Maintaining Your Milk Supply While Sleep Training

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Maintaining Your Milk Supply While Sleep Training

4-16 months

Sep 15, 2022

As a breastfeeding mom of two, there’s no doubt that I have had a thousand and one questions regarding my milk supply when it comes to fostering healthy sleep habits and sleep training.

“Is my body going to make enough milk once my baby sleeps through the night?”

“Is my baby going to drink enough milk so that he CAN sleep through the night?”

“How do I build my freezer supply so others can feed my baby?”

“How often/when do I need to pump if my baby begins to sleep through the night?”

“Is it even possible to sleep train my baby to sleep a full 11-12 hours a night AND maintain a solid milk supply?”

When I was given the opportunity to stay at home with both of my sons, I knew that I desired to breastfeed them both if my body was able to. 

Along with breastfeeding, I also knew that I wanted to foster healthy sleep habits that would benefit not only my children but our family as a whole.

I began to do some research about breastfeeding and sleep training and it seemed that some resources said a breastfed baby could sleep through the night (11-12 hours) while others said that this simply was not realistic.

If you find yourself reading this “niche” blog post on maintaining your milk supply while sleep training, and you’re wondering about the same thing, then you’re in good company.

It’s likely you and I are in the same season where days are filled with nursing sessions, naps, and diaper changes.

So – from one momma to another – I want you to know that it IS possible to breastfeed and sleep train your baby!

It’s my deepest desire that the practical tips found in this blog post will empower and encourage you when it comes to caring for your baby, maintaining your milk supply AND making sleep a thing for you, your baby and your entire family! 

(I am not a certified lactation consultant and I know that every breastfeeding journey is different! If you are not a stay at home mom, or you have to exclusively pump, then some of these tips may or may not apply to you. If you have personal concerns about your little one’s feeding habits or overall health, consult your child’s pediatrician as soon as you can!)

Be mindful of the clock

When you are breastfeeding, you certainly don’t have to be a slave to the clock, but it is important to be mindful of it.

You are establishing your milk supply in the first several weeks of postpartum so it’s really important that your little one is nursing every 2-3 hours throughout the day, signaling to your body to make more milk! 

(I highly recommend using a haaka during the first month of nursing! It not only collects additional let-down milk – that’s usually wasted and soaked into a nursing pad!– but it helps your body to produce more milk without over-producing!)

The more often your baby nurses and empties the breast, the more milk you will produce. 

It’s common for babies to be extremely sleepy in the first months of life, so it’s actually really good and necessary to wake them for their feedings. 

Even when they are four months of age and older, you will still want to wake them so that they don’t miss a feeding! 

When you are sleep training, watching the clock not only helps your little one to regulate their daytime sleep total, but it also helps them to engage in full, consistent feedings so that they are satisfied when the day is done. 

If your little one’s nap is approaching their next feeding time, wake them up within 30 minutes of their feeding so that they can continue to maintain a consistent feeding rhythm and your body can maintain a consistent milk production rhythm. 

Watching the clock and waking your baby to feed not only allows your body to make more milk in general, but it also signals your body to make more milk during the daytime INSTEAD of during the night! 

This is an important piece when it comes to maintaining your milk supply during sleep training because you want your body to learn WHEN it’s time to make the most milk, and that’s when your baby is awake throughout the day!

If your baby is nursing every 2-3 hours during the day and consuming less calories at night, then your body will learn to produce the majority of your milk during the day when your baby needs it most.

The clock is a powerful tool to be mindful of when it comes to building and maintaining your milk supply during both the newborn days and the sleep training process.

Add an additional pumping session

In the first 3-6 months of postpartum, it’s very possible that your baby will begin to sleep through the night (10-12 hours) if they are having full, wide awake feedings every 2-3 hours during the day and falling asleep independently without props. 

Both of my sons are graduates of Becca’s Little Z’s Newborn Sleep course and have slept through the night (11-12 hours) without a night feeding since 3 months of age. 

Is your newborn having a hard time falling asleep? Learn how to help your newborn to sleep HERE!

If you’ve implemented Becca’s Newborn Sleep Course or her 4-5 Month Baby Sleep Course and your little one begins to sleep through the night (Yipee!), then it’s very helpful to begin pumping once a night so you can add to your freezer stash and continue to increase and maintain your milk supply until it becomes completely established.

It’s common for babies younger than 6 months to wake up once in the night for a feeding so adding an additional pumping session will help to simulate this for your body if they have already dropped their final night feeding.

For my oldest son, I set an alarm for 2:30AM and woke up to pump for 15-20 minutes.

(Yes, I was still waking in the middle of the night, but it was well worth it in order to maintain my milk supply so that my baby could KEEP sleeping through the night!) 

For my youngest son, I tried pumping right before I went to bed around 9:30PM. 

I have found that either approach was profitable for both my milk supply and my freezer supply.

I maintain this additional pumping session until my babies are 6+ months of age and my milk supply is fully established and then I begin to taper it off by pumping for less and less time time until it essentially vanishes.

Along with bolstering my milk supply, adding in an additional evening pumping session during the first 6 months helps me to feel less engorged in the morning, helps my baby’s latch and decreases reflux.

Getting to sleep a solid 7-9 hours a night, either uninterrupted or with a small, middle of the night pumping session is LIFE-GIVING during the newborn season and your milk supply will thank you as it establishes and regulates!

***If your little one is still waking for one night feeding between 4-5 months of age, then that feeding is also helpful to your supply and it’s appropriate to continue to offer it to them until they grow out of it or until you help them to drop it around 6 months of age! 

Focus on full, wide awake feedings

I know in the breastfeeding world it’s really common to hear that you need to feed on demand in the early days – and you should! 

Sleepy newborns need to latch and feed often during the first few months of life because their stomachs are growing and so is your milk supply!

However, once your little one is a few months old and you are ready to solidify independent sleeping habits, it’s really helpful to begin to focus on full, wide awake feedings instead of small, snack-sized feedings.

If your little one is following an eat-wake-sleep cycle throughout the day, then it’s very likely that they will be ready for a full feeding around the time that they wake from a nap! 

This is ideal because they will be well rested and alert when they feed, which will help them to empty the breast and eat more during each feeding – growing and strengthening your milk supply! 

When you are sleep training your little one, it’s a great idea to feed them 10-15 minutes upon waking so they truly feel awake and hungry, ready to take a full feed.

If you are sleep training a 6+ month old, and you are dealing with 3+ hour wake windows, it also might be necessary to offer a top-off feeding before their nap to ensure that your baby is going down with a full belly! 

Offer a top-off feeding 15 minutes before your baby’s nap time making sure your baby is wide awake with no signs of drowsiness.

**If you notice that the top-off feeding is NEGATIVELY affecting your baby’s feeding rhythm after their nap (as in they dont’ seem as hungry and don’t take a full feeding) then it’s safe to assume the top-off feeding isn’t necessary. 

Pump at the same time as a missed feeding

When it comes to maintaining and regulating your milk supply, it’s important to remove milk from the breasts around the same time each day so that your body can begin to produce the appropriate amount of milk for your baby at each feeding!

If you miss a nursing session, and your little one drinks expressed breast milk from a bottle, then it’s a good idea to pump around the same time that your baby fed. 

This will ensure that your body registers the “feeding” and continues to make more milk for the next feeding.

If I go out on a date night, or I am away, I try to have my manual hand pump ready so I can pump essentially anywhere.

I personally enjoy using a manual hand pump for all of my pumping needs at home or on the go because it’s extremely light, portable, and easy to store.

I have personally found that my body responds more effectively to a manual pump than it does to an electric pump.

Be sure to find the type of pump that works best for your body!

Finding the right pump will not only make pumping easier and less time consuming, but it will also help you to protect and bolster your milk supply!

Drink water

This tip almost goes without saying, but it’s extremely important to drink water while you are nursing and breastfeeding around the clock.

Breastmilk is 80-90% water, so it’s important that your body has enough water to produce milk for your baby AND keep you hydrated!

Drinking water doesn’t necessarily increase your milk supply, but dehyrdation WILL cause your body to make less milk overall if you yourself are not drinking enough water.

Keep a water bottle in the places that you regularly nurse your baby so that you can remember to replenish your body with fluids after each nursing session!

If you don’t like to drink plain water all of the time (I’m guilty of that) then add some fresh lemon or lime to it to make it more enjoyable.

You could also make it a habit to drink a cup of water before you drink any another beverage of choice (especially coffee or anything with caffeine!)

Eat well and exercise

Your diet definitely doesn’t have to be perfect, but your milk supply will benefit from a well-rounded diet and weekly exercise!

Just like drinking water around the clock will help your body to produce more milk, eating high nutrient foods will have the same effect!

Here are some of my favorite foods and snacks during the season of breastfeeding:

  • Oats (especially overnight oats!)
  • Low sugar protein bars
  • Protein smoothies
  • Avocados
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Coconut Water
  • Pistachios
  • Cheese
  • Hummus
  • Chocolate covered pretzels (My favorite treat during the first few weeks of breast feeding!)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Lactation cookies and protein energy bites

Along with eating a well-rounded diet, it’s also important to habitually exercise once you have been cleared by your doctor to do so!

The postpartum healing process varies for everyone, so be sure to listen to your body when reintroducing daily and weekly exercise.

I’ve exercised both before and after the first nursing session of the day (which usually falls around 7:00AM).

If I exercise or run before I nurse in the morning, I make sure that I’m faithful to take some sunflower lecithin beforehand to help prevent any clogged ducts that might arise from wearing a tight-fit sports bra.

Exercising has never caused my supply to drop and it has never kept my babies from nursing!

You can learn more about exercising and breastfeeding HERE. 

Connect with a trusted lactation consultant

When it comes to breastfeeding and caring for your baby I think one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself and your little one is to connect with a trusted lactation consultant in your area.

With my first son, I experienced a lot of pain and even bleeding when it came to breastfeeding!

Two days after my son was born, I knew I needed to book a home visit with a trusted lactation consultant in my area.

She came to my house the next day and spent two hours with me! It was SUCH a gift.

She assessed my son’s latch, taught me how to use my pumps,  and reassured me that my body was just adjusting to the breastfeeding process!

After our home visit I felt so encouraged and empowered to continue with my breastfeeding journey even though it wasn’t always easy.

Within a few weeks the pain was gone and breastfeeding began to feel easier. I still suffered from clogged ducts but my lactation consultant taught me how to treat them and prevent them in the future.

With my second son, I didn’t experience any pain and it has been a much smoother process.

Each baby is different and each breastfeeding experience is different.

Connecting with a quality lactation consultant  is an invaluable investment for you and your baby.

Most of all, enjoy the process and journey of breastfeeding and sleep training.

Whether it’s feeding or sleep training, it’s important to find joy and delight in the process.

The first few years of your baby’s life are FLEETING so don’t forget to stop and enjoy them (even the hard, tiring, messy parts!)

You and your baby are learning so many new things.

You BOTH deserve to be showered with grace and celebrated!

So delight in your baby’s health and growth, celebrate your postpartum recovery and breastfeeding journey, and cherish each day you are given as a family.

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