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Sleep and breastfeeding - Need advice and encouragement?

Sommeil et allaitement - Besoin de conseils et d'encouragement ? - You&Milk

Written by Elodie GUILLON BERETE, Sleep consultant for young children - Updated on Jul 25, 2024

Summary :

    Article written by Elodie Guillon Bérété - Sleep consultant for young children.


    Sleep and Breastfeeding: Silent Night
    That the nursing mother who has never heard “ it's because you breastfeed him that he wakes up at night. ", raise your hand.
    This phrase illustrates so well the power of misconceptions around breastfeeding . We are going to try to put this sentence in parentheses for a few minutes to observe what is the link between sleep and breastfeeding.
    But why does my baby fall asleep at the breast?
    Breastfeeding, this cocktail of hormones that promotes sleep.
    Oxytocin, endorphin, prolactin and even melatonin. Does all this ring a bell or is it too abstract?
    Let's take the time to simplify these hormones that are released during breastfeeding:
    • Oxytocin : the hormone of love - creates a climate of relaxation, appeasement conducive to rest and drowsiness
    • Endorphin : hormone of well-being, happiness through sucking
    • Prolactin : it boosts relaxation, rest, sleep and especially recovery sleep
    • Melatonin : simply called the sleep hormone (more in the early evening).

    Already hormonally speaking, we understand better why our baby (and/or mom ;-)) tend to have a little bedtime urge at that time.
    Breastfeeding also means responding to the vital need and archaic reflex that is sucking.


    All children have a greater or lesser need for sucking . Sucking isn't just for feeding, it has many other virtues . It allows our baby to calm down, to relax – it promotes falling asleep and helps regulate the cycles of wakefulness and sleep. It also has an analgesic role , when there is pain. So, what could be more natural for our breastfed baby than to move towards the breast to satisfy his need for sucking? When it works for us, then listen to us.

    Indeed, meeting our baby's needs is simply “ meeting his needs ”, it is not giving him bad habits. On the other hand, if it is a constraint for us to meet this need, then there are other solutions to satisfy this need and that is ok too! Let's listen.

    Finally, during breastfeeding, we bring together many elements that contribute to the relaxation, to the relaxation of our baby. All this allows you to fall asleep in the best conditions.


    Our little darling finds himself warm against us, in our mother's arms with our smell, our warmth, our voice, our breathing etc... all these feelings so familiar and reassuring.
    All these factors together, what better way to relax and fall asleep? Would you resist a sweet moment of rest in these conditions?
    We therefore understand better why our mini us falls asleep so naturally at the breast.
    You may still be wondering if it is good to put baby to sleep on the breast or not?


    This answer belongs only to you and not to me or anyone else.
    You take pleasure in being part of your child's sleep ritual, ENJOY this is not what will hinder your child's sleep.

    If your child wakes up every sleep cycle or two sleep cycles looking for the breast, the first step will be to try to identify the need that my child is trying to satisfy through breastfeeding during this awakening (hunger , need for sucking, physical pain, comfort, need for closeness etc
) and in no way to think directly that the fact of falling asleep at the breast is the cause of his awakenings . If you have to remember one thing from this article, I believe it is this.
    Mom if for reasons that belong to you you don't want breastfeeding to be included in your child's sleep ritual, listen to yourself. You can breastfeed your baby without him falling asleep on the breast (very small is more delicate), the important thing is to find a solution that works for both of you .
    Be proud to listen to your limits and you don't have to justify yourself to anyone.
    In short, the important thing is to listen to your baby's needs as much as yours and reconcile the 2 so that everyone has a good time , because isn't that the goal? a mom-baby duo where everyone finds their place â˜ș
    Now I guess some are wondering, ok but what about nocturnal awakenings?


    Vast subject of nocturnal awakenings , we cannot address everything here (If you are interested in a special article on this subject, you can always ask Aurélie to prepare a special one on the blog ;-) . In the meantime, it seems important to me to emphasize that a baby's ability to chain several sleep cycles (and therefore to have fewer and fewer nocturnal awakenings) is a neurological capacity and in no way linked to the storage capacity of the body. our baby's stomach.

    Of course, a baby who feels hungry during a micro-awakening between 2 sleep cycles would wake up (breast, bottle), but as he would take advantage of this to wake up if he is cold, discomfort, stress, stimulation etc... It is because when baby wakes up, his brain goes through a micro-awakening, this opportunity for total awakening, that the baby will take advantage of it to meet his/her need(s) no sated that he feels and not the opposite.
    If the awakenings are more regular and recurrent than a sleep cycle, then there may be pain there and it is even more important to dig into the origin of what is hindering your baby's sleep. .
    It is important to underline this because all too often, we generalize the child's stomach which is awakened by hunger. While often we think that a baby who wakes up at night is necessarily hungry.
    First of all, there are our little babies who have just arrived among us, the very little babies still live in another dimension, with breastfeeding that is slowly being put in place.
    And yes, in general, they will send signals that they are ready to nurse (whether they are asleep or awake for that matter).
    However, there is no need to wake a baby to offer him the breast if he does not send us signals that he is ready to suckle.
    Gradually, he will space his feedings more and more , day and night, with some children very quickly having none or one feeding per night, while others will still have 2 or 3. If your child continues to have very many feedings , beyond 4/6 months (more than 2/3 nocturnal awakenings), there are probably needs other than nutritional ones that your child wishes to meet . The breast meets so many needs other than food, it is quite natural that our child goes to our breast to fill them (hug, reassurance, familiar sensations, pain relief, suction, our presence, etc.).
    If the situation suits you like this, then only listen to you, you are not giving your child a bad habit by meeting his needs and what could be more natural than doing it through breastfeeding?
    My only point of vigilance : if the awakenings are every hour or more, make sure that there is no hidden pain that baby is trying to relieve during these awakenings.
    Otherwise, who are we to tell you whether or not you are involved in meeting your child's needs. As I often read, the only people who have something to say about our handling of nocturnal awakenings are those who are with us at 3 a.m. during the awakening ;-)
    Does this situation not suit you? We can take the time to assess the situation to identify what is hindering this sleep. We will thus be able to provide a different response, but adapted to your baby's needs to remove this obstacle to sleep and reduce the number of nocturnal awakenings.
    Night weaning

    Some mothers sometimes wish to continue breastfeeding, but initiate night weaning. In this case, be very careful . Indeed, night weaning can directly impact your lactation. It is important to be aware of this .
    If you value your breastfeeding, then it seems important to me to suggest that you assess the situation with an IBCLC lactation consultant, who can advise you regarding your breastfeeding and this wish.
    It also seems important to me to be able to take stock with the doctor/paediatrician following your child to ensure that nocturnal weaning is something that can be envisaged for your child.
    Finally, before proposing this nocturnal weaning, it seems important to me to make sure that your child has no other brakes which are at the origin of his nocturnal awakenings. If so, he would continue to wake up despite the nighttime weaning attempt because his real needs will not have been met.
    The final word
    Mom, I hope this article has brought you some answers .
    But above all, I hope he has reassured you that you know your baby. Only you know what's best for you two.


    So listen to yourself , don't hesitate to ask for help if your child's sleeping situation becomes too complicated or if you feel lost , because breastfeeding and sleep should rhyme with moments of sweetness and letting go and not dozens awakenings that rhyme with lack of sleep – If necessary, you can also be accompanied by a sleep consultant (with breastfeeding training as a bonus it's better) – she can accompany you, assess the situation to provide an answer adapted .
    And to the next person who says to you “ if he wakes up at night it's because you are breastfeeding him” answer him “Is it your brain that sleeps or your stomach? » or you can offer him to contact me, I will be happy to offer him the reading of some books on the subject ;-)
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