Doctors tend to look at night nursing only from a nutritional standpoint, but this is only part of the story. After the first few months, your baby will begin to associate the breast with far more than just a way to satisfy hunger and thirst. It becomes a place of comfort, security, warmth, closeness, and familiarity. The act of nursing is not just nourishing; it is nurturing. Keep in mind that these needs are every bit as real as baby's physical ones, and having them met is every bit as needful to baby's overall development.
If the amount that your child sleeps and nurses at night isn't a major problem for you, then there's no reason to try to change anything. You are not doing a bad thing by nursing on demand; you are doing a wonderful thing for your baby. When you comfort baby at night, you are not teaching her a bad habit: you are teaching her that you are there for her when she needs you. Is security a bad habit?
What is normal when it comes to baby's sleep?
It is common for breastfed babies to not sleep through the night for a long period of time. On the other hand, some breastfed babies start sleeping through the night when a few months old.
Both of my children nursed once (occasionally more) at night through their second year. Since this doesn't bother me, I did doing nothing to change it. We co-sleep, and neither my baby nor I generally wake up completely when she nurses. Both started sleeping through the night on their own, when they were ready.
Your baby will begin to comfort herself and to sleep for longer stretches at her own developmental pace. If your baby wants to nurse at night, it is because she does need this, whether it's because she is hungry or because she wants to be close to Mom. Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone - like walking or toilet training - that your baby will reach when she is ready to. Trying to force or coax baby to reach this before her time may result in other problems later on.
If you can try to take a more relaxed approach and trust that it will come in time, you'll see your baby eventually become a good sleeper. You'll be able to rest peacefully in your heart and mind knowing that she reached this in her own time when she felt secure enough to do so, not because she had no other choice but to quiet herself because no one would come.
Probably one of the main reasons that night-waking babies are such a big issue is that parents don't have realistic expectations of the sleep patterns of babies. We are bombarded with magazine articles and books that perpetuate the myth that babies should not have nighttime needs. Babies were designed to wake up often at night to feed and cuddle, and keep in mind that many adults wake during the night, too. If our expectations for babies were not so different from our babies' expectations for themselves, much of this "problem" might disappear.
Why do babies wake at night?
Babies wake at night for many reasons, and they often start waking at night after sleeping through for a few months. Some of the reasons for night waking (in no particular order) are:
baby wants more time with mom
developmental advances (for example: waking more often right before or after learning to turn over, crawl or talk)
illness, allergy, diaper rash, eczema
hunger (including growth spurts)
reverse cycling: Some babies whose moms are away during the day prefer to reject most/all supplements while mom is away, and nurse often during the evening and night. If mom is very busy during the day or if baby is very distracted, this can also lead to reverse cycling.
When your child nurses more often at night, go through this checklist to see if you can figure out what might be going on. Sometimes there may be more than one thing causing the night waking.
Remember that night waking in babies and young children is normal and temporary!
Children grow out of night waking, even when we do nothing to discourage it. This period of time will be a very tiny part of your child's years with you.
Your goal is to maximize sleep for everyone in the family, while respecting the needs of your child. If you're meeting this goal, then ignore anyone who suggests that you do things differently. All parents find that they change the way they do things as their child grows older and reaches different developmental stages - sleep is just another thing that changes as your child grows.
This post couldn't have come at a better time.... My five month old suddenly has decided that night time is for nursing... all night. Funny thing is I know all of this... but it helps when you are in the pattern to have it reiterated for you. I know that she is reverse cycling.. and ready to go into a growth spurt, but hearing it helps to remind me to have patience with it. Thanks... I LOVE this blog. We are on the same path with so many different parts of child rearing... and in a world where co-sleeping, breastfeeding, attachment style parenting can get you strange looks it is nice to know there is a community on the web of similar minded mothers. Thanks for what you do!ReplyDelete
It is nice to see this, both my girls would occasionally wake and want to nurse well past 2. With my second daughter I would just lie to her pediatrician when he started asking around 6 months if she was sleeping through the night "Sure she sleeps great" :)ReplyDelete
Yes. My 6mo wakes every 2 hours...but I have to go to work in the morning and I'm zonked! I haven't searched the archives of this blog but I'd love to see some pro-co-sleeping resources for mamas who need to be conscious/cannot nap during the day. The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptiveness did not include my 9-5 desk job! So while I remain committed to meeting my baby's needs, I'd love some support/acknowledgement of the challenges working moms face.ReplyDelete
Our 10 month old sleeps for a max of 3hrs when he goes down at night then is up every hour wanting to breast feed. This has been going on for 10 months! He probably only gets 4 - 5 hours of sleep every night. He has destroyed Mama & Papa. He naps ok during the day and is a healthy and happy boy. Mama has tried to ween him off the breastfeeding but he tends to get hysterical and I'm unable to soothe him nor does he know how to soothe himself to sleep. It is not uncommon for us to just throw in the towel and wake up with him from 1am -3am or whatever ungodly time he chooses to be awake.......which is most of the night/early morning. Luckily Mama is not working nor is she capable of working due to our boys sleep/awake schedule.ReplyDelete