Nighttime feedings can leave moms feeling exhausted and depressed, and research shows that frequent night waking can also result in the early termination of lactation in breast-fed infants. But how can you convince baby to get with the program and sleep through the night? For many families, a nursing schedule helps.
The following tips for developing a nursing schedule to help baby ease into a full night of sleep come from a study conducted at the University of Illinois. The objective of the study was to investigate whether exclusively breast-fed infants could be taught to sleep through the night, from 12:00 AM to 5:00 AM during the first eight weeks of life. Thirteen sets of parents followed the routine below while thirteen acted as a control. Of the thirteen treatment parents, 100% reported that infants were sleeping through the night after eight weeks.
Differentiate night and day
Babies aren’t born with the same understanding of time as adults. Anytime is a good time for eating as far as a newborn is concerned. To help her begin to recognize that nighttime is for sleeping, maximize environmental differences between day and night. During the day, be sure to get baby outside where she can experience natural light. When she’s inside, let her have the full daytime experience: noises, activity, normal speaking voices, and playful interactions. In the evening, keep lights low and minimize noises. Use a hushed voice and keep interactions mellow and calm.
Top off baby’s milk supply
In the study conducted at the University of Illinois, parents were told to offer baby a focal feed between 10 PM and 12 AM so that she goes to sleep with a fully belly. If baby is asleep at the time you’ve adopted for this top off session, wake her up long enough to nurse. This will help her sleep for a longer stretch of time. Over time, your baby will recognize this feeding as “last call.”
Wean baby by offering alternatives
It’s going to take some time for the new schedule to take, so you’ll want to gradually lengthen the intervals between middle-of-the-night nursing sessions. To reinforce the idea that nighttime is for sleeping, when baby wakes substitute feeding with other caretaking behaviors such as re-swaddling, changing her diaper, or rocking her.
What to expect and when to expect it
The treatment parents in the University of Illinois study reported that their infants were sleeping for significantly longer episodes at night by three weeks. By eight weeks, 100% of the treatment infants were sleeping through the night compared with 23% of the infants who were not introduced to the nursing schedule.
While the infants with the nursing schedule did sleep through nighttime feedings after eight weeks, their milk intake over a 24-hours period didn’t differ from the infants who nursed throughout the night. Instead, the treatment infants compensated for the longer nighttime interval by consuming more milk in the early morning.
There you have it. With a little planning, a nursing schedule can help parents and babies get a better night sleep. If you try out the schedule, leave a comment below and let us know how it worked for you!