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Podcast: Breastfeeding … and sleep (Season 1 Episode 7)

Talking about the feed-play-sleep furphy and what is normal for night-time sleep

What happens if you can't get your baby into a feed, play sleep routine? What do people mean when they talk about babies sleeping through the night? In this episode Naomi and Simone talk about the feed, play, sleep routine and how it doesn't always work for all babies, what is normal for night-time sleep and how to cope with broken sleep. 

An image of a baby breastfeeding

Podcast episode

Companion blog post

At a mummy morning tea I organised, the age-old topic of sleep came up (as it inevitably does). Mostly the mums were just venting. There was lots of nodding and eye rolling and ‘that sounds just like us!’-type revelations, reinforcing that all we really need to know is that most disrupted sleep is normal when you have a little person in your life and that. eventually, all babies DO sleep (really, they truly will). There were a few mums with babies who would cat-nap for 20 minutes during the day but go longer stretches at night. Others who would happily nap all day but then are wide awake from 6 pm to midnight, cherubs who fed hourly overnight and slept with a boob permanently in their mouth and others who slumbered so much, they had to be woken for kinder or school pickups. All individuals, all normal.

Podcast information

Show notes
Talking about the feed-play-sleep furphy and what is normal for night-time sleep

What happens if you can't get your baby into a feed, play sleep routine? What do people mean when they talk about babies sleeping through the night? In this episode Naomi and Simone talk about the feed, play, sleep routine and how it doesn't always work for all babies, what is normal for night-time sleep and how to cope with broken sleep. 

Information discussed in this episode:



This episode is presented by Naomi Hull and Simone Casey. Special thanks to Natalie McGregor.

Show notes by Emma Pennell. Transcription by Madina Hajher. Produced by Belinda Chambers, Sky Mykyta, Jessica Leonard and Eleanor Kippen.

Episode transcript

NAOMI: every baby is different, every family is going to be different with their own different routines and patterns, particularly depending on who else is living in your house as well. And I guess what’s really important is that if you are feeling exhausted, and if you have been missing out on some sleep for a little while, just asking for help. You know, or even if you have friends and family around that are offering to help, take them up on it! There’s nothing wrong with accepting help from anywhere that you can get it.

SIMONE: Welcome to Breastfeeding …with ABA, a podcast brought to you by volunteers with the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Breastfeeding…with ABA is a podcast about breastfeeding made by parents for parents. In this episode we’re going to be talking about the feed, play sleep furphy.

NAOMI: We are recording this podcast in different parts of Australia. We would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are recording and on which you are listening to us. We pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging and to any Aboriginal people who are listening today. We also acknowledge the Indigenous women of Australia who have been living, working, birthing, breastfeeding and raising children successfully on this country for tens of thousands of years.

SIMONE: In each episode you’ll hear from different mums from around Australia. My name is Simone and I’m a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association, an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant, and a mum of three children.

NAOMI: And I’m Naomi, I’m also an IBCLC, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and the Senior Manager of Breastfeeding Information and Research with the Australian Breastfeeding Association. I’m a mum of two grown-up teenage children.

SIMONE: Today we’re talking about feed, play, sleep. And it’s just one of those terms you hear a lot, and whether it’s from maternal child health nurses, but, yeah, it’s a very ingrained mantra don’t you think?


NAOMI: Oh absolutely, you hear it so often, and I know that I was able to do it with my first baby. She fell into that routine seemingly quite naturally actually and we thought we were very clever. But then my second baby came alone 2 years later, and it wasn’t so straight forward, unfortunately. I think that it’s something that we gravitate to because it helps us have a sense of control over our day and our routine and we feel like we can know what we’re going to do next, but that’s fine when you have a child that it fits well with but when it doesn’t work out it can be a common source of worry and stress.

SIMONE: Oh yeah, so many times I’ve heard mums just really bear with trying to follow this pattern, but they haven’t always asked or say that they have any problems, sometimes it’s almost given to them as information like ‘this is something you need to do’ or almost as rule you have to follow. Sometimes it works; I have three children and one of them did actually naturally fall into a feed, play, sleep as well but yeah, it can be very frustrating when it doesn’t work.

NAOMI: Given your story and my story, it can actually make you wonder if it’s the feed, play, sleep that’s actually worked or if that’s actually what your baby would have done regardless.

SIMONE: Yeah, I sort of think what you’re thinking too with that, and that sometimes that’s just the personality of your child and you know, especially when you talk to mums about more than one, they’ll all tell you so many times how different they are with the things like sleep but lots of other things as well, but sleep in particular they can be quite different from child to child. And even just your household is different, you know, a household of one versus a household of three children is very different. There’s a lot more noise and distractions to deal with and things like that.

NAOMI: And other places to be and other things to do as well when you’ve got a toddler.

SIMONE: Yeah, and look, you know, I guess the reality is that babies aren’t born with an inbuilt clock. I often say to mums that they’re not robots. Sometimes, you know, these little routines can be good but it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work and you do need to, I guess, fall back on a few instinctual things to do if whatever you’re trying to implement doesn’t work. I even had a mum a couple of, probably only a week ago actually, that I was talking to through my private practice and she had asked, she had probably a 3-month-old, and she had this time that she had to feed her, and the baby was starting to refuse feeds. And it was actually to do with her scheduling the baby, and the baby just wasn’t ready for the feed yet so that was interesting, too. So sometimes you can say ‘alright let’s do feed, play, sleep’ and have a very structured time of when to do that and whether it’s before lunch or after lunch and all these things, but if the baby’s not going to do it in the end, they’re going to tell you, so you’ve got to go with them a bit.

NAOMI: And that applies to the other end of the feed, play, sleep thing particularly when you have a slightly older baby, you know, around 3 or 4 months old that maybe you having a bit of time on the floor, having a bit of a kick or having a roll around, maybe sitting on someone’s knee, and they might start to make those sounds or movements that you could perceive as tired signs but sometimes they actually just need to have a different activity or move to a different room of the house. Or if they’re on the floor they may just be checking to see where you are and want to have a quick cuddle and touch base with you or maybe even a quick little walk outside is all they need. It may not actually be tired signs so when we see those things and think that they’re tired signs and then we struggle to get them to sleep, that can also be quite stressful and anxiety provoking and exhausting as well.

SIMONE: And you know as in that scenario you just presented there, the baby very much could just be not ready to sleep yet and may not actually be quite worn out enough. And I can think of another example straight away of a mum that she actually did end up talking to a professional, about sort of sleep, and I guess what they suggest was a little bit like you said, that, ‘Okay this baby has been lying under a mat with one toy dangling down and she’s starting to grunt and get grumpy. You don’t just whack them in bed straight away you know?’ That could be time to do something else; sing a song, read a story, and then suddenly baby’s all alert and active again and happy to keep going and I guess worn out a little bit more to really have a good sleep when they’re properly tired. And the other thing that you can do then, and it’s okay to do, is to give them a little feed before they go down for that last little bit of sleep, you know. It doesn’t mean you have to get them really wired and then just try and put them in their cot and pat them to sleep for ages. You know, give them a little feed at that point.

NAOMI: Particularly when you consider how frequently, well I know I have a drink of water at least every hour, constantly having a quick drink of something or a cup of tea or a coffee or a glass of water. If the baby’s been up for 2 hours and they had that feed when they woke up, another little feed before they go to bed is not out of the ordinary or not to be unexpected. It’s quite reasonable for them to want to have another little drink.

SIMONE: Yeah, and often I refer mums to that little last drink before they go to bed as a sleepy injection, so they’re sort of like, they’re getting a little injection of, it is a scientific thing as well, they actually do get what we call the CCK hormone which is short for Cholecystokinin and that’s actually a hormone that helps the mum and baby feel like they’re in a little sleepy mood again and it sort of helps them to feel satisfied, the baby to feel satisfied, and the mum actually does get a little bit of that as well. Which can be really handy at night-time and the mum can get a nice little kick back to go to sleep as well as the baby, you know, so it can be a really good one that CCK hormone, I love it!

NAOMI: Absolutely that’s a really good thing to remember because as you touched on, we know that breastfeeding mothers are more likely to go back into a deeper sleep after they’ve breastfed at night compared to if they’re getting up to give a bottle and that is because of that Cholecystokinin hormone that helps them feel sleepy and go back into a deep sleep. Unfortunately, though, you might think, ‘Well, I still have to get back to sleep’ but you don’t know what it would have been like if you didn’t have that hormone in your system from a breastfeed.

SIMONE: Yeah, I think most breastfeeding mums I talk to don’t seem to have too much trouble getting back to sleep and you know, there’s always the option of the nice lie down on your side to feed as well, things like that.


NATALIE: I’m Natalie McGregor and I am an ABA volunteer and you are listening to Breastfeeding … with ABA. I didn’t go to my first ABA local group meeting for breastfeeding support, funnily enough. I’d had fairly straightforward breastfeeding journeys with both my boys. I went because I guess I was craving solidarity in motherhood. I live in an older, rural community and most of my friends weren’t mums yet but despite the isolation I was bombarded with parenting advice, mostly around breastfeeding and sleep, naturally I suppose in those early days. Most of it, though it was all well intended, just didn’t feel right, or at the very least I would question where people’s information was coming from. I just knew I would find like-minded mums at my local group meeting. It was a breath of fresh air, I genuinely felt lighter. I love going to our group meetings as friendly faces, hot tea or coffee, always good cake, children’s laughter, sometimes tears from kids and mums. But it’s just a trusted source of information which is just so reassuring to me as a mum.

JESSICA: To find your local group visit and look for the section that says ‘connection’. You’ll be able to put in your post code and find your local ABA group.


SIMONE: I was thinking back to that whole ‘feed, play, sleep’ thing we’re talking about and I remembered this other story of this mum who actually came to me as an IBCLC and she was very worried because her baby wasn’t gaining weight that well, and she’d been trying to follow ‘feed, play, sleep’. It was just really not working. She felt really sort of, like she actually felt like a failure, because she wasn’t able to do what the maternal health nurse was telling her to do and the baby wasn’t even gaining what she was, I guess, meant to gain as well.


Now when I went there, this baby was just so overtired I just felt like straight away looking at her, she was overtired. She was feeding in the end a lot and we just had a big chat about everything. She was doing lots of tiny little catnaps falling asleep on the breast but then she was never really having a big feed. So we sort of talked about trying to get her to stay asleep for at least an hour, that could be by using a carrier, walk her in the pram or whatever just try to get a decent amount of sleep out of her. When she did wake up, I got her sort of doing things like switch feeding so feeding both sides a couple of times, just to get a lot of milk as much milk as possible into this baby to make her have a big feed. And then play with her a little bit like we’re talking about, do some things to wear her out a little bit, and then when she was showing the tired signs after an hour or more, give her that little top up that wasn’t a whole big feed and if she does fall asleep a little bit then that’s okay, but it wasn’t as though she was having those tiny little feeds all the time. And in the end that little routine that we sort of worked out for her worked so well, she almost doubled her weight gain the next time she was at the health nurse. And when you actually looked at how many feeds she was having, it was actually less than what she was having before, but I guess having that little structure it was almost like a feed, play, feed sleep routine that actually worked really well and resulted in almost double weight gains and a very happy, well slept baby.

NAOMI: That’s such a great outcome, Simone, I bet she was quite happy with that and probably really helped her routines and her days after that as well. So, the other thing that we commonly hear about is the whole concept of whether a baby sleeps through the night or not. I know that mums often get asked that question, you know, ‘Oh, so is your baby sleeping through the night yet?’ but do we actually know what ‘sleeping through the night’ means?

SIMONE: It’s a funny one ‘cause I actually did get that on helpline just within the last week I did a helpline and this mum was really tired. She rang up just so tired, she goes, ‘I just want to know what sleeping through the night means, you know, is it 12 to 6 am? How many hours is it?’ and I said look there probably really isn’t anything really sort of official, I said in my head 11 or 12 would be night and then daylight would be morning, but everyone has a different definition. And I actually had another mum who said to me that everyone was asking her, ‘Oh is your baby sleeping through the night?’ And she’d always say, ‘Yeah he is. I actually only had to feed him twice so he’s going really well!’ so she didn’t really equate sleeping through the night with having to getting up for a feed. She just figured that’s what all babies do anyway.

NAOMI: That’s so awesome that that first mum that you spoke of actually rang the helpline to ask, I think that’s fantastic and that’s what the ABA helpline is there for, you know, it’s mums on the other end of the line who can help you work through questions like that. It’s great that she thought to ring up and ask.

SIMONE: Yeah, no I reckon that was sort of cute. It was nice too that sometimes it’s good that there’s no official answer, you know. Sleeping through the night doesn’t mean that your child has to sleep 12 hours. A lot of babies do actually have a quick feed and go back to sleep instantly overnight once their circadian rhythms have developed. You know they’re not up to play like they are in the daytime and that can be usually around 3 months I suppose they become quite developed so you can usually have a baby, hopefully, that doesn’t want to get up and play under the playmat at 3 am.

NAOMI: Absolutely, so I guess what all of the things that we’ve been talking about tells us that every baby is different, every family is going to be different with their own different routines and patterns, particularly depending on who else is living in your house as well and I guess what’s really important is that, if you are feeling exhausted and if you have been missing out on some sleep for a little while just asking for help, you know, or even if you have friends and family around that are offering to help, take them up on it! There’s nothing wrong with accepting help from anywhere that you can get it, and the other thing to think about too is often when people, particularly well-meaning family members, they’ll often want to come and visit and have a play with the baby, but you know, making it a condition of entry that they help you get a task done while they’re there, there’s certainly nothing wrong with asking to do that as well.

SIMONE: I also think that a lot of mums use that word ‘failure’ if their child won’t somehow do a certain routine that they’ve been told or maybe they’ve read a book or all those sorts of things. I think that they think that five friends have recommended this way of getting the baby to sleep and ‘my baby won’t do it’ you know, and they feel this sense of failure, and I guess it comes down to the whole personality of each child being different and that I guess it’s trying to tap into your sort of, your instincts and also natural ways of doing things and just talking to people like the counsellors on the helpline or people that make you feel good about your baby’s sleep, not bad. And I think that can sort of help set a positive mindset and work out what help you actually really do need and what actually truly helps you, not just makes you feel like you can’t do something. [MUSIC FADES IN]

NAOMI: Awesome suggestions, Simone. For more on this topic you can go to ABA’s website and check out the show notes for a link to this episode’s blog post which will contain further links and information. To speak to a breastfeeding counsellor, call the National Breastfeeding Hotline on 1800 686 268 or you can also use LiveChat available via our website, You can find your local ABA group by visiting our website where you can also find loads of breastfeeding information and a link to join the Association as a member

SIMONE: You might also like to join our Facebook group to continue the conversation. Just search for ‘Breastfeeding with ABA’ and make sure you answer the joining questions so we can add you pretty quickly. In each episode you’ll hear about other ABA services and products that we think that could help families.

JESSICA: Please rate, review and subscribe to Breastfeeding … with ABA. Thank you for supporting the Australian Breastfeeding Association.


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