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Let Sleeping Babies Lie?

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Sleeeeeeeep, it's probably the number one thing on your mind right now!

sleeping baby after breastfeeding

I've been there, I've stared at the clock, wishing it to go forwards, then wishing it to go backwards ... whichever way is the closest, in my frazzled mind, to more sleeeeep.

So it doesn't surprise me that I get asked so often whether it is ok to let a baby sleep longer stretches, or whether parents should wake their baby to feed more often. This also doesn't surprise me because I go on and on about newborn babies needing 10-12 feeds a day (simple maths and you know you are going to be waking up every 2 hours minimum).

breastfeeding baby

Here's the thing newborn babies DO NEED 10-12 feeds a day... general literature and people that are trying to be gentle with new parents may say 8-12 feeds a day, BUT in the early days 10-12 feeds is always going to be better. Little and often allows their system to adapt to the outside world - little and often means less going in each time which gives their digestive system time to cope, just doing a poo is a big thing for a little baby, so go easy on their little tummies; and the big big reason for feeding little and often is "boob management".

! Spoiler alert !

At the bottom of this article I am going to tell you that once your baby has reached their birth weight, there is evidence of steady weight gain, they are not dropping percentiles, do not have any signs of jaundice and you do not have any reason to suspect breastfeeding problems; it is probably ok to not wake your baby at night for feeds (Note that I say at night, I would still wake during the day). Of course, if they wake you should always continue to feed on demand, but you can stop setting your alarm clock for middle of the night feeds if all of the above is established and you do not have direction from your Dr to do otherwise. Read on if you'd like to know why...

Boob Management

factory workers pretending to be mammary glands for breastmilk production

Think of your boobs as a factory, your mammary glands as employees, and you as the boss. As a boss you always want to give clear instructions to your employees, you want production to be smooth, you want to plan ahead for the busy times and you want to avoid overtime, but also avoid bottlenecks. Ramping up a production line allows your employees (mammary glands) to slowly establish their working hours, get accustomed to all the other employees they may need to work with (for example, hormones) and create a smooth working pattern. Overworking or underworking your employees will always lead to complications and in the case of your boob factory, underworking will lead to low milk supply and overworking will lead to painful engorged boobs (where your milk warehouse will be bursting at the seams).

Still with me? When you steadily ramp up your feeding routine starting with lots of little feeds you allow your whole factory to get into synthesis.

I'm going to get a little bit technical now to illustrate the importance of this. There are three stages of breastmilk production. LI, LII and LIII.

  • LI is automatic and starts during your pregnancy - this is hormonally controlled and builds your initial supply of colostrum - it normally last up to the end of day 1 or 2 after birth

  • LII is also automatic and hormonally controlled - after the placenta leaves your body your progesterone levels increase and this causes increased release of prolactin. Prolactin cues milk production and therefore from day 2 new mothers will start to make more milk, also called 'milk coming in' (do not worry is this doesn't happen on day 2, many many mums find this occurs a few days later, do not panic).

  • LIII is when you start to be in control and milk synthesis is controlled at the breast - milk removal being the primary control mechanism for supply. The funky thing is that milk contains a protein that "talks" to our boobs (it's called Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation, or FIL for short).

This FIL tells your employees when the warehouse is full, so slow down, or even stop, production. Have you caught up yet... it is never a good idea in the early days to tell your boob factory to stop production (unless you want to wean of course). So to avoid this you don't want your warehouse to be overly full - you want a steady production line!

postpartum doula breastfeeding her baby

Feeding little and often tells your boobs to produce milk little and often. In a new mum milk is being produced at all times, but the speed of production depends upon how empty your boob is. Milk collects in your boobs between feedings, so the amount of milk stored in your boob between feedings is greater when more time has passed since the last feed (or pump). The more milk in your boob, the slower the milk production. Therefore we know that to speed up milk production and increase daily supply (for future growth spurts etc), the key is to remove milk from the boob quickly and frequently, so that less milk accumulates in your boobs between feeds.

You might be thinking "but you said in your spoiler alert that I didn't have to set the alarm anymore?!". I did, and I stand by that, because baby and mum are in synthesis together and if a baby is truly growing well, not dropping percentiles, has cleared any jaundice and does not have any underlying health issues AND you have a good breastfeeding relationship then you can trust that the extra hour or two's sleep is just as important to their growth and development as your breastmilk is. BUT remember that I said "night", and that I would still wake during the day. If, during your fourth trimester, you baby is sleeping long stretches during the day then this is not going to be beneficial for your milk supply or long term sleep development. Feeding little and often during the day not only maintains your factory supply, it also sets firm foundations for their circadian rhythm and future sleep patterns. Teaching your baby, and helping them set their bodily functions, to recognise day and night, when to rest and when to be active, is a gift that keeps giving.

tired new mums


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