Even though you know it’s going to happen, the reality of being on-call 24 hours a day for your hungry infant can be a bit of a shock. No clocking out at 5:00 p.m., no settling in for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, not when your baby needs your breasts.
But there are some things that can make it just a little easier:
1. Nighttime feedings are key
Know that these nighttime feedings are important. Your body produces more prolactin (the hormone that promotes milk production) when you breastfeed at night, so night feedings help to keep up milk production. As well, mothers vary in the amount of milk they can store in their breasts, so for many women night feedings are essential to meeting their babies’ needs.
2. Find a comfortable position
Learn to breastfeed lying down as soon as you can! If you can’t sleep, at least you can get some rest if you’re horizontal. Here’s how:
Lie on your side, with a pillow or two to support your head. A pillow between your knees may help you feel comfortable. Position the baby, lying on his side, so his nose is level with your nipple. (If your breasts are on the smaller side, you may need a firm pillow under the baby to bring him up level with your nipple.) With one hand, bring the baby in close to you so that his chin is touching your breast and his head is tipped back a bit. You can stroke his upper lip with your nipple if he doesn’t latch on right away.
To change sides, you can either hold the baby firmly against your chest, and roll over, or, depending on the size of your breasts, you can leave the baby where he is and reposition yourself so that you are rolled slightly towards the baby and he can now nurse on the “top” breast.
You can also try the “laid-back” breastfeeding position where you are in a semi-reclining position in your bed, supported by pillows, with the baby tummy down against your chest and abdomen. He’ll find the nipple and self-attach, or you can help him get latched on.
3. Stay close
Keep your baby close to you at night. Not only are night-feedings easier if you don’t have to trudge down the hall to get your crying baby, but research shows it reduces the risk of SIDS to have your baby share your room.
For maximum ease of breastfeeding, you may want to consider bedsharing. If you are breastfeeding, non-smoking (and didn’t smoke during your pregnancy, either), not using any medications or drugs that make you less aware, and have a firm mattress with light bedcoverings, this might be an option for you. Breastfeeding mothers who bedshare get the most sleep and are the most likely to continue breastfeeding.
4. Hide the clock
Try turning your bedside clock so that you can’t see what time it is. It somehow makes it worse to know that you’ve only slept two hours since the last time the baby woke you up.
5. Keep the lights off
When your baby wakes to nurse, keep the room as dark and quiet as possible, to encourage him to go right back to sleep. If you need to see what you’re doing to get a good latch, a nightlight or flashlight might be better options than turning on the bedside or room light.
6. Easy access clothing
PJs or a nightgown that opens down the front (rather than one you have to pull up or down) will give your baby easier access, while keeping you warm during cool nights. Some women like to wear a nursing bra at night, but be careful: This can increase your risk of plugged ducts and mastitis.
7. Get organized
Keep diapers, a bottle of water, even a snack or two near your bed so that you don’t have to go anywhere to get what you need.
8. Easy cleanup
Do your breasts leak milk? Does your baby spit up? A towel underneath you and your baby can help you stay dry and comfortable — fold up a few more towels near the bed so you can easily switch to a dry one as needed.
9. A helping hand
If your baby seems to wake very frequently at night, use breast compression to increase the amount of high-fat milk he gets at each feeding. While the baby is sucking, squeeze your breast between your thumb and fingers — like hand-expressing but right into his mouth.
10. Nap when possible
Get as much rest as you can during the day. This can be a whole lot harder to do if you have more than one child, but if you can nap when the baby naps it will make a huge difference (maybe your toddler can watch a video while you doze nearby). Or perhaps your partner can take the baby for a while on weekend mornings while you get a bit more sleep.
As your baby grows, his nighttime needs will change and those 2 a.m. feedings will be less crucial. One day you’ll wake up — breasts overflowing! — and realize he hasn’t nursed all night. Until then, keep working on strategies that will help you get enough rest.
This article was originally published in November 2012.