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How to cope with broken sleep

Having a new baby can be a very tiring time for parents. It can be hard to cope with broken sleep. This article gives some tips about how to cope with broken sleep.

  • Keep your baby nearby. Having your baby sleep close-by can make it easier to pick your baby up and feed your baby at night, especially if you are breastfeeding. Less moving around can mean less time awake and make it easier to get back to sleep. A hormone (cholecystokinin) gets released into a baby's bloodstream after breastfeeds which makes them feel relaxed and sleepy after feeds and therefore helps them get back to sleep.1 The Red Nose charity recommends a baby sleeps in the same room as his parents for the first 6 to 12 months to reduce the risk of SIDS.2

  • Sleep when your baby sleeps! Even if you find you cannot go to sleep, just resting is better than nothing. So lie down and close your eyes. You may even drift off to sleep without realising it.

  • You may find it helpful for a friend or family member to watch your baby while you take a nap. It may be most helpful for a friend or family member to do this straight after a breastfeed to help ensure the maximum length of time before your baby needs another breastfeed.

  • If necessary to do so, change your baby’s nappy before a feed or between breasts (if your baby drinks from both breasts). This will mean that after you have fed your baby and he is sleeping, or drifting off to sleep, you will not risk waking him by having to change his nappy.

  • Do some physical activity such as a brisk walk during the day. Many people find that exercise during the day helps them to sleep better at night.

  • Keep lights low at night and get sunlight during the day. These things can help boost your own and your baby’s melatonin (sleepy hormone) levels, which can help both of you sleep better at night.3 Breastmilk has an amino acid (tryptophan) that is used by the body to make melatonin. Tryptophan levels increase and decrease with a mother’s circadian rhythm, so breastfeeding may help develop a baby’s circadian rhythm.4 The circadian rhythm is one's 24 hour internal body clock. It is important to know, however, that a baby’s circadian rhythm only begins to emerge when a baby is around 2 months of age.5

  • All parents of babies get tired, whether their babies are breastfed, formula-fed, or mixed-fed There is no research evidence to indicate that giving a baby formula or starting solid food early makes a baby sleep longer. One study reported that parents of breastfed babies averaged 40-45 minutes more sleep time than the parents of formula-fed babies.6

  • Remember, it gets easier! Most parents find that things start to get easier around the 3-month mark.

For more information

See ABA’s booklet, Breastfeeding: sleep which is available for purchase from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Breastfeeding and sleep

Breastfeeding: and sleep booklet

Breastfeeding and sleep helps you to work out your baby’s natural sleep pattern and give you ideas for settling your baby.

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  1. Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Marchini, G., Winberg, J 1993, Plasma cholecystokinin concentrations after breast feeding in healthy 4 day old infants. Archives of Disease in Childhood 68(1),46–48.

  2. Red Nose, What steps can I take to sleep my baby safely? URL: Accessed 5/8/17.

  3. Harrison, Y 2004, The relationship between daytime exposure to light and night-time sleep in 6-12-week-old infants. Journal of Sleep Research 13(4),345–352.

  4. Cubero, J., Valero, V., Sanchez, J., Rivero, M., Parvez, H., Rodriguez, A.B et al 2005, The circadian rhythm of tryptophan in breastmilk affects the rhythms of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin and sleep in newborn. Neuro Endocrinology Letters 26(6), 657–61.

  5. Rivkees, S.A 2003, Developing circadian rhythmicity in infants. Pediatrics 112(2),373–381.

  6. Doan, T., Gardiner, A., Gay, C.L., Lee, K.A 2007, Breast-feeding increases sleep duration of new parents. Journal of Perinatal Neonatal Nursing 21(3),200–206.




© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2021


Last reviewed: 
Apr 2021