In the baby sleep world, it often seems as though sleep training and breastfeeding can’t coexist. And because of this narrative, many breastfeeding mothers will opt to not sleep train, thinking that it’s not a possibility for them.
Or, she’ll give up breastfeeding, thinking that in order for her child to get more sleep each night, she needs to give formula.
While every family can make the decision that feels best to them, if a family does want to sleep train and breastfeed, I want you to know it is possible.
And it’s also possible to maintain a milk supply while sleep training.
To help you navigate the best of both worlds, I sat down with Kimberleigh Weiss-Lewit, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, to bring you all the answers.
Considerations Before Sleep Training
Before you begin sleep training, you want to consider your milk supply and your breastfeeding goals.
While every nursing parent is different, milk supply is typically considered established between 6-12 weeks. For some people, this means they have to build up their supply (often through lots of nursing and/or pumping) to meet their baby’s needs.
Others have discovered that they aren’t able to make a full supply and are supplementing accordingly. And many will actually notice they have less abundant milk because their body started their lactation journey with an oversupply.
It’s important to evaluate your milk supply and your breastfeeding goals because, while sleep training and night weaning are two separate events, for babies who wake up multiple times and start sleeping training, we see some of the night feedings organically disappear. Because of this, it’s a good idea to wait to sleep train until after your milk is established.
And if you’re worried about your supply during the sleep training process, you may decide to try to increase your supply. A lot of moms find that pumping after their morning nursing session will yield “extra” milk to help lift her overall supply.
When you feel confident with where your supply is at, and you have identified what your breastfeeding goals are, then you can make the best decision on when to begin sleep training.
Tips for Maintaining Your Supply
During Sleep Training
During the sleep training process, babies learn new ways to fall asleep independently – often without nursing, rocking, or bouncing. And once they’re able to fall asleep on their own, they are able to do so any time they wake up overnight, if they aren’t hungry or uncomfortable.
If your baby relies on nursing to sleep, or if they wake multiple times overnight and nurse, then you may wonder how it’s possible to maintain your supply if your child won’t be nursing as much overnight.
Most nursing parents can plan to nurse and/or pump about every 4 hours during the overnight hours. If you’re using a sleep training method, especially in the first 6 months, it’s important to express milk overnight to maintain a full supply.
Maybe you decide to pump overnight and let your baby sleep. Or maybe you decide to keep a night feeding so that you are still able to express milk overnight.
If you’d like to minimize pumping, a dream feed right before you go to bed may help both you and baby sleep longer and more comfortably. Dream feeds are great for babies that are between 6/8 weeks old to 5/6 months old, as around the 5/6 month mark, many babies should be able to sleep 6+ hours without needing to feed, especially if solids are also introduced.
Additionally, since your baby will be taking in less calories overnight, you can focus on full feedings during the day to make up for those lost calories.
Tips for Increasing Your Supply During Sleep Training
During the sleep training process – or any time really – you may notice that your milk supply takes a dip.
Milk supply is complicated! There are many factors that impact it, like:
Early breastfeeding management
Stress and sleep deprivation
If you begin sleep training and feel as though your supply has taken a dip, reach out to a lactation consultant! Their jobs are to troubleshoot and offer individualized support to help every family meet their goals.
While you set up your lactation support, you can increase the frequency of nursing and/or pumping. Most importantly, limit long stretches of time without milk removal, as this will tell your body to down-regulate supply.
Sleeping close to your baby, especially in the early months, can greatly improve the quality and quantity of a nursing parent’s sleep, which impacts their supply. Additionally, you’ll want to consider ways to manage your stress to prevent your supply from taking a dip, like:
Breath work: The power of breathing is something that’s underrated, yet it’s a crucial element when you’re navigating through parenthood
Meditation: Focusing on being present and mindful in the moment while letting go of the stressors in your life is a great tool to have
Music: Listening to music that excites you can transform your entire mood
Exercise: Movement is medicine for your mind and body
Spending time with your baby in skin-to-skin can give your supply a hormonal boost. And if you’re able, spend a couple of days in bed with your baby cuddling, resting, and feeding to help rebuild your supply. Remember to prioritize safe sleep, and if you’re worried about falling asleep while you’re spending time with your baby in bed, consider a bedside bassinet for your little one.
It’s also important to note that if your baby is being nursed multiple times, this can lead to an oversupply. It’s all about finding a balance and feeding your baby when they are truly hungry – not just to soothe them. Plus, there are many ways you can soothe your baby if they’re upset, and it’s a great way to tune in to what they respond best to!
If you’re not sure whether your supply has been impacted, tuning in to your child is a great way to find out.
You know your baby best, and if you see that your breastfed baby is fussier, less active, not meeting milestones, peeing less frequently or not pooping plentifully, and/or you’re worried about their growth, you should consult with your doctor.
In most cases, you may consider feeding more frequently, including overnight, and waiting to sleep train when your child has gotten back on track with their growth curve.
Tips for Weaning Feeds
When it comes time to where you’re ready to wean overnight feeds – whether for your mental health or because you feel confident your baby is ready to do with fewer feeds – it is imperative that you ensure your baby is getting enough food during their waking hours.
Since it is normal for babies to continue to feed overnight throughout infancy (and especially during growth spurts, big developmental leaps, and teething or illness) many families find that “sleeping through the night” will happen for periods of time and then may need to adjust to some overnight feedings as needed.
When you’re ready to end the feedings, there is no right or wrong way of doing it – it’s all dependent on what you feel most comfortable doing. Some families gradually decrease ounces or nursing session every few days and shift those ounces throughout the day. Other families decide to wean cold turkey if the ounces or nursing sessions are already minimal.
Past infancy, toddler night weaning usually works best when families incorporate other soothing techniques with night feeding so they can slowly wean from the feeding while keeping the other techniques. Many times, if a toddler is comforted by the non-nursing parent overnight, they will start to wake less frequently on their own.
Wherever you are on your breastfeeding journey, it’s important to know that you ultimately hold the power in making decisions. Maybe you decide that you will wait to sleep train until your supply is more regulated or until your baby is back on track with their growth curve.
Or maybe you decide to proceed with sleep training and add in some overnight pumping sessions to maintain your supply.
Whatever it is you decide, you’re an amazing mama and you’re doing a great job.