When Your Baby Would Rather Nurse Than Sleep

IMG_0174This is my life right now. My son Levi is 6 months old. He has woken up the past several nights at least 4 to 5 times. When Daddy goes in, he is looking for me. He would much rather nurse on momma than sleep through the wee hours of the night. So what on earth do you do when you find yourself in this situation?

Breastfed babies wake more often than formula fed babies because they digest breast milk quicker. So, they need us. They need to nurse. Night nursing helps to keep milk supply plentiful. The highest milk supply levels and levels of prolactin are released during the night hours. This ensures mom can keep up with the demands of baby’s milk needs.

There are all sorts of sleep-training methods that claim to “break” baby from night waking, but there are several reasons why a young baby would rather nurse than sleep. Here are some common reasons for night waking and nursing:

  • To Get Mom’s Attention:  Nursing creates a secure, safe environment for baby. The smell of mom, the touch of mommy’s hand, all create a safe place. Baby has your attention and you are there to respond.
  • To Not Feel Alone: Babies are not fans of mom leaving the room at night. Sometimes when they wake, they just don’t want to be alone. Cue crying, cue mom entering, cue nursing session.
  • Because they’re Hungry: This one seems obvious, but many pediatricians will tell you that a baby should not need to eat in the night. Sometimes, they are just hungry. My baby boy is usually hungry a few times a night still, because he has limited solid foods in his diet. Don’t ignore the cries. Feed your baby.
  • Growth Spurts:  See above. Feed that baby. An hour later…feed that baby.
  • Learning New Skills:  Babies wake often while they are learning new things. Crawling, rolling, learning to sit-up. All of these skills can cause baby to wake in the night and maybe just maybe want to nurse. Nursing to sleep is not a bad thing.
  • Teething Pain:  Sometimes, babies who are teething just want to nurse for comfort. Mommy is the ultimate soother and being close to you is just what the doctor ordered.

While it is good to know there are reasons why babies wake often in the night to nurse, it can still be hard to get through. Hang in there, mom. I’m right there with you. I have nights where I am exhausted. Levi will wake hourly to nurse and I just want to hand off the feedings, but then I remember how special I am to my little guy. Nursing in the night helps with SIDS prevention, as well. I can’t tell you how often I check on Levi. At least with all of his waking, I know he is safe.

So when your baby is waking hourly to nurse, remember there is a reason. They aren’t trying to manipulate you. They aren’t trying to drive you crazy. They need you. You need them. Together, you make the breastfeeding relationship work and be successful. Together, you may not get as much sleep, but I promise that one day when they sleep all night and are weaned, you will miss those precious hours of the night where they were close to you and only you.

Karyn Meyerhoff is a mom of two from Northeast Indiana. She loves breastfeeding and sleep. That’s why she drinks a cup of coffee each morning.

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