Surviving your baby’s night time feeding regime is a major feat of endurance for which you need all the help you can get. Christine Stride shares some tips.
For me, the first months of night feeds were a surreal blur. My first daughter and I regularly nodded off while breastfeeding in bed, me propped up on pillows with the lights low and she blissfully attached to a breast. Then I’d come out of my doze, glance at the clock and see that she’d been on B1* for 45 minutes! Because newborns can lose 5-10% of their birth weight in their first week (whether breast or formula-fed), they need to regain it fast. That means regular feeding every 2-3 hours, which is a real strain on your already tired body. What helped enormously was when my husband was able to help: getting up at her cry and delivering her into my arms, was a small but significant action, that saved precious energy, and acknowledged that we were doing this together.
*Don't you nickname your breasts?
Here are some tips to help you survive the night time feeds:
I watched late night news, ostensibly to keep up with world events, but really just to stay awake, because by morning I remembered very little. By all means watch a TV series or trawl Facebook, but be careful about what you view: while breastfeeding my first daughter I learned that the World Health Organization had declared ‘swine flu’ as a global pandemic, three international flights had crashed killing hundreds of people, and Michael Jackson had died. Depressing stuff that can permeate your dreams when you do manage to sleep. With my second daughter, I was determined to find something more upbeat, so I watched comedy talk shows, but had to chuckle silently so baby wouldn’t be startled and pop off the boob.
Better than a slap in the face! Cold water certainly sharpens the senses, and if you breastfeed, keeping up your fluid intake is vital anyway. Have water easily accessible by your bed, preferably in a mug – they’re easier to grasp than a glass and less likely to smash if knocked to the floor - or perhaps iced water in a thermos to keep it cold. If you’re getting up anyway, keep a jug of water in the fridge and a cup out ready. In truth, I can’t actually remember being that far-sighted…
Has someone offered to help out if you need “anything”? Here’s something they could do: they could make you batches of carb-laden but preferably wholemeal, low sugar and caffeine-free snacks (eg muffins, cookies, pancakes, flapjacks) that you can freeze and defrost in the microwave. Porridge, toast, yoghurt (low sugar) or a cup of soup (low salt) are also good post-night-feed hunger busters.
Take it lying down!
A few extra minutes in LaLa land? Yes please! Side nursing is when you’re lying on your side with baby lying parallel to you and feeding off your bottom breast which is resting on the bed. It allows you to rest and potentially sleep (always use safe co-sleeping practices!). It does take some practise and even if it feels uncomfortable at first, keep trying, it’s worth it. Read our article on the reclining breastfeeding technique.
Turn the clock around
Asking yourself, “How many hours of sleep did I just get?” or, “If I go to bed now, how much sleep could I get?” is just torture, really, so don’t do it! Just go with the flow, you’ll be tired no matter how many hours, minutes or seconds of slumber you manage.
You’re holding your wailing and chest-nuzzling baby. You sink onto the couch, start to feed then realise your TV remote/drink/phone is out of reach. It’s not the worst thing that could happen, because now you get to spend time* gazing at the little miracle you helped create. But sometimes, if we’re honest, seeing the bright side of night time feeding can be a challenge, and if the thought of watching repeats of while enjoying a cup of iced water makes getting up at 3am easier, then yes, it’s ok to feel a tad annoyed! So, before you go to bed, find the TV remote, your phone (charged!) a book, whatever, and put it where you’re going to feed.
Think good thoughts
There's really no way around the exhaustion, unless you have a dedicated round-the clock team of helpers. If you can change your mindset from one of wishing you could just sleep, to one of wonder over the fact that you're able to provide for your baby, it will help you appreciate these precious moments that pass all too quickly.
Sleep when baby sleeps
When did relaxing become a discipline we have to learn? Even just taking the time to lie down with baby can help you recharge mentally and physically. Chores can wait. Just do it!