the day because they are so interested in all that is going on.  Nighttime is their time to catch up on milk intake and so they begin to wake again because they need milk.  It is not a matter of scheduling your baby and helping him “learn to sleep” thinking that since he has proven he can do it he should continue.  Instead, your baby may be waking because he truly needs to nurse at night.
  5. Essential for using LAM as birth control.
    The Lactational Amenorrhea Method is a very effective form of birth control during the first six months following birth when your baby is exclusively breastfed and nurses on demand both day and night.

Why not nurse during the day and give a bottle at night?

  1. Exclusively breastfeeding mothers get MORE sleep.
    Nursing mothers are able to help their babies latch while lying down, then enjoy a burst of oxytocin to help them relax and fall back to sleep.  Conversely, mothers who are not nursing still wake and think about, sometimes even worry about, their babies. 4  Even if mother is never the one who is responsible for giving a bottle at night, research shows that mothers wake when their babies eat – it has to do with the harmony between mother and baby. In one study, exclusively breastfeeding mothers got on average 20 minutes more of sleep each night. 5  Kendall-Tackett’s research even suggests that mother’s who are not exclusively breastfeeding not only have more disrupted sleep but also higher rates of depression. 6 Bottle-feeding at night is not associated with better sleep; conversely, breastfeeding is not only associated with better sleep, but better quality sleep.
  2. Milk supply can decrease.
    Nighttime nursing helps to establish and maintain a mother’s milk supply.  Without night nursing, some mothers would not be able to produce enough breast milk to continue to exclusively breastfeed.  Once supplements are introduced, a mother’s supply can continue to decrease, even to the point where she no longer makes enough milk to feed her baby.
  3. Formula is difficult to digest.
    Not only does formula lack much of the nutrition that is in breast milk, it also takes twice as long to digest.  This may seem like a positive as babies tend to sleep more and go longer stretches between feeds when formula-fed.  In actuality, a baby’s body is having to work harder to digest a foreign substance, which is one of the reasons why she feeds less frequently when given formula.
  4. Overfeeding with bottles is common.
    It is easy to overfeed with a bottle as it is more of an effortless suck than the breast – tilt the bottle and milk comes out.   This can lead to obesity as well as a further decrease in a mother’s milk supply as baby is taking a disproportionate about of milk from bottles and then consumes less during the day.
  5. Someone still has to feed baby at night.
    The mechanics of giving a bottle are also more demanding than nursing.  A bottle must be mixed, adult and baby have to be in a more alert state to feed, and then bottles must be cleaned and sterilized afterwards.  Formula that is mixed and not eaten is wasted.  Compare this to arousing enough to help a baby latch while lying down and mother resting or falling back to sleep while baby is able to nurse.

How can I nurse at night and still get sleep?

  1. Practice safe co-sleeping.
    Around the world and all throughout history, mothers and babies have slept together.  It is only in our “modern” world that issues have risen about nursing mothers and babies resting side by side.  Up to ¾ of all nursing mothers in the West will sleep with their babies at some point during the night. 7 Proper precautions in bed sharing should be taken, but, when practiced safely and while breastfeeding, it can allow both mother and baby to get more sleep and nurse more frequently. 8
  2. Get help with diaper changes, etc.
    Only you, the mother, can nurse your baby.  However, your partner can be responsible for changing a baby’s diaper, tending to needs you may have (a glass of water maybe?), and/or picking baby up from his crib and bringing him to you in bed.  Having help with these things can allow you to rest comfortably in bed throughout the night without having to get up or rousing until you are fully awake.
  3. Keep baby in your room and nurse lying down.
    If you are not comfortable with bed sharing, co-sleep by keeping your baby close by – perhaps in a cot in your room – as this will make it easier to know when he wakes.  Having a safe bed area to nurse – firm surface, no other pets/children in bed, covers that aren’t too warm, etc. – can allow you to at least rest/dose while nursing before returning your baby to his space for sleep.
  4. Sleep when your baby does during the day. 
    Whenever possible, try to catch a few zzz’s during the day when your baby does.  This can be extra challenging if you have older children as well, but during those times when the house is calm and baby is sleeping, try to rest yourself rather than surfing the internet, chatting with friends, etc.
  5. Remember the big picture. 
    If you have tried some/all of these tips and still feel sleep deprived, remember that you have a new baby and he will grow up all too fast.  One day you’ll look back and wish you could just hold that tiny baby during the night.  The sleepless nights feel long but the years in parenting are way too short.

Bed Sharing with a Toddler

bed sharing with a toddler

What our bed sharing has become – mattresses on the floor and revolving door for any kid(s) who come to our bed.

Through the past 8 years – over the course of having 4 children and 6 international moves – we’ve had all sorts of sleeping arrangements. From our first child and the traditional – baby sleeps in the crib while tired exhausted, breastfeeding mom gets up for every feed…and then puts baby back in crib – to our fourth child where we never bothered getting a crib at all, we’ve tried it. I’ve written about our last baby and how much easier it was to just put him in bed with us from the very beginning here.

Bed sharing with our fourth child - his bed was ours.

Bed sharing with our fourth child – his bed was ours.

But how do you practice bed sharing with a toddler? We are told by most everyone that bed sharing with a newborn will lead to SIDS (though this is absolutely not true when the Safe Sleep 7 are practiced). At least sleeping with a newborn can mean a better night’s sleep for a new mom. But a toddler? Kicking, tossing, turning, restless sleep…by this point mom’s space in the family bed is usually just a smidgen, squashed in between everyone else.

Bed sharing with our twins - age 2.

Bed sharing with our twins – age 2.

When our family increased from one child to three, we decided to get a bigger mattress. Going from a queen to a king made a huge difference. By the point we took this plunge we had 2 toddlers and a preschooler. Most of the time they would start off the night in their own beds, but any assortment would end up in our bed throughout the night. Having a king size mattress – and one without box springs so it was low enough to the ground they could easily crawl in – really helped us to enjoy bed sharing. It also provided a great, big mattress once our fourth arrived so he could easily call our bed his own.

But once he started rolling around, things became more complicated…especially naptime. We set up a pack n’ play at the foot of our bed so if we weren’t in bed he could still have a safe place to sleep without rolling off. Little did I know he was going to love having his own space. He enjoyed napping in “his” bed. During the night he began tossing, turning, kicking, and pushing after nursing, “asking” for his own space. As soon as I’d get up and lay him on a separate mattress he’d smile, relax, and dose off into restful sleep. What?! Yes, I’m serious. By this point in our bed sharing journey, I was completely happy with having him (and any other assortment of children that wound up in bed with us at night) in our bed. But this little guy wanted his own space. So for a year we kept a pack ‘n play in our room and I’d get up and put him in bed with us when he wanted to nurse, and then return him to his bed at his request.

Though I was nursing lying down and falling back asleep as he fed, I didn’t like the fact he’d wake me up when he was done and push and point to his bed…it required me to get up twice for every feeding. I was tired. So, in an effort to help him sleep well, and to keep me from having to get up and down throughout the night to nurse a toddler, we came up with the idea of putting mattresses on the floor. We were in the midst of yet another move and would only have a full-size mattress for a season. We decided to put our mattress in one corner and his on the other – with a sea of pillow in between. Now, when our toddler wakes and wants to nurse, he actually comes and crawls into bed with me. If he falls asleep afterwards that’s great – it makes for one happy mama! (Sometimes he will roll onto the pillows I have mattress-high beside the bed and make a new “bed” there.) If not, I’ll dutifully take him back to his mattress where he goes right back to sleep. I love that he doesn’t even make noise when he wakes…he’s such a big boy he knows he can just crawl off of his mattress and into ours. I usually wake briefly to feel his sweet body snuggle up to me, but then fall back asleep.

Now our bed sharing has turned into co-sleeping.  I know these days are short and I’m treasuring them all, even when our now “big kids” – all school-age – want to come to our bed for cuddles. One day, all too soon, they will be grown up and out of our home. The musical mattresses game that we play now will become memories I will cherish forever.

Breastfeeding Positions

How should I breastfeed my baby?

There is no right or wrong way to nurse your little one.  Any position that is comfortable for you and your baby is just fine.  And while it is important to ensure your baby is positioned and latched well in the beginning, after a few months your growing baby and then active toddler just might choose some positions you never would have considered!  The following breastfeeding positions will give you ideas of ways many moms have comfortably and effectively nursed their babies.

Positioning Techniques

Many moms find it helpful to have plenty of pillows to prop up around them so they don’t have to support the weight of their baby while nursing.  Other moms find having pillows and feeling like they can only nurse in their “nursing station” to be cumbersome.  These moms prefer to not use pillows or other support.  Either way is perfectly fine!

What is most important is to make sure your baby is supported throughout his head/neck/shoulder region, his head and neck are in alignment, and he has equal muscle movement on both sides of his body.  This means you will want his body gently pressed against yours – his tummy on your body – and your hand securely holding his head between his shoulder blades.  Make sure your hand does not hold his head though as this is very uncomfortable and keeps a baby from latching well.  (Imagine if you had to keep your chin down on your chest while you chewed and swallowed your food!)  His head should be free so that he can bring it back if his nose becomes blocked.  Your baby should have firm contact against his mother (skin-to-skin is ideal!).

Latching Techniques

In addition to ensuring good positioning in the early days, it is equally important to ensure a proper latch.  A mother can support her breast with her hand if necessary.  Make sure to keep your fingers behind the areola and position fingers in a C-hold so that you can easily help your baby latch on and take enough breast into his mouth.  A baby’s nose should be level with the mother’s nipple.  Your baby should have his head tilted back and lead his mouth to the breast with his lower jaw.  His mouth should be opened wide, tongue down and extended over the bottom gum, with nipple pointing up toward roof of baby’s mouth.  His chin should be pressed against breast with bottom of jaw/lip taking in more areola than the top.  Your baby forms a teat with the nipple and breast tissue, which should be tucked well into baby’s mouth.  His mouth should be open very wide with both top and bottom lips relaxed on the breast and flanged outward.  There should not be any pain!  Make sure to allow your baby to nurse as long as he wants – don’t set a time limit.

Cradle Hold

Cradle Hold

Cradle Hold

This is one of the most popular nursing positions.  A baby lies on the forearm of the side she is going to nurse, and her body extends across the front of her mother.  Her head may be cradled in the bend of the elbow or down lower on the mother’s forearm depending on the size of the baby.  The baby’s chest is against her mother’s chest without space in between; baby’s chest should not be facing up toward the ceiling.  Her legs/feet may be tucked in around the mother’s waist to feel more secure.  It is important that baby is held at breast-level rather than the breast being lowered down to reach baby (which can alter the latch, put pressure on the breast, and keep milk from draining adequately in some areas leading to plugged ducts and mastitis).

Cross-Cradle Hold


Cross-Cradle Hold

Similar to the cradle hold, but the baby is supported in the arm opposite of the side she is nursing on.  If nursing on the left side, baby would be held by the right arm.  In this example, a mother could support her breast with her left hand and help ensure an optimal latch.  This position is often used with preterm infants.

Football/Clutch Hold

Football Hold

Football Hold

In this position, a baby lies at breast level on the arm of the side she is going to nurse.  Her head is by her mother’s hand and her body wraps around the side and back of her mother.  This hold is especially helpful for a mother who needs to be able to better see her baby’s latch – with large breasts or with a painful latch – as well as after a c-section so baby doesn’t put weight on the incision.  Many mothers of twins also nurse their babies in this position.

Laid-Back Nursing/Biological Nurturing/Reclining

Laid-Back Nursing

Laid-Back Breastfeeding

It has a variety of names but in this position, rather than sitting straight up, the mother is comfortably reclining.  She could simply slide down in a straight back chair, sit in a reclining chair, or lie on a bed propped up with a couple pillows.  A baby can then be positioned across the mother’s body allowing gravity to securely position baby’s body against hers as well as allowing gravity to help with the latch.  This position allows a baby’s natural breastfeeding instincts to kick in.  It is particularly helpful for a tired mom to get rest while nursing or when your baby struggles to open wide to latch such as in cases of tongue tie.

Nursing Lying Down (Side-lying)

Side-Lying Breastfeeding

Side-Lying Breastfeeding

Nursing lying down is an essential tool for breastfeeding and sleep.  Since babies need to nurse at night but mothers also need sleep it is a wonderful way to meet both needs.  In this position, mother and baby lie next to one another on a safe surface.  Baby is securely pressed against mother’s body, and a mother protects her baby with her legs curled around the bottom of her baby and arm over the top.  It can be challenging to first learn this position, but with practice most mothers find it very relaxing to know they can nurse while also getting rest.

Upright Nursing (Baby Sitting)

Upright Breastfeeding

Upright Breastfeeding

Some babies prefer to be in a seated, upright position when nursing.  This type of position is especially useful when a mother has a forceful milk ejection, baby has breathing or swallowing issues, cleft palate, etc.  This position helps reduce choking from a fast flow of milk.  It is still important to adequately support a baby in this position allowing her body to feel a secure touch across her body as well as ensuring her head is well supported by holding one hand in between the shoulder blades at the base of the neck.

Breastfeeding Twins at Night

Breastfeeding Twins at Night

Getting Sleep:  One advantage of lying down while nursing twins.

Getting Sleep: One advantage of lying down while nursing twins.

Getting rest with a new baby in the house can be challenging . . . and doubly so when you have two (or more) new babies.  Breastfeeding twins at night is not only important but it can help you get more sleep than formula-feeding.  Here are some tips and strategies to help.

First, begin with reading this information about getting sleep with a nursing baby.

Additional sleep strategies with twins:

  1. Sleep with babies in your room
    While nursing at night, make sure to have your babies close by.  While there are pros and cons to having twins sleep in the same bed as you, you definitely want them nearby.  For some moms this means bed sharing and for others it means having a side cart or crib(s) in their room.  Either way, babies are close by and can nurse on demand without mom having to walk to another room transferring babies in and out of bed as they wake at night.  .
  2. Don’t wake the other baby at night
    As long as weight gain is good, your milk supply is strong, and your babies are nursing effectively, don’t worry if only one wakes at a time to nurse – especially at night.  Though you can nurse twins lying down, it does tend to be easier to nurse just one baby lying down at a time.  If there are ever those times when  just one baby wakes, lie on your side with your baby next to you and he can nurse and you can go back to sleep.  If the other baby wakes later, you can switch two babies out – either sliding him over or returning him to his bed and bringing the other baby to lie beside you and nurse.  The important point is to nurse on demand for each baby – but don’t worry if they don’t need to nurse at the same time.
  3. Keep everything you need nearby
    On your nightstand, make sure to keep water, a snack, music, a book, phone, iPad, remote, a diaper – whatever you might need if you are awake during the night.  Anything that allows you to rest in bed and not have to get up is helpful.
  4. Have plenty of pillows handy
    Make sure you have plenty of pillows on your bed so that you don’t have to get them from the couch or other daytime “nursing station.”  Propping plenty of pillows around you while nursing twins allows you to relax more easily and rest no matter what position they nurse in.
  5. Keep the lights low and don’t change diapers unless necessary
    You want to encourage your babies to fall back to sleep easily after nighttime feeds so make sure you don’t have lots of lights or noise around them.  Only change diapers (nappies) if it is essential.

You will get into a rhythm quickly and find ways to get rest in the most unlikely of circumstances!  Just remember, no matter how tiring it is, taking care of 2 (or more) babies is going to be exhausting no matter how they are fed.  Breastfeeding just allows a wonderful way to nurture your babies as well as allowing you as much sleep as possible with two new little bundles of joy in your home.

10 Ways to Wake a Sleeping Baby

For the first few weeks following birth, newborns can be sleepy and hard to rouse to feed.  It’s tempting to let them sleep for extended periods of time, but sleeping too long can have a detrimental impact on a baby’s weight gain and a mother’s milk supply.

In general, newborns should nurse at least 8-12 times every 24 hours.  If weight gain and breastfeeding are going well, it is fine for a newborn to have one longer sleep stretch each day, but this shouldn’t be more than five hours.  Always watch for your baby’s early feeding cues and make sure to count wet and dirty diapers as they are a good indication of how much your baby is taking at the breast.

After the first few weeks when breastfeeding is off to a good start, baby’s weight gain is on track, and she is meeting developmental milestones, it is more appropriate to allow your baby to sleep and feed on her cues without waking her up.

Here are 10 tips to wake a sleeping baby:

  1. Change her diaper
  2. Take off her clothes and hold her skin-to-skin
  3. Wipe her face with a damp cloth
  4. Gently stroke her ears, back, legs, arms, or tummy
  5. Take off her socks and tickle her toes
  6. Talk to her, sing to her, tenderly call her name
  7. Rock her or take her outside for some fresh air
  8. Turn on soft lighting – you don’t want the room to be dark but you don’t want your baby to have to squint from the brightness either
  9. Gently roll her from one side to the other
  10. Express some milk and touch it to her mouth – wait to see if she eats it and wants more.  She may nurse if you have a drop of expressed milk on your nipple – if so, that is great!  Research shows that babies can nurse effectively while in a light sleep.1