Master the art of filling up your youngster with milk and getting the pair of you back to sleep, pronto!
MEET THE EXPERT
Lyndsey Hookway is a sleep coach, lactation consultant and a speaker and trainer at feedsleepbond.com
At first, your baby can’t tell day from night, so whether it’s two o’clock in the afternoon or two o’clock in the oh-so-early hours of the morning, he just knows that he’s hungry, and you know that you need to feed him. Sitting up in the dead of night with your little one as he feeds makes for some magical bonding moments, but it can also be very demanding. So how do you make the most of those lovely parts? We’ve got some tricks up our sleeve to make night-time nursing go smoothly, whether it’s by breast, bottle or a combination of the two.
Put him to bed awake
How you put your baby to bed at bedtime will have a significant effect on how easily he falls back to sleep after a night feed. The important thing is not to feed him to sleep and then pop him into his cot asleep, but to give him his evening feed before, or as part of, his bedtime routine, so you lay him down when he’s drowsy but still awake. That way, he learns to fall asleep without any assistance from you. And when it’s time to go back to bed after a feed at three o’clock in the morning, that’s a skill that really helps! “It’s never too soon to start a bedtime routine,” says sleepand- feeding expert Lyndsey Hookway. “You may not see immediate results, but if you provide the same cues in the same order before each and every sleep, over time your baby will be able to predict what will happen next.” And while you might worry that separating milk from sleep means that you’ll be feeding your baby 10 minutes earlier, so he might feel hungry 10 minutes earlier too, you’ll probably find that he drinks a little more because he’s more awake.
Prepare your space for a comfortable night’s feeding before you go to bed. As a breastfeeding mum, you may prefer to lie in bed: “It’s fine to breastfeed lying down, in a safe position,” says Lyndsey. “But if you’re bottle-feeding, you’ll need to sit up.” Prop yourself up with plenty of pillows, or position a supportive chair close by. And keep cushions and a warm blanket or dressing gown to hand. “Keep a little caddy of night-feeding essentials close by,” says Lyndsey, “so you’ve got a muslin, bottle of water and lip salve for yourself and a spare babygro in case of accidents.” And think what else would help you create an area that makes you feel nurtured and looked after.
Thinking it might be a good idea to stretch the time out between night feeds, even by a few minutes? It can be counterproductive. “A baby who is very hungry and upset will be more difficult to feed and settle,” says Lyndsey. “And then he may only take a small amount of milk before falling asleep—which means he’ll wake sooner for his next feed.” Instead, turn detective and work out what your baby does before he starts crying in the night. “These cues include wriggling around, smacking his lips or sucking on his tongue, putting his hands in his mouth, kicking his legs and making small noises,” says Lyndsey. Once you’re listening for them, you’ll soon wake when you hear him shuffling about. “It’s always easier if you respond when your baby shows early signs of hunger,” says Lyndsey.
It will be easier to settle your baby back to sleep after a night feed if you avoid overstimulating him. “Keep the lights off, and instead use a nightlight that doesn’t emit blue light, which can interfere with the production of melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates sleep cycles,” suggests Lyndsey. “Stay calm and confident, and avoid talking to your baby. Just stroke him gently and look into his eyes without engaging in lots of chatter.” Keep disruption to a minimum by only changing his nappy if you really need to, or if you’re particularly worried about nappy rash.
There are other ways to reduce the faff too. “Consider using ready-to-feed formula milk at night if you’re bottle-feeding, which will save you having to boil the kettle to mix formula, then cooling the milk,” Lyndsey adds. “You can keep cartons of milk by the bed, along with sterilised bottles. And if you’re using expressed breastmilk, this can be left at room temperature for six hours, or up to 12 hours in a cool bag. Your baby doesn’t need warm milk in a bottle— room temperature is fine.”
In all this quiet, comfy calm, it can be a challenge for you to stay awake for the duration of the feed. Resist the temptation to flick through social media or switch on the TV, as this is ikely to leave you both too stimulated to get back to sleep afterwards. “Try softly singing a lullaby, or plugging in headphones to listen to music or an audio book instead,” says Lyndsey.