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Coping with broken sleep

Baby won’t sleep at night?



Here's some tips to help you get through the day.

Tired mother

Having a new baby can be a very tiring time for parents. No matter how your baby is fed, being tired just seems to go along with being a parent of young children.

Will formula make my baby sleep longer?

This is a common question that parents ask. The following research findings may help you to understand why switching to formula is unlikely to help. 

  • There is no research to show that feeding a baby formula or starting solid food early makes them sleep longer. 

  • What research has shown is that mums who exclusively breastfeed their young babies (3 months and younger) get more sleep overnight than those who feed their babies formula in the evening. In fact, one study reported that parents who fed their baby formula in the evening or at night lost out on 40-45 minutes of sleep each night, on average.

  • When a baby breastfeeds, a hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) is released in both mum and baby. This hormone is sleep-inducing so you both go back to sleep more quickly. Other hormones in breastmilk also help baby to sleep.

  • When breastfed babies sleep close to their mums, they tend to have the same sleep patterns. So you’ll be ready to wake when your baby stirs. This makes it much easier to feed your baby and fall asleep again. 

Most young babies, no matter how they are fed, will wake several times or more during the night and need help from a parent to fall back to sleep. It seems that having broken sleep comes with being a parent of young children.  

However, continuing to exclusively breastfeed has benefits in terms of the amount of sleep that parents get and how mums are able to manage night feeds. So keep going! 

Try some of the following tips to cope with the lack of sleep. 

Managing the nights

  • Have your baby sleep nearby. This can make night-time feeds much easier, especially if you are breastfeeding. Less moving around can mean less time awake and easier getting back to sleep. The Red Nose charity recommends that your baby sleeps in the same room as you do for the first 6 to 12 months to reduce the risk of SIDS. 

  • 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.   

  • If you need to, change your baby’s nappy before a feed or between breasts (if your baby drinks from both breasts) so you and your baby can just drift off to sleep after the feed.

  • Some families like to put baby to sleep in their own cot to start with. Then after baby wakes, move to a mattress on the floor where you both sleep after the feeds. Or bring baby into your bed after the first feed. Many parents do whatever they need to do to get maximum sleep.  

Take naps and get exercise

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

  • You may be able to have a friend or family member care for your baby while you take a nap. It may be most helpful to do this straight after a breastfeed, so you get maximum sleep before your baby needs another feed. 

  • 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. 

  • Reduce household tasks and unnecessary outings when you're feeling especially run-down. 

  • Get some sunlight during the day. This can help boost your own and your baby’s melatonin (sleepy hormone) levels, which can help both of you sleep better at night.  

Share the load

  • If there are two of you parenting, or if you have another support person, take turns to get up to baby in the night. Your partner might change baby's nappy and bring them in to you for a feed. 

  • One parent can go to bed early while the other cares for baby. 

  • One gets up with baby in the morning while the other sleeps in. 

  • Have a family member or friend care for your baby while you have some 'me-time'. 

Try not to worry about what you 'should' or 'shouldn't' be doing with your baby's sleep. Get creative with sleeping arrangements and do what works for your family to get maximum rest.

It will get easier! Trust that your baby will learn to fall asleep and stay asleep longer in their own in time. Look after yourself while you are waiting for that to happen.  

© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022

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