Sleep Training & Breastfeeding: Is it compatible?

For many mothers Sleep Training is not a choice – it is a necessity to protect their mental health. If you came to read this post mama, I am asking you to let go of the guilt!… You are not going to get an ounce of judgment from me, ever. I feel you. Having a baby is so tough on its own and I bet that you have tried many things before coming here to research ideas. Big hug. You are a great MOM and nothing will change that.

As a Lactation Consultant, it has been drilled into me for years that Sleep Training is not compatible with breastfeeding. That supplies tank, that babies will sleep when developmentally read. But how is that helpful to the mom that has not slept in weeks? That is on the verge of a mental breakdown from sheer exhaustion?

I will try to unpack a few things in this article and together we will get on the journey of understanding your milk supply better, how sleep training may affect it and what can you do to protect it while your baby is learning new sleeping habits.

Some moms decide to co-sleep with their baby to save their sleep and that is a perfectly fine choice as well! If you would like to learn more about safe co-sleeping, here is a great resource from Dr. McKenna at Notre Dame University

Does Sleep Training affect Milk Supply?

The quick answer is: NO! Your baby extra zzz’s definitely do not tank your milk supply. However, the true answer is: it’s complicated! There is something I need to explain to you before we go any further, and it’s called Breast Storage Capacity. Breasts come in different shapes and sizes. Storage capacity is not related to the size of your breasts, rather the amount of milk-making tissue you have. It tells us how much milk are you able to hold at your fullest!

Storage Capacity

When I discuss with my patients how storage capacity affects nursing or pumping, I use the Ice Maker comparison. Imagine this. Your breasts are truly like an Ice Maker Machine! When an ice maker is full, it turns off and stops adding ice, right? Otherwise, it would explode and pop the freezer door open! But then you take all the ice out and your Ice Maker starts quickly producing more ice. That is exactly what storage capacity of your breasts is!
The higher the storage capacity, the longer you’ll be able to go between pumping/breastfeeding without risking tanking your milk supply. So, a mama that usually pumps 2-4oz combined from both breasts (when pumping instead of nursing) will have to empty more frequently than a mom that can pump 8+ oz in a sitting. That said – neither of these options are better and both are perfectly capable of feeding their baby at the breast or via pumping.

 

How can I protect my Milk Supply while Sleep Training?

By understanding your storage capacity you will understand better how long can you go in between nursing or pumping when sleep training your baby.

Moms with Small and Smallest Capacity: when sleep training your baby, you will need to pump or dreamfeed your baby at night every 3.5 hours.

Moms with Average Capacity: when sleep training your baby, you will need to pump every 4 hours at night or latch your baby while asleep (dream feeding). I usually suggest to pump right after baby is down (7PM) then dreamfeed or pump right before you go to sleep (10-11PM) and in the middle of the night (2-3AM). Nurse by 6AM.

Moms with Large Capacity: when sleep training your baby, you will need to pump every 5-5.5 hours at night or latch your baby while asleep (dream feeding). I usually suggest to dreamfeed or pump right before you go to sleep (10-11PM) and in the middle of the night (3-4AM). Nurse by 7:30AM.

Moms with Largest Capacity: when sleep training your baby, you will be able to take a 6-7 hour stretch of sleep at night without risking your supply, as long as you pump or nurse frequently during the day. I usually suggest to dreamfeed or pump right before you go to sleep (11PM) and then enjoy sleep until 6AM. When you wake up, you might nurse baby on one breast and pump the other, or breastfeed directly on both breasts and pump right after for 10-15 minutes

 

What if I need more sleep?

Oh mama. I feel your pain. It is totally OK to want to get more rest! In this situation, I’d like for you to ask yourself: how important is exclusive breastfeeding to me? Am I okay with having to supplement my baby with formula or donor breastmilk? There is absolutely nothing wrong with supplementing, but only if YOU want to do it. Longer stretches of sleep with smaller breast capacity may create fullness that if not relieved will slowly decrease the milk supply. We might not see it instantly; it can happen slowly over a moth or two. Watch your baby’s weight and diaper output closely to know when to intervene with a supplemental bottle of formula or donor breastmilk.

Listen. You are amazing.

You know your baby BEST and you know what is best for you and your family, whether it be co-sleeping, CIO, sleep coaching, bottle feeding, breastfeeding, formula feeding, supplementing, or exclusively pumping. Nothing, absolutely NOTHING can change the fact that you are a loving and caring mom, and everything you do, you do for a reason – and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Follow your heart. Hang in there <3

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