Breastfeeding at Night: What You Need to Know

March 22, 2023
This article has been written and endorsed by the nutritionist María Patricia Piñero
Breastfeeding at night provides great benefits for both baby and mother, as well as strengthening the bond between the two.

Breastfeeding represents the beginning of the closest, most special, and lasting relationship, among many others. The benefits that the mother-child pair obtains from the breastfeeding process are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, for some mothers, breastfeeding at night isn’t an easy task.

The high demand that the baby has to feed at night exhausts the mother. That’s why in this article, we’ll offer you everything you need to know about nighttime breastfeeding and why your sleepless nights from now on will be pleasant, healthy, and full of love.

Learn more: Tips for Successful Nighttime Weaning

Why do babies eat so often?

To better understand the digestive system of our babies, we’ll clarify what’s really going on with them and their feeling of hunger all the time, especially at night. At birth, their stomach is very small and immature. That’s why at the beginning, they demand breast milk feeding in small quantities, but with a high frequency.

In general, their stomach runs out of supplies every 2 or 3 hours, although of course, every baby brings its own biological clock from the womb. At this stage, when they’re not eating, they sleep. In addition, pediatricians Pin Arboledas and Ferrández, clarify that before 4 or 6 months of age, the sleep/wake cycle is controlled by hunger and satiety.

Progressively, breastfeeding “is orchestrated by the circadian rhythm or biological clock, the social environment, and changes in light and darkness.” Sleeping hours become longer at night, while those devoted to eating decrease. Therefore, the regulation of the infant’s circadian rhythm has a lot to do with the composition of breast milk and with the breastfeeding process.

The importance of breastfeeding during the night

It’s true that, in the beginning, the baby is in control of breastfeeding and that the hours of sleep depend on the period in which they feel satisfied. In addition, science explains that breastfeeding at night brings great benefits for the mother-child pair. We’ll tell you about them below.

1. Breastfeeding at night stimulates milk production

The 2013 UNICEF manual explains that milk production begins with the baby’s stimulation of the nipple. When suckling, nerves send a signal to the mother’s brain that the infant is hungry. The immediate response is to order the release of a hormone called prolactin. This causes milk to begin to form inside the mammary gland. Therefore, the more the baby sucks, the more milk is produced.

A woman breastfeeding at night.
Breastfeeding at night provides a greater amount of milk, making it a favorable time for feeding the baby.

What happens at night?

It turns out that prolactin production is highest between 2 and 6 a.m., the time when the greatest amount of milk is produced. Also, naturally and instinctively, the baby Itself secures their food source for the next day.

Most infants cry for their food and trigger an alert to mom’s ears so that the milk factory, between 7 and 12 o’clock at night, prepares all its hormones and starts production. If the baby doesn’t breastfeed at night, milk production will gradually drop. In these cases, you should consult your pediatrician or attending physician.

2. You can fall into a deep sleep

A 2013 publication states that prolactin may capable of producing a relaxing effect and inducing sleep. However, other studies generate controversy about the action of high levels of this hormone in the long term.

Another hormone involved with breast milk is oxytocin, which allows the release of milk from the nipple to the baby’s mouth. In addition, it causes rest, relaxation, and deep sleep in the mother-child pair. At the same time, it’s clear to researchers that breast milk contains a mixture of potent compounds called nucleotides that play an important role in sleep balance. And these are produced in greater proportion during the night.

Among the most notable is melatonin, which is formed from the amino acid tryptophan, which is also found in milk. These compounds healthfully regulate the sleep/wake cycle as the baby feeds during the night.

3. Breastfeeding at night supplements feeding

The average nighttime consumption of breast milk accounts for 20% of a baby’s nutritional needs. So, there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that we’re the source of nourishment, growth, and development for our children.

4. Low blood sugar in the baby’s blood is avoided

Babies, like anyone else, have their own nutritional needs and requirements to ensure the body’s functions. Therefore, each feeding of breast milk is essential to provide glucose and other nutrients necessary for each cell.

By omitting breastfeeding during the night and not receiving any other food, a prolonged fast is generated. Therefore, there’s a risk of low blood sugar or hypoglycemia that will destabilize the functions of their organs. The Spanish Association of Pediatrics considers it the most frequent metabolic disorder in childhood.

5. Prevents obstruction of the mammary glands

Mothers who breastfeed during the night are less likely to have the ducts of their glands obstructed by the accumulation of milk that isn’t sucked. This causes swelling and pain. In addition, if the blockage is frequent, certain bacteria can grow and cause infection.

A woman sitting on her child's bed, breastfeeding.
Infants who are breastfed throughout the night sleep 40 to 45 minutes longer than those who are formula fed or don’t breastfeed.

Tips to make nighttime breastfeeding more relaxing

Feeding our newborns through the night is a rewarding but exhausting task. That’s why we bring you some tips to help you enjoy the moment:

  • Sleep with your baby: Co-sleeping can be practiced if all safety measures are taken or if you place the crib next to the bed.
  • Adopt a suitable position: The best position for breastfeeding is lying down with the baby on its side. This way, when the baby demands another feeding of milk, you’ll be aware of it with a single movement and you won’t have to turn on the light or wait for the baby to cry. Always take the necessary precautions to avoid accidents. The Spanish Association of Pediatrics suggests the use of special cribs or co-sleeping.
  • Have enough water on hand, turn off the light, and be very quiet.

Read also: How to Transition from Co-Sleeping to a Bed

In the end, what do you need to know?

Breastfeeding at night is as important as breastfeeding during the day, in terms of nutrition, protection, growth, and development. However, in the nighttime hours, breast milk changes its composition to progressively balance the biological clock of our children in their first months of life. This includes relaxation and a better quality of sleep for the mother.

In addition, hypoglycemia in newborns and infectious disorders of the mammary gland are prevented. All the benefits are accompanied by a close bond that’s generated between mother and child. The security, confidence, and emotional health that’s added to our little ones will last throughout their adult life. Also, don’t forget to consult your pediatrician if you have any doubts or to complement this information.

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