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How Breastfeeding Affects a Mother's Sleep

How Breastfeeding Affects a Mother's Sleep

Sleep is the number one issue that mothers say they are suffering from, and that's not getting enough of it. Postpartum consultant and Doula Sasha Romary explains how breastfeeding can affect your sleep...

woman in bedBreastfeeding mothers are advised to feed on demand whereas formula-fed babies are often on a schedule much earlier. It is assumed that breastfeeding mothers get less sleep but research shows that they actually get statistically more sleep than formula-feeding moms! While new parents will lose about 350 hours of sleep in the first year of parenting regardless of feeding method, it is proven that breastfeeding moms do actually get more sleep than formula-feeding moms.

Breastfed newborns need to nurse every 2-3 hours, that is 8-12 times in 24 hours. This means that, due to the short duration of their sleep, new breastfeeding moms tend to lack REM sleep. REM sleep starts about 90 minutes into a sleep cycle and a lack of this type of sleep can affect how moms think and cope in their daily lives.

Sleep experts agree that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Newborns, however, sleep about 16-20 hours in a 24-hour cycle but this sleep is disrupted with waking every 20 minutes to 2-3 hours, which makes it virtually impossible for a new mother to get those 7-9 hours of uninterrupted nighttime sleep. Nursing mothers often bear the brunt of the sleep loss as only she is able to feed baby, whereas bottle feeding parents can alternate nighttime feeds allowing each parent to get a longer stretch of sleep.

So how is it that nursing mothers tend to statistically get more sleep? Breastmilk contains a hormone called Prolactin which helps to induce sleep. Breastfeeding moms release this hormone into their own blood stream while breastfeeding which allows them to fall asleep faster and easier after a nighttime feed but also for naps during the day.

Prolactin also helps to soothe and calm our nerves which allows for a more peaceful postpartum period. The more relaxed we are the easier it is for us to fall asleep and stay asleep. Sleep deprivation can affect how we are able to cope with the stress of new motherhood but breastfeeding mothers tend to be able to cope with this stress easier when they are required to sit and bond, skin-to-skin with their babies 8-12 times a day while nursing.

Tips to get more sleep:

  1. Napping is a great way to build back up some of the sleep deficit from your lack of nighttime sleep. Ever had anyone tell you the age-old saying “sleep while the baby sleeps?” While this is usually easier said than done, it is definitely worth having someone help around the house to cook, clean, help with laundry or older children so that you can really focus on you and your baby and be able to relax and catch up on sleep.
  2. Have baby sleep in a cot next to your bed. This will save you nighttime trips back and forth to baby’s nursery and give you the opportunity for more sleep.
  3. Master the art of the side-lying nursing position. This is a great way for both you and baby to get some rest during the day while nursing.
  4. Limit the number of visitors you have in the early weeks postpartum. This time is for you and baby to get to know each other, heal and rest. It is a time that should be focused on your well-being and not on entertaining.
  5. Resist the urge to look at the clock while trying to rest. Experts say that it is harder to rest if you are aware of how much time you have left or how long you have been awake.

The early days of motherhood will be filled with sleep deprivation regardless of whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Build up a support system of family and friends and hired help that you can call on when the time comes. Remember that this is a short time in your life and asking for help when you need it is crucial.

sasha romary doulaSasha Romary launched The Modern Mama in 2016 to provide maternity and postpartum support to women worldwide.  As a trained postpartum doula, Sasha uses evidence-based information and a practical approach to supporting new parents in preparing for the arrival of a new baby and in the early days of parenthood.

Follow her adventures at @_themodernmama

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