My baby is 9-months-old and she wakes to breastfeed every hour or so. She wakes up and cries, tosses, or just latches on. Our baby sleeps with us in our family bed. She has one nap during the day. I put her to sleep around 8pm and by 9pm she wakes up crying. My husband and I get to bed around 11pm. Then, she wakes up the second or third time and keeps waking up through the night. How can I reduce the amount of breastfeeding at night?

Night time parenting presents mothers with a great surprise. No one tells us that a well attached baby would wake up often to breastfeed. In addition, it is hard not to be influenced by the cultural expectation that a baby should sleep much of the night with very few interruptions. Yet, that expectation is what creates the stress. My guess is that if you knew that the baby will wake up a lot, you would feel more peaceful about it and find a way to get more sleep for yourself.

It is common and healthy for babies to wake up often and breastfeed. The amount of feeding at night varies from baby to baby, but most babies who are fully responded to, will wake up often; it is natures way to ensure the babys health, safety and growth. The baby grows rapidly when asleep and is therefore frequently hungry. When finding that his lifeline is always at hand, she grows up to feel emotionally secure, content and trusting of herself and of others. She learns that gentle cues are sufficient to get her needs met.

Interestingly, most aboriginal mothers dont even think of “putting” a baby to sleep. A mother just goes on about her life with the baby on her body. The baby sleeps on and off, developing bodily self-awareness and self-reliance. At night the mother would lay down with the baby expecting to wake up as needed.

Such constant physical connection seems daunting to modern mothers. The difficulty arises when we resist the way the baby is. We then focus on fixing her ways, instead of responding to the way she is. When we go this route we are stressed out and disconnected from our baby and less able to understand her needs. We want her to be what she is not.

In contrast, when we trust the baby, we easily find productive ways to respond to her needs. For example, we dont resist the fact that the infant cant walk; we carry her and we come up with slings, and other creative solutions to help ourselves meet the babys needs. Therefore, in answering your question I would like to give you tools for responding to your babys need to breastfeed at night. In doing so, she may also wake up fewer time, but this is not your goal. When you gain peace inside – her choices will be your delight.

Reduce waking up to check that mum is here

Since you put your baby to bed a few hours ahead of yourself and possibly for naps, it is likely that she has become anxious, needing to check that you are next to her.¬† Alone in a crib or alone in the family bed is not different for the baby. If she wakes up and you are not there, she cries in distress and learns that crying is the way to get your attention. In this way she has conditioned herself to wake up anxious and crying. She sleeps less deeply, with an alertness to your presence and waking up more often, even when you are right next to her. She has no way of knowing for sure that you will be there. The baby can only feel safe to sleep deeply when she has no doubt that you are always with her. Therefore, co-sleeping is best when practiced “full-time.”

This is not a reason to blame yourself or worry about your baby. She is obviously getting great care and therefore will respond to the adjustment and gain more peaceful sleep.

You are not alone. Many responsive and attached parents put their baby to bed ahead of themselves so they can connect with their spouses or nurture themselves. Although the couples connection is important, the evening is the worst time for it because it is the time a baby needs you the most. Be creative in finding time for you and your spouse, and learn to connect with each other with baby in arms. Life will never be the way it was. The sooner you embrace the new reality the more joy you will have.

Below are ways to make sure that your daughter is free of anxiety and that you get more sleep while honouring her need for frequent feeding at night:

  • Go to bed at the same time as your baby or move her bedtime gradually to match yours. This way you get more sleep and your baby will learn to trust that you are always next to her and gradually diminish the need for “checkups wakeups.” After a while, when she is sure you are always with her, she will wake up without crying and only as much as she needs to breastfeed.
  • Alternately, you can let your baby fall asleep in your arms while you are still up with your husband or with your other children.
  • When your baby naps, either sleep with her and get more rest, carry her in a sling, sit with her in your arms and read or be with your older child etc. or, put her down right next to you so if she shows the slightest motion you can promptly touch her, cuddle next to her or breastfeed, so she feels secure.
  • Sleep either with no top, or with a garment that is easy to remove so you can stay sleepy when you offer the breast.
  • Breastfeed without changing your position too much. Stay in bed and stay laying down in the dark. Minimising motion and change will help both of you to go back to sleep. You can even fall asleep or doze while breastfeeding.
  • If you need to change a wet nappy, have it handy and change it under the blanket laying down. I found putting the baby on my chest one of the easiest positions for nappy changes as well as a heavenly way to fall asleep. This works best with cotton all in one nappies.
  • Put light-blocking curtains on your bedroom windows and your baby will sleep longer in the morning giving both of you extra rest. (This may take time to have an impact on your baby.)
  • When a baby is tossing around I often wonder if she wakes not because of needing to feed but because she is too hot, or the fabric of her clothing is uncomfortable due to the material, lumps or folds. Try different soft materials and make sure she is comfortable and the room has fresh air.
  • Avoid night-lights. Keep the bedroom dark for deeper sleep and so that when the baby wakes up she does not get visually interested and wants to get up.
  • With rare exceptions, avoid getting your baby out of bed in the middle of the night.
  • Remove electronic clocks and other electrical devices from the sleeping area. This includes TV or machinery on the other side of the wall. Electro magnetic fields radiate through walls and can be harmful as well as keep some babies awake.
  • Remove your clock from the bedroom for your sake too. Avoid counting the number of times your baby wakes up, or how much sleep you get; such mental concerns cause stress and tiredness. Being at peace can be more refreshing than sleep.
  • Each time your baby wakes up, refresh your memory about how much you love her and enjoy breastfeeding and drop the memory of the wake ups count. When you dont remember in the morning how many times she woke up, you will feel refreshed.

I remember nights when I couldnt go back to sleep after breastfeeding. I would end up with two or three hours of sleep and felt exhausted. Then I got rid of the clock and stopped counting. My awake night hours became very special; I would just cuddle with my baby anticipating with delight his next wake up. I thought to myself, “How can I memorise this incredible time of laying in bed holding this sleeping angelic delight?” Without counting or checking the clock, I got up in the morning with plenty of energy for the day.

What will help you the most is the realising that there is no problem; you can look forward to your baby waking up at night. Use the tools that fit you best and find others that respond to your specific set up and to your unique baby. Your peace of mind will help you stay creative and responsive.