How breastfeeding affects a mother’s sleep & tips to get more
The number one issue that mothers say to be suffering from is a lack of sleep. Postpartum consultant and doula Sasha Romary explains the ways in which breastfeeding can affect your sleep.
Breastfed newborns need to nurse every 2-3 hours, that’s 8-12 times a day. This means that, due to the short duration of their sleep, new mums tend to lack REM sleep. This is a deep sleep that starts around 90 minutes into the sleep cycle, and a lack of this can affect how mums think and cope in their daily lives.
Sleep experts agree that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to function properly. Newborns, however, sleep about 16-20 hours in a 24-hour cycle, but this sleep is disrupted with waking every 20 minutes to few hours - making it virtually impossible for a new mother to get those 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
On top of this, nursing mothers often bear the brunt of the sleep loss as only she is able to feed the baby, whereas bottle-feeding parents can alternate nighttime feeds. The good news is that, although it may not feel like it, mothers who breastfeed actually get statistically more sleep than formula-feeding mums.
So how is it that nursing mothers tend to get more sleep?
Breastmilk contains a hormone called Prolactin which helps to induce sleep. Breastfeeding mums release this hormone into their own bloodstream whilst feeding their little ones, which allows them to fall asleep faster & easier after a feed (both nighttime and 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 well we are able to cope with the stresses of new motherhood, but breastfeeding mums tend to cope better as they are required to sit and bond, skin-to-skin with their newborns 8-12 times a day.
Even with this in mind, it’s a fact that all new parents will lose about 350 hours of sleep in the first year of parenting, regardless of feeding method, so here are a few easy tips to get more hours of rest in those first few months.
A nap is a great way to build back up some of the sleep deficit from the night before. We’re sure you’ve heard the saying “sleep while the baby sleeps” - whilst this can be easier said than done, it’s definitely worth giving it a go. If possible it’s worth having someone around the house who can help to cook, clean, do the laundry etc so that you can really focus on you and your baby and be able to catch up on some sleep.
2. Having a cot next to your bed
Have your baby sleep in a cot next to you. This will save the trips back and forth to the nursery and give you the opportunity for more sleep.
3. Nurse on your side
Master the art of the side-lying positions. This a great (and safe) way for both you and your baby to get some rest during the day whilst nursing.
4. Limit visitors
During the first few weeks, there are going to so many people wanting to wish you well and meet the new arrival. However, you should limit the number of visitors you have in the early weeks of postpartum. This is the time for you and your baby to get to know one another, heal and rest.
5. Don’t clock-watch
Resist the urge to look at the clock whilst trying to rest. Experts say it’s harder to rest and sleep if you are aware of how much time you have left before you need to do something or how long you’ve been awake for.
Understand that the early days of motherhood will be filled with exhaustion regardless of whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed. Build up a support system of close family and friends (and maybe hired help) that you can call on when needed. Remember, this is just a short period in your life - you will sleep again - but asking for help when you need it is crucial.
Sasha 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 support new parents in preparing for the arrival of a new baby and the start of parenthood.