For National Breastfeeding Month, Grok Nation is running a series about nursing by our founder, Mayim Bialik, who is a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor (CLEC). For her past posts full of tips, tricks and advice, click here.
Hello, breastfeeding mama. I know you’re tired. I’ll try to make this brief so you can get back to sleep. Breastfeeding is exhausting. And that baby wants to eat a LOT at night, I know. This is not a post that gives you five easy ways to get your baby to sleep through the night. This is not a post that explains how to leave your baby in a room to cry, which will magically make them able to sleep through the night. This is a post that explains the biology of sleep. And ways to shift your perspective so you all sleep better.
People make a lot of money trying to convince you that your baby should sleep through the night. Sleep consultants get paid thousands of dollars to come to your house and relieve guilt, fear and uncertainty about getting your baby to sleep through the night. But babies are not supposed to sleep more than a handful of hours in a row for the first weeks and months. Many babies nurse many times a night for at least the first year.
But we have a culture that has arbitrarily decided that that’s not OK. And look: I get it. In our modern capitalist country, productivity, independence and efficiency are praised. So a baby dependent on you to go back to sleep has been labeled as something bad.
I’ve been told that by letting my baby nurse at night that I was spoiling them, putting their needs first and raising them to be tyrants who run my house. I was told I don’t respect myself. And that there is something wrong with me for deciding to not get eight hours of sleep.
So. I am here to speak to the moms who don’t feel right about “sleep training” their babies. Here is what I want to say to you:
- This too shall pass. It’s not forever. It feels like forever, but it’s not.
- You’re not a bad mom for “giving in” and nursing at night. You’re not weak. You’re not a martyr. You’re not raising a tyrant. I mean you might be, but it’s not because of this. 🙂
- Stop talking to people about your sleep unless they are your people. Truly. If people ask if your baby is sleeping through the night, smile and say “Yes.” And if you’re feeling frisky, say with a smile, “We nurse five times a night, but baby sleeps anyway!” Don’t talk to unsupportive people. Say to your well-meaning mom/in-laws/aunt/sister/friend, “I’ve decided to keep doing what I’m doing, and I’ve decided talking about it less is healthier for me and my baby.”
- Go to LLLI.org to find a free breastfeeding mom group in your neighborhood. Those are likely your people. They can offer support and love and kindness and not judgment.
- My friend Allison who inspired me to have a home birth and taught me so much by having kids before me—thanks Allie!—gave me the best advice ever about nursing at night: turn the clock around. It’s so simple, but once I did it, things got better in my head. I stopped counting. I stopped crying (as much) when my babies would wake me. It seriously helped SO MUCH. So simple. So helpful. Thank you, Allie.
- And to the moms who are done nursing at night and need their sleep in ways many of us didn’t, here’s what I will say. You are not a bad mom for weaning at night or any time. Your mental health is important.
It will all be OK. And I know that when life was stressful, I was more bothered by the night nursing. When things felt more stable, I was less bothered. When I could nap more, I felt better. When I was not actively editing my doctoral thesis because I was waiting for edits, it got better. So know that your life and your breastfeeding are not able to be easily disentangled. It’s all related, and it’s all OK.
You are not alone as your nursling reminds you many times a night. But seriously, you can do this. Get support. Find your people. Turn the clock around. And try to find the joy and the miraculous beauty again.