I know we all treasure our sleep, but for most women, middle-of-the-night milk removals are essential for building supply in the early weeks and maintaining that supply long-term.
It’s important to not go long periods without emptying your breasts. In the book, Making More Milk, they state that “each skipped feeding decreases milk production by that same amount unless you compensate by pumping, preferably at about the same time.”
Prolactin — the major milk-making hormone — is naturally higher at night when you sleep. Prolactin starts to rise 90 minutes after sleep begins, with maximum peaks at 4-5 hours, and it can stay high two hours after waking up. The prolactin surge in response to a baby suckling at the breast is also higher at night. Fun Fact: Even short naps during the day can cause your prolactin levels to increase.
When you’re sleepy and relaxed, milk tends to flow more easily — making it easier to empty your breasts, which will stimulate more milk production.
There are a few exceptions: Women with abundant milk production or large breast storage capacities may be able to do without a middle-of-the-night milk removal. But for the most part, many of us would benefit from taking advantage of the higher prolactin levels during REM sleep to nurse (dream feed) or pump. Even if all looks well in the beginning, a gradual or sudden drop-off in production can happen after a few weeks/months if an insufficient number of middle-of-the-night milk removals were established in previous weeks.
Milk supply is highest overnight, because our bodies “expect“ to be feeding our babies nearly continuously overnight. Whenever babies start sleeping long stretches overnight and we don't nurse or pump, supply down-regulates — your body thinks the baby doesn’t need milk anymore (or at least a lot less). If you’d prefer not to pump, dream feeding is a great option!