Breastfed babies and sleep training go well together, contrary to speculation. But there are some things to consider before teaching your little one how to self-soothe.
There are many benefits of breastfeeding. There are also many benefits of sleep training your baby.
But can they work together?
As a sleep consultant, I’m often confronted with the challenge of parents trying to decide if a breastfed baby should be sleep trained or not. There is a lot of conflicting information out there. I want to address some of the claims so that you can decide what is right for your family.
Let’s discuss breastfed babies and sleep training and how they can work together to create a healthy, happy baby.
When should I sleep train my breastfed baby?
You can start training your little one as soon as you feel comfortable. Most parents prefer waiting until their baby is eating solid foods before they start teaching them how to self-soothe at night. I sleep-trained both of my kids when they were three months of age as I couldn’t deal with the sleep deprivation any longer.
If you’re feeling sleep-deprived and struggle to perform day-to-day tasks due to this, then don’t hesitate to start sleep training your breastfed baby as soon as possible.
But if you feel more comfortable waiting until your baby is slightly older, then this is okay, too.
The main point is that there’s no difference between sleep training a breastfed and a formula-fed baby.
Will sleep training affect my milk supply?
Going from breastfeeding your baby several times per night to not feeding him at all at night can affect your milk supply. However, when it comes to sleep training your breastfed baby, you won’t be going cold turkey. You’ll be avoiding the feeding-to-sleep association.
Let’s say that you’re a proud parent of a 3-month old baby. When they reach this age, babies can sleep through the night (6 to 8 hours) without waking. This means that you can go 6 hours without breastfeeding your little one and experience no negative effect on your milk supply.
Slightly older babies (6-9 months) can sleep for ten hours at night without waking. Most breastfeeding mothers can go without breastfeeding their baby for 10 hours at night without experiencing any ill effect on their milk supply.
If you want to be safe, you can always measure the amount of milk you’re producing. You’ll need a high-quality pump, preferably a hospital-grade dual breast pump. Pump your breasts when they feel full to calculate how much milk your breasts can store at one time.
For example, if you can store six or more ounces, you can go 6-8 hours without breastfeeding your baby with no adverse effect on your supply. However, let’s say that you can store only 3 ounces of milk at a time. This means that you need to continue offering night feedings to your baby to help him grow and develop properly.
If you need more detailed info on measuring the amount of milk you’re producing, here’s an article that contains useful information.
Is it harder to sleep train a breastfed baby?
The reason why many parents believe sleep training a breastfed baby is more challenging than sleep training a formula-fed baby is because breastfed babies are often fed to sleep. Being fed to sleep can lead to a feeding-to-sleep association. This means that your baby will get used to falling asleep in your arms while being breastfed. When he wakes up between sleep cycles and notices he’s no longer in your arms, he’s going to get upset.
How would you feel if you’re usually falling asleep in your bed and wake up in the middle of the night to find yourself sleeping in the backyard? You’ll be scared out of your mind!
Regardless if it’s a breastfed or formula-fed baby, sleep training involves teaching your baby to fall asleep without a sleep prop (rocking or nursing to sleep) so that they can connect sleep cycles on their own.
How do you sleep train a breastfed baby?
Sleep training a breastfed baby means separating the two events.
It means avoiding a feeding-to-sleep association by not feeding your little one to sleep.
Let’s say your baby wakes up in the middle of the night. When this happens, you’ll be urged to feed him to sleep. However, this will only intensify the feed-to-sleep association – so make sure he doesn’t fall asleep in your arms.
Instead, you should try feeding him and placing him back into his crib drowsy if he’s younger and fully awake if he’s older.
I’d also recommend waiting at least five minutes before running to your baby to offer him a feed. Sometimes babies can wake up between cycles but go back to sleep on their own without a feed. Don’t rush in and think that your baby has to be fed just because he woke up from his sleep. He’s just in between sleep cycles. The goal is to teach him how to fall back to sleep independently.
To sum up:
- Breastfed babies and sleep training go well together, contrary to speculation.
- You can start training your breastfed baby as soon as you feel comfortable.
- Parents believe that sleep training a breastfed baby is more challenging than sleep training a formula-fed baby because breastfed babies are often fed to sleep.
- Sleep training involves teaching your baby to fall asleep without a sleep prop (rocking or nursing to sleep) so that they can connect sleep cycles on their own.
- Sleeping and feeding should be two separate events.
- Parents should avoid feeding their child back to sleep. Doing so will only enforce the feeding-to-sleep association they’re trying to break.
Sleep training a breastfed baby can get challenging for some parents, and you may need help from an expert to get it done right. An experienced sleep trainer can make the process easier for both the parent and the child. Connect with us today and get a personalized plan for your baby. I’ll be there to guide you every step of the way.