You have probably been asked by friends, family, and even strangers if your baby is a “good baby'' and sleeps all night. Parameters of a “good” baby are often deduced to how well they fit into our adult world. A closer look at what is biologically normal for babies helps us understand why making room for their natural sleeping and breastfeeding patterns is important for their best growth and development. There are benefits to nursing your baby to sleep for them and you.
What does it mean to sleep like a baby? When people use that expression, they are implying to sleep soundly through the night for at least 8 hours.We find a different story if we look at a baby's sleep pattern.
Babies are meant to stay close to their mothers. Within the first hour after birth, a baby's reflexes help them crawl toward their mother’s chest, find the breast and nipple, and latch. This biological blueprint of staying with mom protects them from potential harm and keeps them close to their food source.
During the newborn period, babies sleep for short periods of time, day and night. Babies do not have the same internal clock or circadian rhythm as adults, regulating time by being awake during the day and asleep all night. Although over time, babies will begin to sleep a little longer at night, around 4 months of age. Sleeping through the night means a stretch of 5 hours. Your baby may start to have this longer stretch of sleep, but it doesn’t always remain consistent until at least one year old and often closer to 2 years old.
Breast milk varies throughout a feeding as well as from daytime to nighttime. Breast milk hormones and other components have their own circadian rhythm, which helps develop your baby’s internal clock. (2)
- Prolactin is one of the main hormones responsible for making milk. It is naturally highest in the middle of the night. When you nurse your baby during the night, the prolactin level remains high for a sustained period, increasing your milk supply not only at night but for the next day.
- Frequent milk removal during the first 6 months postpartum and avoiding long stretches between nursing provides a natural method of birth control called the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) and can provide up to 98% security of preventing pregnancy.
- Parents cherish their sleep, and waking often to feed their baby doesn’t need to get in the way of that. In fact, you are more likely to get more sleep when you are in close proximity to your baby and do not have to fully awake and walk into another room or section of your room to feed your baby. You can respond quickly to your baby’s movements and arousal to eat and feel more rested. A mother sleeping in contact with her baby may only remember waking a few times compared to how often the baby actually woke. (5)
- Natural way to help your baby connect with you and settle down for bedtime. Nursing for comfort slows your baby’s heart rate and allows them to relax quickly and fall asleep.
Nature intended for you to nurse your baby to sleep. It is normal for your baby or young child to want to nurse to sleep. They feel safe and secure connecting with their mother. You are their natural, biologically normal habitat. The concept of a "good baby" should not be based on fitting into adult expectations but rather on meeting their biological needs. By nursing your baby to sleep, you are providing them with numerous benefits, such as better sleep quality, optimal nutrition, comfort, and healthy attachment. And let's remember the advantages for you as well, including increased milk supply, convenience, and the opportunity to bond with your baby in a gentle and nurturing way.