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Sleeping in newborn shifts

In the early postpartum months, especially the first two to six weeks, newborn babies are often incredibly resistant to laying down and sleeping on their own without being held by a person. Think of this as a really smart survival mechanism for humans.

Stay near another person, stay alive. Wake up alone, find a person.

If the baby is hungry, their natural instinct is to find and latch onto the breast to calm themselves. If the baby is seeking to return to the breast, even if they aren’t necessarily hungry or very hungry, they may show you feeding cues that motivate you to latch the baby or put the baby skin to skin near your breast.

Baby may settle better with the non-lactating breastfeeding support partner using the 5 S’s to calm, distract and soothe. Think of this as “tricking the baby into feeling held in the womb or directly at the breast.”

It will take weeks or months to learn how to help your baby feel safe and settled sleeping alone and that’s ok.

In the meantime, rather than burning brain power strategizing how to make Baby sleep, let’s instead focus on how to get the lactating parent and the breastfeeding support person protected chunks of sleep.

The Breastfeeding Support Partner or another support person will assume responsibility for the baby while the lactating parent takes a protected chunk of sleep.  This may include completing a feeding cycle by bottle feeding the baby and/or keeping the baby calm and quiet for as long as possible before bringing the baby to the lactating parent to nurse.

This schedule needs to be built first around protecting the milk supply. The lactating parent has limitations on how long their breasts can go without being stimulated.  This interval will be where we begin to find chunks of protected sleep for the lactating parent. From there, we will balance the sleep of the breastfeeding support partner. 

The lactating parent must maintain 8 stimulations per 24 hours. During the longer stretch of sleep, there will be a missed stimulation that needs to be made up elsewhere by pumping after a nursing session. This might be after the feeding that follows the long stretch of sleep or it may be after a first morning feeding.

A stimulation is an effective nursing session or a pump session

Protect the milk supply with 8 total stimulations in 24 hours and determine how long your breasts can go without stimulation AND still have eight simulations in 24 hours. In general, abide by the rule of going no longer than 5 hours.

In the first six weeks, try not to go longer than 5 hours without stimulating your breasts. Sometimes, going longer than 5 hours can send a reverse message to the brain to slow down or shut down milk production. So until you feel your supply is stable and predictable, around 6 weeks or later, abide by the 5 hour maximum rule.

At the 5 hour mark, the lactating parent can wake and nurse the baby or pump to achieve stimulation. Sometimes, the breasts are fuller than usual after this long stretch of sleep and the lactating parent may opt to pump after nursing to fully drain. This can be based on feel.

The Breastfeeding Support Partner also needs sleep of course. Once the lactating parent has taken a chunk of sleep, decide how you will transition to providing a protected sleep chunk for your partner.