At Night, Do I Breastfeed or Sleep?!


Breastfeeding at night is often a source of great questions because it affects our sleep, and therefore our days. The other factor is the fact that this disruption lasts, not just one night, but many (possibly many, many) months.

The questions flood our new mom brains: when do you stop breastfeeding at night? At what age does a baby sleep through the night? Is my baby still hungry at night?

The first 6 to 8 weeks are used to establish milk production. At the end of this period, production adjusts to the baby's demand. To achieve this, optimal stimulation is needed during this crucial period. This stimulation is done on the one hand by breastfeeding on demand, or rather each time the baby wakes up. Then, it is important during this period not to introduce pacifiers or bottles which reduce the time the baby spends at the breast. Finally, we know that prolactin is more secreted during periods of rest and therefore at night. Breastfeeding at night will therefore stimulate the secretion of this hormone. If the stimulation is insufficient in the first weeks, we sometimes observe a drop in production thereafter, a drop which can cause the baby to no longer gain enough weight, exclusive breastfeeding to be compromised or the duration of breastfeeding is reduced. And it’s harder to fix it after the first few weeks. The initial investment is worth it!

Now, if we look at it from the baby's point of view, his stomach is small and therefore needs to be filled frequently as it cannot hold large amounts. Also, breast milk is digested quickly because it is well adapted to the baby's digestive system. It must also be remembered that the baby was continuously fed for 9 months by the umbilical cord and that he cannot switch from continuous feeding to fixed-time feeding in the blink of an eye. This is a learned skill and is done gradually. Breastfeeding on demand and at night responds perfectly to this need for adaptation. 



The other point is that the brain of the newborn is immature and therefore his sleep is too. Short periods of sleep protect against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Indeed, the breathing of the newborn is not yet regular. The baby has apnea while sleeping. A newborn, who wakes up often, protects itself against these periods of apnea. It is a protective reflex. Nocturnal breastfeeding meets this need. Moreover, breastfeeding is one of the factors that reduces the risk of SIDS. To sum up, the newborn needs to wake up often for survival, to feed and to breathe. His nocturnal awakenings are therefore good and healthy for him. They are normal!

But that does not prevent it from being difficult for parents, new parents, especially when it is the first baby. We are unprepared for this reality before the baby arrives, so the shock is great! And maybe our expectations are a little too high… Is it up to the baby to adapt to our rhythm of life? Can we require the baby to adapt his sleep to our nights, when it takes months to acquire this skill? Shouldn't we rather adapt to our new reality of having a newborn with special needs?

But how? We must not exhaust ourselves either. The ideal would be to sleep at the same time as the baby, day and night. Also, it is important to organize our sleeping environment to interrupt as little as possible. Thus, sharing a room is recommended for at least 6 months. Then, avoid turning on a light. You can install a night light that can provide enough light to see at night. For diaper changes, once your baby only pees at night, you can stop changing them, which will make it easier for you and your baby to sleep. Breastfeeding while lying down can promote sleep for both mother and baby, too. The best arrangement will be one that allows the best sleep for the whole family while being safe for the baby. It's up to you to find yours!

Breastfeeding at night disrupts your sleep much less than giving a bottle. And for dads who offer to give the bottle at night so that their partner can rest, it's very nice, but it does not promote breastfeeding or sleep! Dad can help in other ways, by changing the diaper and bringing the baby to your spouse, by rocking the baby if he has more difficulty falling asleep….

So how many months should you breastfeed your baby at night? There is no precise answer to this question. Each case is unique and deserves consideration. Tired of breastfeeding at night? Consult and talk to a breastfeeding peer conselor or a lactation consultant who will help you find your balance, your comfort zone on this subject. The solution is not always to stop breastfeeding at night….

And you, what arrangements helped you manage the sleepless nights?

Marie-Caroline Bergouignan

Consultante en lactation IBCLC

Au service de votre allaitement



Resources for you


–          « Sleeping with your baby : a parent’s guide to cosleeping »de James McKenna, 2007

–          Infant Sleep Information Source website


–       « Breastfeeding, a guide for the medical profession » de Ruth A. Lawrence et Robert M. Lawrence, 2011

–       « Breastfeedinganswers made simple »de Nancy Mohrbacher, 2010


Blog post translated from French. You may distribute and share this article without further permission, provided it is used only in its entirety and in settings where the WHO “International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes” is followed. This text by Marie-Caroline Bergouignan, Lactation Consultant, IBCLC, was sponsored by Momzelle inc. This mention is considered an integral part of the text and must therefore be part of the distribution.


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