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Question & Answer - Breastfeeding

What are the best tips and timelines for establishing sleep routines for mommy and baby in conjunction with breastfeeding? How do you know when to feed and when to allow the child to self soothe?

QUESTION FROM: Julia Franklin in California

July 2013


COMPLETE QUESTION FROM: Julia Franklin in California

As an expectant mother with my first child, determining and preparing for sleep routines is an overwhelming task because of the large number of books available that discuss sleep. What are the best tips and timelines for establishing sleep routines for mommy and baby in conjunction with breastfeeding? How do you know when to feed and when to allow the child to self soothe? I want to support my baby's ability to find his own sleep rhythms without becoming dependent on the breast to fall asleep.


(Edited and Resourced by Diane Bahr, MS, CCC-SLP, CIMI)

 As a mother of four, I would tell you that sleep is just one of those things I wouldn’t worry about right now.  Your new baby will sleep just fine if you are there to nurture and soothe him.  Parenting is a 24 hour-a-day job, and your new baby will need nighttime as well as daytime parenting.  

Breastfeeding and Baby’s Sleep

A newborn baby needs only three things: warmth, food, and to feel secure or safe.  A baby gets all three when he is breastfeeding.  It is perfectly normal for babies to fall asleep while nursing.  In fact, they are programmed biologically to do just that. The fat content of breast milk increases as the breast empties along with the hormone tryptophan, which is designed to soothe and relax. So nursing is designed to put a baby to sleep.  Why mess with Mother Nature?

Nursing a baby to sleep is so easy and also very relaxing.  I think it is more important for a child to learn that he can count on his parents to meet his needs and be there when he is upset or unhappy. A piece of plastic (i.e., a pacifier) isn’t nearly as comforting to an infant as his mother’s breast.

Breastfeeding and Mom’s Sleep

According to Kim Grundy, breastfeeding moms may actually get more sleep than moms who bottle feed if they have their babies close at night and only have to wake slightly to feed. A recent study concluded “women should be told that choosing to formula feed does not equate with improved sleep” (Montgomery-Downs, Clawges, & Santy, 2010, p. 1562).

Moms who have done a lot of skin-to-skin care with their newborns find that they are frequently on the same sleep cycles. Basically, they are in REM sleep when their babies are.  So they tend to wake, feed, and go right back to sleep quiet easily. That said, it is unrealistic to expect a lot of sleep for the first month as your baby is transitioning to life outside the womb. Your baby’s stomach is very small, so he needs small frequent meals. Having your baby close at night will make this transition much easier.

Sleeping  Arrangements

One of the easiest ways to master happy nights is with some sort of sleeping arrangement where your baby can be near you.  After all, it wasn’t so very long ago that babies and young children slept with mom or dad before the advent of electricity and central heating.  Eighty to 100 years ago, most houses were unheated and bedrooms were usually unheated. The “family bed” was the norm. However, co-sleeping is only recommended today if it can be done safely. Peaceful Parenting has some great examples of safe co-sleeping.


You are right; there are many books out there about sleep. The ones I trust are Nighttime Parenting (1999) by William Sears, The Baby Book (2013) by the Sears group of pediatricians, The No Cry Sleep Solution (2002) by Elizabeth Pantley and William Sears, and Good Nights (2012) by Maria Goodavage and Jay Gordon. These books honor and respect the biological needs of the infant in addition to parent needs.  For example, Goodavage and Gordon point out that what some people refer to as “self-soothing” can actually be the beginning of OCD-like coping strategies because little ones are not equipped to face the many dark hours of a long night alone. Additionally, the website Kelly Mom has information about “Sleeping Through the Night” and studies that have been done on typical infant sleeping patterns/behaviors.


Goodavage, M., & Gordon, J. (2012). Good nights: The happy parents’ guide to the family bed (and a peaceful night’s sleep). New York, NY: St Martin’s Press.

Grundy, K. (2011, Jun. 15). Breastfeeding moms get more sleep at night. Retrieved from:

Kelly Mom. (2011, Aug. 2). Sleeping through the night. Retrieved from

Kelly Mom. (2011, Aug. 2). Studies on normal infant sleep. Retrieved from:

Montgomery-Downs, H. E., Clawges, H. M., & Santy, E. E. (2010, Dec.). Infant feeding methods and maternal sleep and daytime functioning. Pediatrics, 126(6), 1562-8. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-1269

Pantley, E., & Sears, W. (2002). The no-cry sleep solution: Gentle ways to help your baby sleep through the night. USA: McGraw-Hill.

Peaceful Parenting. (2010, Jan. 8). Turn your crib into a cosleeper. Retrieved from

Sears, W. (1999). Nighttime parenting: How to get your baby and child to sleep (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: The Penguin Group.

Sears, W., Sears, M., Sears, R., & Sears. J. (2013). The baby book: Everything you need to know about your baby from birth to age two (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.