To celebrate World Breastfeeding week 2016, I thought I’d share with you…
5 great things no one ever told you about night-time breastfeeding… really!
The world is full of tired parents… and the internet is full of posts from worried and exhausted parents seeking information about whether their babies are normal and what should they do about night-waking babies. Bookstores have entire sections dedicated to baby sleeping, authored by so called ‘baby sleep experts’. And magazines advertise all sorts of gadgets from speciality swaddling blankets to sound machines, knowing, from market research, that sleep deprived parents will purchase anything they think might improve their baby’s sleep.
But what do we really know about night-waking, breastfeeding babies? Besides the basics of why breastfed babies feed frequently, (they need to feed at least 8 times, probably 10-12 times, in 24 hours when exclusively breastfeeding) here are some of the more interesting, less publicised things science tells us about night-time and breastfeeding that might enable exhausted mums to look at night-time breastfeeding in a whole different way:
- Did anyone ever tell you that … in lactating women, prolactin production (prolactin is the milk-making hormone) follows a circadian rhythm? Studies have shown that breastfeeding women’s prolactin levels are significantly higher at night, particular in the small hours of the morning. Babies often want to nurse at night because quite simply, there’s more milk at night.
- Did anyone ever tell you that …babies are born with no established circadian rhythms? They can’t tell day from night, and they take several months to develop their own cycles. They also do not make their own melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone) for much of their early life. But night-time breast milk has plenty of melatonin, and scientists think that melatonin-rich night-time breast milk helps babies develop their own circadian cycles and helps them eventually learn to sleep longer stretches at night (Engler et al, 2009).
- Did anyone ever tell you … your evening and night-time breast milk is rich with other sleep-inducing and brain-boosting substances? According to early-childhood researcher Darcia Narvaez, PhD, breast milk in the evening contains more tryptophan (a sleep inducing amino acid). Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a vital hormone for brain function and development. Serotonin makes the brain work better, keeps one in a good mood, and helps with sleep-wake cycles (Somer 2009)
- Did anyone ever tell you … studies have shown that breastfeeding mums actually get more sleep than their formula- feeding counterparts? According to a recent study, breastfeeding parents got 40-45 minutes more sleep per night on average during the first 3 months postpartum (Ball et al 2013). Over a 3 month period, that is a LOT more sleep! And, research also tells us that all the extra sleep in very important for mum’s mental health.
- Did anyone ever tell you … breastfeeding at night is important for keeping a mum’s long-term milk production steady and strong.
So there you have it! 5 interesting reasons why your baby is waking at night to breastfeed. …..Did you ever think, when you hear your baby rouse at 2.00am, that they are actually giving you the gift of MORE sleep, and ensuring your long-term breast milk supply, whilst getting milk enriched with melatonin and serotonin properties, thus developing their own circadian rhythms, and building and developing their brains. Hopefully, now you will.
Barbara Smith. Midwife (BSc Hons) and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) www.youcanbreastfeed.co.uk