You know your newborn doesn’t know day from night; you know tiny tummies don’t hold enough milk for your baby to sleep through the night yet; and you know how important night time breastfeeds are to maintain your milk supply - your prolactin (milk making hormone) levels are highest at night so these feeds are boosting your breast milk. Women have varying milk storage capacities and this can influence how frequently your baby may need to feed too.

Simply knowing night feeds are a fact of life right now, doesn’t mean you won’t be hanging out for uninterrupted sleep as soon as possible. The thing is, it’s perfectly normal for your your baby to need night feeds through his first year of life and possibly even longer. Thankfully though, there are some tips that can help you get more rest and make night-time breastfeeds much easier.

1)Keep the lights dim

Keeping the lights dim will help you and your baby stay in ‘snooze mode’ rather than wide awake– and harder to get back to sleep. In the early days you will most likely need some light to see that baby is latching well and he will probably need a nappy change too. Pop a dim bulb in your bedside lamp or use a dimmer on your light switch and if your baby needs a nappy change, do this half way through his feed then nurse him back to sleep – your breast milk has lovely ‘night time’ hormones that will encourage drowsiness and a quick return to sleep. As you become more experienced at breastfeeding, you may be able to avoid switching lights on at all, just snuggle up together and enjoy a quiet feed in the moonlight.

2) Keep baby close to you

Safe sleeping guidelines advise sleeping with baby near you to reduce the risks of SIDs. Keeping your baby close makes night feeds easier too, as you arouse at your baby’s early hunger signals, rather than waking fully to fetch your crying baby from another room and having to settle him before you can offer a feed. An upset baby may have difficulty latching at the breast and his sucking is likely to be disorganised, so he may not take a good feed so will wake again sooner for another feed, meaning less rest for you.

Many breastfeeding mums find they get more sleep if they bedshare and as you and your baby become more experienced, you can sleep through those night feeds – there is even a term for this ‘breast sleeping’ that has been created by professor James McKenna, an eminent infant sleep researcher at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. Check out his work here, including safe sleep guidelines for bed sharing families.

The key points to remember for safe sleep for all babies include: stay smoke-free (during pregnancy too); avoid alcohol, drugs or medications that can reduce your awareness of baby; don’t share sleep with your baby on sofas, upholstered chairs or recliners; keep your healthy baby lightly dressed, on his back, and near you for sleep. And, keep breastfeeding.

For more information about safe sleeping and bed sharing, see the Safe Sleep Seven. 

For expert tips to boost your milk supply, download our FREE ebook "Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally' by Pinky McKay IBCLC Lactation Consultant and creator of Boobie Bikkies, all natural and organic cookies to nourish and support you as you breastfeed your baby.

3) Learn to feed lying down

One way to ensure more rest during night feeds is to feed lying down (see the safe sleep guidelines as you are likely to doze as you feed). Lie on your side and experiment with pillows and positions (you may need 2 pillows to support your head), lie baby beside you with his nose level with your nipple, you can support him by cradling baby on your lower arm or you could bend your arm up near your head and use your ‘top’ arm to hold him close. Some mothers lie their baby on a small pillow to give enough height for him to reach the nipple – we all have different sized boobs so one size positioning doesn’t really fit all of us. You can also try a ‘laid back’ breastfeeding position, propped up on pillows, reclining with your baby on top of you with his tummy against you.

To change sides, roll over and reposition baby or, if your breasts are big enough you can simply lean over a little and offer the ‘top’ breast. To avoid a wet bed from leaking breasts, it can be helpful to place a towel under you too.

4) Set up your feeding space

Set up a basket or trolley(see Kmart or Ikea for small trolleys) with nappies, wipes, breast pads, a spare singlet and onesie (for ‘poo-splosions’) and a towel. Most breastfeeding mums say they feel very hungry during the night, especially in the early weeks. Keep a drink bottle of water on your  night stand and, instead of waking yourself fully to get up and raid the fridge, keep some healthy snacks next to your bed or feeding chair – Boobie Bikkies are a convenient, nourishing snack, they are individually wrapped so stay fresh and you can nibble a cookie with one hand while you feed your baby.

5) Don’t watch the clock

Watching the clock as you wake to feed your baby will trigger the crazy spinning voice in your head that does maths all night  – “if I get to sleep right now, I’ll get 2 hours and 45 minutes sleep before she next wakes.” You are so busy doing the mental arithmetic as the clock clicks over that eventually you are in a total panic because you KNOW your baby will be awake in less than half an hour – so you just lie there frozen, frustrated and angry, waiting for the yell that says, she’s awake. Relief: I can feed her and get back to sleep – I’ll still get a couple of hours before the sun comes up. Better check the phone to make sure. Oh, I’ll have a quick look at face-book first – half an hour later…… hell, the room is getting lighter, I can hear the traffic…. Damn!

Just don’t watch the clock.

If you are having difficulty getting back to sleep after a feed, try listening to meditations (Meditation Oasis is a great free source for lovely gentle guided relaxation and sleep meditations), a podcast or audiobook (keep ear plugs in your feeding basket). This will distract you from anxiety about lack of sleep so you will probably fall asleep and miss the plot (literally) but at least you won’t be missing extra sleep.

Pinky McKay is Australia's most recognised and respected breastfeeding expert. She's an IBCLC lactation consultant, best-selling baby author of Sleeping Like a Baby and Parenting by Heart (Penguin Random House) and creator of Boobie Bikkies, all natural and organic cookies to boost energy and support a healthy milk supply for breastfeeding mothers. For simple strategies to boost your milk supply, download Pinky's FREE ebook 'Making More Mummy Milk,Naturally HERE.