baby sleep Tag

Help Baby Sleep Through the Night with a Nursing Schedule

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!

When will my newborn finally sleep through the night?

If you find yourself waking several times each night to soothe your crying newborn back to sleep, you’re not alone. That may be small comfort, but it should offer some assurance that this is perfectly normal. While you may not be getting sufficient sleep, your little one is probably doing just fine.

How much sleep is your newborn actually getting each day?

The average infant sleeps 16-17 hours per 24-hour day. That may come as a surprise to a mom who’s getting four hours of sleep herself. You would be justified in asking when all this sleeping is taking place. Unlike older babies and adults, newborns sleep in short three to four hour increments scattered throughout the course of the day.

It’s easy to forget all the work those sleepy little bodies are doing. Your baby’s nervous system is rapidly developing as well as her senses. She’s getting bigger and figuring out how her body works. It may not seem like a big deal to a grownup whose body has done all the growing it’s going to do, but it’s exhausting, and she needs a lot of sleep to keep her strong and healthy.

Natural sleeping and nursing patterns are similar

During her first weeks, your baby’s body isn’t attuned to the normal day and night cycle, and she spends more time in REM sleep than in deeper non-REM sleep. Over time, she’ll begin to pick up on the cues that indicate when it’s time to play and when it’s time to rest, but even then, most breastfed babies will wake in the middle of the night for a feeding. That’s not a sign that your baby is malfunctioning. In fact, her natural sleep cycle is very similar to her natural nursing cycle.

A newborn should be nursing 8-12 times per day during the first month and 7-9 times per day by one to two months. That’s about every 1½  to 3 hours. In other words, your nursing baby’s daily agenda may resemble a cat’s: one continuous snooze interrupted just long enough for meals. Good for the baby, but exhausting to mom and dad.

Helping your breastfeeding baby sleep through the night

By the end of her first year, your baby’s sleep pattern will begin to mirror yours with nighttime hours and longer, consolidated sleep periods, but it is possible in some cases to help your nursing infant to sleep through the night earlier, according to a research study conducted by the University of Illinois.

In the study, one group of breastfeeding moms were instructed:

  • to offer a “focal feed” (between 10 PM and 12 AM) to their infants every night,
  • to gradually lengthen intervals between middle-of-the-night feeds by carrying out alternative caretaking behaviors (eg, reswaddling, diapering, walking),
  • and to maximize environmental differences between day and nighttime.

By the third week of the study, the infants receiving the special treatment were sleeping in significantly longer episodes than babies in the control group. By week eight, 100% of the treatment babies were sleeping through the night compared to 23% of the control infants. The morning after a long night’s sleep, the treatment infants nursed longer than the control group. However, the total milk intake over a 24 hour period was the same for both groups.

Until then, get your ZZZZs where you can, mom!

Breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin from your brain, and oxytocin, also known as the anti-stress hormone, often makes moms feel drowsy and warm. Rather than resisting the urge to doze created by breastfeeding, take advantage of it. If it’s possible, follow your newborn’s model, and get in a nap after nursing. It’ll take the edge off of those sleepless nights.

If it’s not possible to squeeze naps into your daily routine, remind yourself that this too shall pass. Before long, your newborn will be sleeping soundly through the night, and those long, sleepless nights will be a distant memory.