sleep train breastfed baby

Breastfeeding and sleep training are not mutually exclusive.

Contrary to popular belief, you can do both, and on today’s blog, Courtney Zentz, the Founder of Tiny Transitions, is both a Baby Sleep Expert and a Lactation Counselor, and she breaks it down for tired parents in simple terms. Also, you can check out owner Jen Acuna and Director of Brand Development, Brittany Hausmann on Courtney’s blog The Kids Sleep Show.

A good night’s sleep is a precious commodity for parents of newborns, especially in those first few months. Getting your baby to sleep through the night consistently can be a challenge. However, with some knowledge and patience, you can help your breastfed baby get on a regular sleep schedule—one that includes plenty of restful nights, feeding when appropriate, and allow you to maintain a solid nursing/pumping relationship for as long as you desire.

What is Sleep Training, and At What Age Can I Sleep Train a Baby?

I hate the term sleep training but since it’s so common, I will use it. The term means that a child has the ability to settle independently to sleep without the help or assistance of a parent. However, the immediate connotation is that you are sticking baby in a crib and telling them to cry-it-out, which couldn’t be further from how we do things here at Tiny Transitions and why we are so sought after for our Sleep Steps® approach.

Sleep is complex, but first, let’s discuss what “Sleep Training” a baby means. I break down a child’s ability to settle into 3 stages.

  • Newborns – For up to 3 months, you are never sleep training; you are sleep shaping them by just incorporating healthy habits into their day. From birth, if you can lay baby down for one nap a day in the crib to settle to sleep between 45 & 60 minutes, great; they have the skill of independent sleep you build on through their first 3 months of life.
  • Infants – Most people don’t do this and, for 12 weeks, only rock or feed a child to sleep, then deem their age “proper” to sleep now train them. What they are doing is really fixing a bad habit that appeared and never went away. Your baby is deficient in a SKILL of independent sleep because they were never shown how to do it.
  • Toddlers, while not appropriate for this blog, toddlers know how to sleep; most are just choosing not to. Meaning, if they come in at 3 am and you pull them into bed, who is going to stop asking for that once the boundary is broken? Toddlers are more behavior & parent coaching vs. an inability to settle themselves to sleep.

So, the answer to what age you can sleep train a baby? It starts with healthy sleep hygiene, not “training.”

  • Is your baby on the right awake window for their age to avoid tiredness and overstimulation?
  • Is their sleep environment conducive to quality sleep by being calm, cool, and dark?
  • Are you managing their awake windows by age to ensure the right sleep pressure for restorative sleep?
  • Where are they in their developmental leaps? At 3-4 months, you create a ‘circadian rhythm,’ which regulates your sleep-wake cycles. By 5 months, you should see longer, consistent and consolidated naps. By 6 months, babies on a normal growth curve should be capable of sleeping through the night.

We work with parents of children the minute they are home, and vice versa work with children and parents who haven’t slept through the night for 16 months. As I explain above, we meet parents where they are in their journey, discuss their unique goals and work to make slow, deliberate changes that result in good sleep, better emotional balance, and big appetites.

How to Maintain a Healthy Breastfeeding Relationship with Baby and Still Help Them Sleep Through the Night?

First, let’s start with science. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Babies need 24-32oz of milk in a 24-hour period, both formula or breastmilk, for optimal growth during their first year.

Nursing is supply and demand, so if you are nursing regularly, full feeds, around when the baby naps, it’s a non-issue. A sample sleep and eating schedule for a newborn baby might look something like this:

  • 7:00 am – Baby Wakes for the Day & Feeds
  • 8:00 am, they are down for their first nap, which I like to happen in their crib. Remember, their awake window is 45-60 minutes as a newborn
  • 9:45 am, offer a full feeding, then assuming a 9:00 am waking, it’s nap time!
  • 10:00 am, take the baby for a walk in the stroller – so they can nap and you get some fresh air.
    Play, cuddle, and then another nap an hour after waking on the walk.
  • 1:00 pm – Time to eat!

This is the type of flow you will have. Typically for the first 8 weeks, I like to get kids to bed at 7:00 pm, then wake them for a dream feed at 10:00 pm, allowing them to wake on their own the rest of the night to eat as they are hungry. Between 8 & 12 weeks, I stop those dream feeds and allow the baby to wake naturally.

Next, you need to think about their Stomach Size, as it is going to dictate the frequency of eating. As a general rule of thumb, newborns should eat roughly every 3 hours. As they grow, so does their ability to have a higher intake, and slowly babies shift to longer stretches as that happens.

I have 3 month-old babies who sleep through the night that is exclusively breastfed, and I have 6 month-olds who still wake once a night to eat, then resettle themselves to sleep. Unless you are doing a weighted transfer, it’s hard to know exactly what a baby takes. Here is a little reel explaining how to know what the baby is taking and determine if something else is causing poor sleep.

When a child has good sleep skills, the right structure to their day, and gets 24-32oz in the daytime, they will sleep through the night, as a general rule of thumb, and without knowing more details.

How Will My Breasts Adjust My Milk Supply from Overnight into the Daytime

When a baby starts sleeping through the night, your breasts can adjust their milk to meet the changing needs. Your body will naturally reduce or increase your Milk Supply to match the amount your baby is drinking, and over a few days, that milk supply from feedings happening overnight adjusts to daytime hours. This can take a few days, but those boobs are amazing things!

{Tip – once the baby sleeps through the night, wake and pump for a few days; then in a week, you can create a solid freezer stash if you are heading back to work.} Once you have enough, you can dial back the pumping sessions a touch each night, so your breasts can adjust and you don’t wake engorged, leaking or uncomfortable at 3 am.}

When Should A Breast-Fed Baby Be Able to Sleep Through The Night?

Knowing when to expect your baby to start sleeping through the night depends on several factors. Generally speaking, babies who are exclusively breastfed will typically begin sleeping for longer stretches of time at around 3-4 months old. At this age, babies usually have established their circadian rhythm (their body’s internal clock) and will naturally begin sleeping for longer periods at night.

As your baby gets older (around 6 months old), he/she should be able to sleep through the entire night without needing to feed. During this stage, it’s important to establish consistent bedtime routines and avoid stimulation before bedtime so that your baby learns how to self-soothe and fall asleep independently. This could include things like reading stories together or taking a warm bath followed by cuddles or massage before putting them down in their crib awake to settle to sleep.

How Can A Sleep Consultant Help Me?

As a Baby Sleep Coach, Lactation Counselor, trained Postpartum Doula, mother of 2, and having sorted over 10,000 families with sleep, trust me, we can help.

Each family we work with is different.

Your Goals.

Your Breastfeeding Journey.

Your Postpartum Journey.

It’s all a large pot, and with the right ingredients, you can make an amazing recipe. With the wrong ingredients, well, it’s going to turn out like the first time I tried to make pumpkin pie, on Thanksgiving, for my first holiday with my in-laws, and let me tell you, it wasn’t good. So first, take a deep breath and know you are doing great. If you choose, we are here to help as well. Sometimes just speaking to someone on the phone to ask your questions, learn more about our coaching or just hear a friendly voice on end, we are here.

Book a free sleep discovery call today, and take your next step when it feels right.