Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
Nursing moms often wonder - will I ever get a good night's sleep again? Of course you will! Night Nursing is one of those things with which we tend to have a love/hate relationship. Some the tenderest times I have spent with my little one is nursing in the dark, with everything quiet and her little hand caressing just below my neck. Her little eyes are closed and it's like the two of us are in our own little world.
I wouldn't trade these moments for anything…except maybe a full night's sleep!
I know it's hard sticking it out, especially if your kids, like mine, nurse into their second year (my first regularly woke at night to nurse until about 16 months and my second is nearly a year and still going). But like so many things in parenting, it is really important to remind ourselves that this too shall pass. Remember, you are giving your baby an immeasurable gift – and while it seems to be going on forever, when it's over you can barely remember the exhaustion and frustration you felt at the time.
Here are some useful things to know about night nursing:
• It is normal that breastfeeding babies may require more frequent night nursing then if on formula. This is *not* because your baby isn't getting enough or breastmilk isn't adequate nutrition. In fact, it’s because breastmilk is a perfect food for babies – it is more easily and more quickly digestible. But while trying formula may seem tempting to get a couple hours more sleep, it's no guarantee. Some babies need to feed just as frequently, and you are risking other problems that may complicate baby sleep, like potential allergies, gas or constipation. And there are no bottles to prepare or warm!
• Remember that you are not spoiling a baby by nursing frequently. Prior to 8 months or so, most researchers in child development will tell you that it is impossible to spoil a baby – their needs are indistinguishable from their "wants." After that time, you may start to note some "manipulative" behavior during the day as they start to learn how to get their desires as well as their needs fulfilled. But when babies wake in a sleepy state, that really isn't the time they are plotting on how to get you to cater to a whim – if they wake to nurse, it's probably because they are hungry!
• Night nursing may increase during growth spurts, teething or during illnesses (even mild ones). These episodes generally only last a few days, maybe a week. In my mind it's better to give into it and give your baby what he or she needs. A baby's development often feels like a "two step forward, one step back" process and night nursing is no exception. Power through, and you will likely be able to see in retrospect what was going on to cause the increase.
• If you are looking for some encouragement regarding night nursing, it seems to be tied to the delayed return of menstruation. Many lactation consultants will tell you that women's periods tend to return about 4-6 weeks after their babies start sleeping “through the night” (meaning a regular 8 hour stretch or so). If you search "breastfeeding and menstruation" on the internet, you'll find lots of references to this phenomenon. It's not hard science, and even with frequent night nursing, it's sometimes tough to hold off past about a year, but it's a little bit of compensation! (Conversely, if you are *trying* to get your period back so that you can try to conceive, consider only reducing your night nursing rather than the more drastic step of weaning altogether and see if that does the trick).
Night nursing represents a sometimes difficult, but relatively short-lived period in our children's lives. It is essential to their health and development, even if tiring for us. Finding ways to get through it, and remembering that it is temporary are key to your baby's health and your sanity. And finding the quiet moments to treasure that night nursing provides can help to make it so much more than just a necessity.
For tips on how to maximize everyone's sleep while in the night nursing stage, or to begin to move towards weaning at night, see my article "Night Nursing Tips" in related links at the end of this article.
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