Breastfeeding FAQs: Sleep - Yours and Your Baby's

Whether you're a new mom or a seasoned parenting pro, breastfeeding often comes with its fair share of questions. Here are some answers to common queries that mothers — new and veteran — may have.

Where should my baby sleep?

There are many options for where your baby can sleep, but in your bed is not one of them. Putting your baby in bed with you, or bed-sharing, is hazardous and increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

While bed-sharing isn't a good idea, room-sharing (keeping your little one close by) can help make breastfeeding a whole lot easier. Here are ways to do that:

  • Put a bassinet, play yard, or crib next to your bed. This lets you keep that desired closeness, which can be especially important if you're breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that having an infant sleep in a separate crib, bassinet, or play yard in the same room as the mother reduces the risk of SIDS.
  • Buy a device that looks like a bassinet or play yard with one side that is lower, which attaches to your bed to allow you to be next to your baby without the possibility of rolling over onto your infant.

Never let your baby sleep on a soft surface or in the same room with people who are smoking. Babies should always be put on their backs to sleep to help reduce the risk of SIDS.

To make nursing in bed more comfortable for yourself, it may help to keep a donut-type nursing pillow on or near your bed or to use a "husband" back pillow with arms on each side.

Keep the room dimly lit for nighttime feedings and also keep stimulation (talking, singing, etc.) to a minimum. This will help your baby to realize that nighttime is for sleeping — not playing — and will encourage your little one to return to sleep sooner.

My baby falls asleep while nursing. What can I do?

Newborns often fall asleep at the breast, especially after feeling satisfied from a good feeding. (You'll know if your baby isn't nursing if you don't hear swallowing sounds, like little clicks, or see the jawbones moving.)

If you think your baby is asleep and hasn't finished nursing, here are some tips to try:

  • undress your baby and rub the back
  • tickle the feet
  • burp your baby
  • try changing your baby's diaper or switching to the other breast

Babies who latch on incorrectly may fall asleep at the breast. If this happens, break the suction and reposition your baby onto your breast to include both your nipple and areola. You can break the suction by slipping your finger in the side of your baby's mouth (between the gums) and then turning your finger a quarter turn to break the suction. (If you just pull your baby off your breast, it will likely startle your little one and hurt your breasts as well.)

After you've broken the suction, try to burp your baby and switch your little one to the other breast. A lactation consultant can show you the right latch method and help you with any questions or concerns you might have.

Is it OK to nurse my baby to sleep?

In the first few months of life, it's practically impossible to keep a nursing baby awake who is satisfied with a full belly. Once babies get older, however, most doctors advise against nursing a baby solely for the purpose of getting him or her to sleep. Doing this regularly may prevent your baby from learning how to fall asleep on his or her own.

At nap times and bedtime, try to put your baby down slightly awake so that he or she will get used to falling asleep without having to nurse. Make breastfeeding sessions more about nourishment and less about pacifying.

If your baby is sick or has been separated from you, you may want to nurse for comfort, but try not to make it a habit.

If your baby has trouble falling asleep, consider giving him or her a pacifier. Experts recommend giving babies under 1 year old pacifiers at nap time and bedtime to reduce the risk of SIDS — but only after breastfeeding has become established, so no sooner than 3 weeks of age. But if your little one doesn't want a pacifier, don't push it.

Try to encourage your baby's sleep by establishing a bedtime routine that will be familiar and relaxing. Bathing, reading, and singing can soothe babies and signal an end to the day. Be consistent and your baby will soon associate these steps with sleeping.

When will my baby sleep through the night?

Newborns should be woken up every 3 to 4 hours until their weight gain is established, which typically happens within the first couple of weeks. After that, it's OK if a baby sleeps for longer periods of time.

But don't get your slumber hopes up just yet — most breastfed infants won't snooze for extended periods of time because they get hungry. Remember, breast milk is much more easily digested than formula, so it passes through babies' systems faster and, therefore, makes them hungry more often.

Newborns' longest sleep periods are generally 4 or 5 hours — this is about how long their small bellies can go between feedings. If newborns do sleep for a while, they'll probably be extra-hungry during the day and may want to nurse more frequently.

And just when parents think that sleeping through the night seems like a far-off dream, things start to get a little easier. At 3 months, a baby averages a total of 5 hours of sleep during daytime naps and 10 hours at night, usually with an interruption or two. Most babies this age sleep "through the night," meaning 6 to 8 hours in a row.

It can help to stimulate your baby during the day, keep things calm at night, and have a regular bedtime routine. But every baby is different, so don't be surprised if your baby sleeps more or less than others.

Will it hurt my milk supply to let my baby sleep?

Letting your baby sleep through the night (usually at around 3 months of age) isn't going to hurt your breastfeeding efforts. Your body readjusts your milk supply based on when you nurse and how much your baby needs. Some babies will sleep through the night early but will make up for it during the day, so your breasts will accommodate that.

As your baby matures and starts taking solid foods, the need for breast milk will decrease and your body will adjust for that too.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: February 2015