You want to breastfeed – great! But you ALSO want to sleep train – also great! Read on for my top tips on how to go about doing so.
Can I still breastfeed and sleep train?
Absolutely you can. We do want to be mindful of supply, especially if your baby is under six months. If your baby is feeding more than once in the middle of the night, pumping would be recommended so your supply doesn’t diminish. If you don’t want to pump, you can continue to feed your baby at night, but do a modified Ferber for when they need to go back down after those feedings (feed and cry intervals after the feeding). It’s really about what YOU feel comfortable with. You can drop feedings completely or do a more gradual approach, but keep in mind your own production (as every mother is different).
How do I know if I should drop night feeds or not?
Your choices here are cold-turkey elimination, gradual, or to keep feeding. Let’s discuss all three.
- After four months, your pediatrician will likely say it’s okay to drop night feeds. If your baby is gaining weight, they can technically do without night feeds. For many, this may seem confusing. “Wait, I’m not feeding my baby if they’re hungry? How is that okay?” The philosophy behind eliminating feeds completely is that baby will be trained to understand that they don’t need to feed overnight and they will adjust their intake during the day. Just like we don’t wake up in the middle of the night to eat, a baby can learn this, too by eliminating feeds completely.
- Completely eliminating feeds may not sit well for many parents and I completely understand this. So, a parent can also decide to wean feeds or even continue to feed and work on other skills for independent sleep. You don’t HAVE to completely drop feeds and the choice is made based on your philosophy and how you look at sleep training.
- Can every baby drop feeds cold-turkey? It’s possible, but there may be more tears that a parent may not be okay with.
- If your baby is over four months and still getting full feeds at night (20 minute breastfeeding session or at least 4 oz of formula or expressed breast milk), you can decide to wean versus eliminate cold turkey. Full feeds are not snacks. Many babies after four months have created a feeding association where they wake up and feed to sleep because that’s what they are used to doing to go to sleep. These feeds are short breastfeeding sessions or a small amount of formula. Don’t offer those snack feeds and rather practice pausing and your sleep-training method of choice.
- If you choose to slowly wean feeds, work on one true feeding at a time. Start with the full feedings that happens before midnight and then go to the feedings after midnight.
- Reduce the amount of time you were feeding at the breast. Do 20 minutes for 3-5 days, then 18 minutes, then 16 minutes and so forth. You will need to use a sleep-training method of your choice to settle them back down.
- Some parents will choose to continue to feed their baby until they completely stop waking up, and this is a personal choice.
- If you choose this method and you also want to teach independent sleep, then you have to practice not feeding your baby to sleep in your arms. Try to feed baby and place them in their crib while they are still awake and showing sleepy cues and not completely passed out in your arms. Attempting to place them in their crib like this will teach them independent sleep skills rather than the association of being fed to sleep. Being fed to sleep is not a problem, but if your goal is independent sleep skills for your baby—we want to help teach them that.