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Written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
9 April 2021

Sleep Training and Breastfeeding

When I was expecting my first child, I set out to find out everything there was to know about raising babies. I read a variety of books, googled and asked friends who were already parents what they did in relation to baby's sleeps, feeds etc.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer amount of information out there, and how many different schools of thought there were. The information was immense, and conflicting. Particularly when it came to sleep.

One example of a topic fraught with uncertainty was whether you could sleep train your baby while still breastfeeding.

The basic argument against the idea, so far as I understood it, was that breast milk gets digested faster than formula, and therefore babies who are breastfed need to wake up several times a night in order to feed. Otherwise, they’ll feel hungry throughout the night, be unable to sleep, and potentially suffer from malnutrition.

Now, I know that there different opinions on this, with everyone being convinced that their opinion is the right one.

But like most things in parenting, there’s not so much of a “right and wrong,” as opposed to “right for your child.” But there is something you should know if you’re breastfeeding and trying to decide whether or not to sleep train your child. After all, what’s the point of sleep training if your baby’s nutrition needs prevent them from sleeping through the night?

It comes down to what the term “sleeping through the night” really means. The truth is that nobody actually sleeps all the way through the night.

You might think you do, or that you did before you had kids, or that your partner does, but I assure you, unless you’re heavily sedated, you wake up at least a few times during the night, every night, and you always have.

When we sleep, we go through what are called “sleep cycles,” and these cycles go from light sleep to deep sleep and back again, typically about four or five times a night. When we get to the end of a cycle and enter into that really light stage of sleep, we often wake up. People who think they sleep straight through the night typically don’t remember these little rousings, but they experience them nonetheless.

Babies’ sleep cycles are shorter than adult ones, so they wake up more often in the night. Babies who are said to sleep through the night are still waking up, but they manage to get themselves back to sleep on their own without any help from Mum and Dad.

So when we talk about sleeping through the night, in terms of babies anyways, what we’re really just saying that they’re able to get to sleep on their own, or as we call it in the baby sleep industry, they have “independent sleep skills.”

So it doesn’t matter if baby’s breastfed or formula fed - they’re going to wake up at night, several times, for the rest of their lives, just like everyone else. If they have the skill to put themselves back into sleep, they will be able to do so easily and quickly often without you even being aware that they even woke at all.

Therefore you 100% can sleep train your baby, regardless of whether you are breastfeeding or not.

Breastfeeding is an absolutely wonderful experience for both mother and baby, and I support it completely. Having a baby who sleeps through the night is maybe not quite as magical, but it sure comes close, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t have both together. And, as always, if you need a little help guiding you through the occasionally tricky process of teaching your baby to sleep through the night, I’ve got you covered.

Article written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
Based in Singapore
Trained in the Sleep Sense Program

One comment on “Sleep Training and Breastfeeding”

  1. Hi Lavinia,

    Your article has somehow helped me to understand why my baby kept waking up at night. And I was aware too that BM processes faster. However, I wasn’t prepared that it affected OUR sleep as a family, at night.

    The past few weeks, my baby kept waking up at night, almost every hour. He can’t go back to sleep on his own (because he doesn’t have that skill & we don’t know how to train him) hence will hunt for my breasts to soothe him back to sleep. This is REALLY EXHAUSTING especially when he doesn’t want to let go..

    I’ve tried many supplements to boost/thicken my BM and drank/ate a lot of super foods & fed him formula milk before putting him to sleep- it doesn’t seem to work too. I guess he’s used to that routine. He’s 15 months old now.

    The lack of sleep and rest at night affecting my mental health.

    I need your advice and tips on how to sleep train a so-used-to-boobies-at-night baby.

    Thank you so much.

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