Breastfeeding and sleep

By Jolandi Becker

Breastfeeding and sleep are often thought to be part of two different worlds. As a Sleep Consultant, I know the advantages and struggles of breastfeeding and will always try to protect the breastfeeding relationship without overlooking the importance of sleep on overall health and well being. Let’s bust some myths about breastfeeding and getting a good night’s sleep.

MYTH: If you breastfeed your baby won’t be able to sleep through the night.

Both breastfed and formula-fed babies struggle with sleep. And miraculously both also sometimes spontaneously sleep through the night early on.

MYTH: You can’t sleep train a child if you are breastfeeding.

Our perceptions of sleep training tend to hinder our ideas about breastfeeding. What is your perception of sleep training? Do you think it means putting your child in a cot and letting them cry all night? Sleep must be approached holistically considering factors like sleep associations, day sleep, bedtime routine, nutrition, environment and so on. All these factors must be in place to ensure that your little one sleeps as best as they can.

A very important benefit of breastfeeding is the bonding between mother and child. Breastfeeding mothers are less likely to develop postpartum depression. They have increased amounts of oxytocin in their bodies, which encourages care-giving and relaxation. But as every mother knows, this benefit can fade away when your baby is 11 months old and wakes up every hour at night. Breastfeeding then becomes hard work as the lack of sleep can likely cause serious health problems for mom and baby.

MYTH: You have such a big baby meaning they will be more hungry and feed more frequently

As your baby grows bigger so does his/her stomach, which means they can ingest larger quantities which helps them to stretch between feeds and at night. This is also the reason why small newborn babies will still wake up at night to feed.


MYTH: Your baby is small. You should start formula or solids and then they will sleep through.

The less time your baby spends at the breast, the less time your breast will be stimulated and this could lead to a decreased supply of milk. So, if you want to incorporate formula feeding, it is best to speak to a lactation consultant. Remember, both formula and breast-fed babies can have sleep issues. Starting with solids too soon can also have risks which include eczema, allergies and kidney malfunction. All health problems which can cause your baby to wake up at night. Sleeping through the night is not the same for every baby. It depends on your baby and when they are ready. Breastfeeding is hard. Not having enough sleep is equally hard. Let’s not make parenting any harder but rather make sure that the relationship between restful sleep and breastfeeding works in harmony as they were meant to.

Images provided by Jolandi Becker

Originally published in the 114th issue of Ndeipi Magazine

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