Breastfeeding during the night

For many women, especially those with older children, breastfeeding the baby during the night was a very special time when they could be with their baby without interruptions. A few women said that they loved holding their baby and going to sleep with him/her and snuggling and feeding through the night.


She says that the world belongs to her and her baby at night time. Her mother encouraged her to...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Close your eyes and think that the world is only yours and your baby's, and no one else could enjoy that moment as much as you could, and you'll see at night, that's the world for you and your baby and no one can steal that, take that away from you.

Well my Mum, the midwife suggested not to sleep with him, or, that it was easier to feed him sitting down, my Mum encouraged me to do it in bed, because it was easier for my back and, and that's a real chance to rest, you don't have much time to rest and if you're feeding them and you're in bed at least you are relaxing, but you're not as relaxed if you're sitting down. She encouraged me to do that, she also said, 'cause I was very apprehensive about the things that the midwives and the doctors say about sleeping with the babies, and, because you can sleep over them, which I don't think could ever happen, because you're never more worried that there's a tiny wee thing between you and even if you're sleeping you know, if you move some way you move outside, you never move inside, you don't even turn, I've never ever slept again facing the edge of the bed, I'm always facing him. And my husband the same thing, he's very aware, so my Mum said that it was a good time and that's the best way to bond, and I do believe in that. 

She described having her first baby in a Moses basket beside her bed but subsequent babies slept...

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
I don't know how I managed the nights [laughs] to be honest to start with, I remember one of the first nights, about night three, three or four, I remember deciding that was it, I can't do it, I felt the baby wasn't getting any, any milk, I felt like I was starving the poor baby and, I knew the midwife was coming to visit me at some time between ten and twelve a.m. the next morning and believe me I was counting down the minutes to that visit, and when the midwife did come in the morning it, it was just a positioning problem but, and she was great and just helped me, you know, hold the baby at a slightly different angle and the problem was resolved, but in the middle of the night it felt like a lot more than a positioning problem, it felt like everything was going wrong, it felt like I, how could I be a good mother if I'm starving [laughs] my baby which is, which is, at the time because it was the middle of the night and because you're completely irrational at that time, because you've had no sleep and, you know, you feel like a complete and utter failure, yet the next morning once, you know, once we'd got through the night and that, my husband didn't go and buy a bottle of milk which I was very close to telling him to do, you know, once the midwife came within sort of an hour of her going I felt like the best mother in the world [laughs] so, you know, it's, it's the full spectrum of emotions and I think the lack of sleep has, has such a big, a big impact on everything to do with having children especially feeding them.

Did you have the baby in the room with you?

Yes I did.

In the early days I'm talking about. 

Yes, yes my first daughter was in the Moses basket next to the bed she was in with us until she was about six months old and she always slept next to the bed she didn't ever sleep in the bed with us. I think that was a lot to do with having, maybe read a little too much [laughs] and, with subsequent children and, with my six months old she slept in the bed with us which I think is why we've sa, no, no problems at all with breastfeeding [laughs] with this one.

Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit more?

In terms of her sleeping in, in with me now?

And no problems why.

I think I don't know if it was because she was the third child I just relaxed so much more with her and started to appreciate the time that I had just with her, because when you've got other children, or other things, or jobs, or anything else you don't have the one-to-one time, I don't have the one-to-one time with my baby now that I had with my first daughter because I have so many other things to do. So I found that, you know, night times and evenings are sort of a real special time when it's just the two of us and we can just relax and, the night time feeding is exhausting if you have to get up, lift the baby up, sit up, prop your pillows up, get comfortable, change the nappy, all the things that I did with my first daughter, this baby doesn't get her nappy changed in the middle of the night unless she absolutely needs it, I don't even turn the light on when she wakes up [laughs], I don't think I even wake up most of the time now, I just, I lift my nightie, latch her on and go back off to sleep and, it makes such a difference, you wake up in the morning not feeling like, for all you probably have fed three or four times in the night, you don't feel like you've been up three or four times in the night and it makes a difference for my partner too, because he can just sleep all night, he barely knows that, that we're awake, I mean he will wake up and, you know, 'Do you ne

All of the women said that having a baby in the house was a tiring experience and that breastfeeding made them sleepy. Breastfeeding and sleeping arrangements varied across the whole spectrum. Some women, usually the more experienced mothers, slept with their babies in the family bed and fed off and on throughout the night without really waking or registering how often they had fed. These women acknowledged the advice against sleeping with their baby and a few said that they felt naughty or guilty doing it but most argued that it was natural, instinctive and far less disruptive for the whole family than the alternatives. Many of them had weighed up the pros and cons and made an informed choice. In addition, many of them said that they were always aware of the baby and slept in such a way that he/she was cocooned and protected. Sometimes, the women went to extra lengths to make sure that their baby had his/her own duvet and no pillows.*1


Her first baby slept in the nursery but her second slept in the family bed which she says was a...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
And again as soon as we got into the night time feeding she was in the babygrow, we stopped really talking to her and stimulating her and that would be a case of just picking her up, putting her to the breast, feeding her rather than sort of talking and playing and, and stimulating her.

A lot of people have talked to me about that idea where do you think you got that idea from to keep the night time slightly different from

The day time?

'the daytime, quieter and more subdued?

I think it was just talking to friends, and really I think it was just something, it just seemed to make sense, you talk about just trying to calm, calm children in the evening and, and as I say keep the lighting subdued, a top tip that a friend had given us is, in the nursery always put on a dimmer switch, it's a small job to do but put on a dimmer switch to make sure that if you are going to put on lights it's very low lighting, very soft lighting and as I say just walking in and just quietly feeding the baby and then putting her down which we did and, so I'd say that's really the only routine we stuck to was trying to modify the way we fed during the day and night which as I say then, then turned into.

So she slept in the nursery and you went through there to feed her at night?

We did with Abby yes, yeah, yeah, we went down to my mother's first of all and she was in the same room with us but we have a little nursery that's just off our bedroom so she was very close, so you could hear her very clearly so.

And did you do that differently with your second child?

Very differently with [laughs] our second child, very differently with the second child again because of the proximity of rooms we've actually had Rosie in bed with us and.

Sleeping all night?

Yes [laughs] absolutely, and.

Did that make the breastfeeding easier?

I wouldn't say it made it easier, well it made a lot easier for me in terms of sleep, because I've been able to just literally just roll over, give her a feed, go back to sleep so really we're both half asleep while we're doing it, there's, there's minimal disruption to either her or myself so yes. But as I say with, with Abby it was, you know, slightly different and we probably, we didn't have the confidence really to have her in bed we were worried that we might roll on her with Abby what we used to do is we'd bring her down in the morning at about five or six o'clock and then she would stay in bed with us until we got up but as I say with, with our second child she's been in bed with us.

Did you notice any difference in their night time feeding patterns or anything between having one in a nursery separate from you and one in the bed with you, with frequency or length of feeding anything like that?

The girls have been very different, Abby was a hungrier baby full stop. She's been, she would feed for longer [pause], I wouldn't say it was a huge amount of difference between the two of them being in the, where they've been sleeping in terms of feeding, Rose, the youngest will, she'll wake up, yeah I suppose I'll give her a feed [pause] no I wouldn't say it's, the number of feeds has really increased maybe for, because I'm there and she knows the milk is close at hand it's maybe given her slight more information to snack but she's not really she's not really done that, maybe a little bit more when she was you

As a health professional, she was aware of the advice about co-sleeping but decided to sleep with...

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
What about at night? What arrangements did you have for the night-time?

Again some midwives said to me and the health visitors said to me to wake him up during the night to feed which I did for about and I was setting because he slept through and wasn't bothered, I mean he'd go from a very young age from about eight / nine o'clock in the evening to eight / nine o'clock in the morning so the full twelve hours he'd discovered his thumb, so which was fantastic at the time for me so I'd have to set my alarm for every four hours to wake up throughout the night to feed him and then my mother-in-law, my mum and lots of friends and family were saying, 'Oh you're stupid just let him sleep, if he's happy and content let him be' and I did that in the end.

You were so lucky to get a full night's sleep.

I know, I know, I was very lucky.

And did you have him in your room, in your bed?

Well we had a cot in our room but some nights I had him in my bed it was it was so much easier breastfeeding and letting him sleep with us and he settled so much quicker rather than getting him out of bed putting him into the cot and waking up again but he would sleep through either way.

How did you reconcile what you would have known as a health professional with sleeping with your baby in your bed and actually doing it?

As a health professional obviously it's a big no, you don't really recommend it, and at first it was, 'No baby can't go in bed with us' I had a Moses basket to start off with in the room and then bought a bigger cot but eventually, I suppose looking for information on the internet there's lot of information about some, because we are a western country as such, it's not condoned to be ok but everywhere else around the world babies do sleep with their mothers and that gave me the satisfaction in saying, 'Yes it's ok' and that's why I did it. Even though my own mum, even though she was brought up in India but she had her children in this country, babies always went in the cot she never slept with either of us but knowing other friends and families who've come from India it's like, 'Well no babies sleep with mummy it's easier it's safer' and it was a totally different advice than you'd get here, which made me do it.


And then I was speaking to health professionals living in this country who do it as well, so it was like ok I'll do it as well.

Did you have the same sleeping arrangements for you and the baby second time round? Or did you just have the baby in the bed with you since you were the only one there?

Yeah, I, for the first three or four weeks baby was just with me, it was because he was crying a lot because of his colic or wind I'm not quite sure which one it was, he just settled so much quicker in bed with me and it was just easier so yeah, it wasn't an issue. The Moses basket went to waste [laughs] he didn't sleep in it at all.

Other women, preferred to have their baby in his/her own Moses basket or cot beside their bed and either get up to feed, for safety or comfort reasons, or feed the baby in their bed and then return him/her to the basket because they were worried about rolling over and smothering their baby. A few women put their baby in a separate room for a variety of reasons, including safety, because he/she was disrupting their sleep or because they wanted their baby to get used to sleeping alone and not be dependent upon them for falling asleep.


She moved her babies out of her room early and went through to feed them because they disrupted...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
How did you arrange the nights?

The nights were, characterised by the baby waking up and me actually physically going to the room where the baby was, 'cause we actually only had our babies in our bedroom for a very short time because we found that it disturbed us too much. And so I took advice around the, recommendation that you keep your child sleeping in your bedroom for six months, which is the sort of recommendation in terms of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, that's one of the factors that has been shown to be significant in the research, so I actually spoke to the, the SIDS people about, that and why that was a factor, before making my decision to actually move the baby out of our room, against that advice because it was actually affecting our sleep so much having the baby in the room. So I would, I would go and breastfeed in the nursery, and so my husband would, would continue on through the night as if nothing was happening, and I'd be doing the sort of the ferrying up and down the corridor [sighs].

How many feeds a night do you remember in the early days?

In the early days my little boy would feed two to three hourly. So by the time you've changed him and got back to sleep, you're getting pockets of an hour's sleep at a time, an hour and a half maybe. And as I would say that was fairly typical with my second experience as well in the very early days.

So did you nap during the day to try and make up'


'the sleep deficit?

Yes, I mean my, my as I said my husband was around, but then when he had to go back to work I had fantastic support from my Mum, and some of my sisters were able to help out as well, just in terms of, of sort of, sort of being there as moral support really, on the end of the phone or, or actually being here.

How long did that every two to three hour feeding during the night go on for? When did the baby start to stretch out a bit at night?

It's very hard to remember the first one [laughs] actually, I would say probably after about six to eight weeks it would, it went a bit long, you know, the time in-between would be longer between the feeds, but I was certainly up once or twice a night for at least four or five months.


She breastfed her first baby in her bed but her next four babies slept in a basket or cradle...

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
Where do your babies sleep, do they sleep with you in your bed?

Well with that, my first one she had a basket to sleep in, so if she was, if she was in it at night time, before she goes to bed she has her last feed, may, she does wake up for a feed I used to take her out the Moses basket and sleep her with me on the bed, and feed her while I was sleeping. And if I wasn't comfortable, now and then I never used to be comfortable, so I used to lift, sit up and feed her, clean her and put her back in the basket, but if I was like lying down, I used take her in my bed, feed her, but sometime we both used to drop off, sleeping, which I know it was dangerous to do about that time for, 'cause there was only her I used to like, just actually feed, leave her there you know and she, if she's ready for another feed we wake up and we have another feed in bed again until morning, but most of the time it was like that with my first one, but with my, others, I used to actually feed them, clean them, put 'em back in a basket, Moses basket or cradle, or whatever I had for them and I used to put them away, then they, go back sleep in my own bed and they, they cried again I used to feed them again, that's what I was doing with all of them but the first one I used to like, 'cause I was so tired and they don't know what to do with them and everything's like, so feed her, leave her in my bed with me and then wake up for the next feed and it was like that but with the others I used to like sort of feed 'em and put 'em back in, whatever I've provided for them to sleep in, yeah.

Some women practiced a combination of sleeping arrangements, starting the baby off in their own bed and then bringing them into the family bed or going elsewhere with them when they woke for a breastfeed or their husband/partner went to another room instead. Several spoke of dozing off and then waking with a fright and wondering where their baby was, only to find that they were either safely tucked in beside them or back in their basket.


She occasionally fed her twin sons in her bed because it was easier than getting up and gave her...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
You mentioned having the babies in the same bedroom and occasionally taking them into the bed'


'sleeping with them there.

Yeah, yeah.

Did that ever bother you?

I do sometimes wake up in the night and think, 'Where's the baby? Is it here somewhere under the pillows? Have I buried it? Have I slept on it? Has my husband squashed it?' it does create a degree of anxiety and, and concern in me when, when I wake up but I, I'm happy to do it and I know that the babies are safe, I always sleep in a way that the baby is well supported I'm semi-wrapped around the baby so that I know where the baby's space is, I'm creating a safe zone for the baby so that even if my husband rolled over he would hit me before he hit the baby. And in general I don't think it's a difficulty, the problem for me is that if I feed one baby and move him over and then feed the second one next to him at some point I have to swap them over again [laughs] because I don't like to have them on the outside of the bed, I always have them on the inside of the bed, so I, I've sometimes had to literally swap the babies' places and I end up circling them throughout the night to keep them fed, when I can I get them back into bed, into their own bed, but, you know, I'm quite happy to fall asleep with them in my bed, if that's the easiest way. I'm up with the babies at least once and it has been, you know, several times in the night, if I can do one or two feeds lying on my side and snoozing while I feed the baby then that's great for me, it's much easier than getting out of bed, sitting on my chair, putting out my cushions, it's a bit of a palaver to feed them both together, so if I can I get away with a couple of night feeds lying down, it's more restful for me.

Are you resting during the day and are you able to do that?

Yeah if I've got help around the house with my toddler, or if he's at nursery and I've just got the twins then I often will have a sleep in the day, sometimes not because the timing of the babies doesn't work out or I can't get them both asleep at the same time but more often than not I'll persuade them to have a snooze feed if I can't get them both to sleep together, so I get one into, into bed and the other one snoozes with me and suckles while, while we snooze together, and that works, I regularly have a nap in the day, it makes a big difference.

The father's role in caring for their baby during the night also varied greatly. Some women said that they were conscious of not disturbing their husbands because they had work the next day while others said that their husbands winded and settled their baby again after a breastfeed.


Her baby sleeps with her and after a breastfeed her husband brings their baby downstairs to settle.

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Age at interview: 26
Sex: Female
Your night time arrangements, where did you do the feeding?

In bed always in bed. I'd, in bed and if, even now if we can't settle baby in bed, husband brings baby downstairs so that I can sleep. So, it's a good arrangement, it works well so, but I, if I'm not feeding in bed I'd feed down here, depending on, but at night I like to keep it all dark so that he can go down.

And sleeping arrangements?

Sleeping? Oh well they sleep with me [laughs], I can't be doing with that. [daughter] they turned round and said I shouldn't, I was just knackered, so I said, 'No, stuff it, you can sleep' and, well [2nd son] was already going to be, 'You're sleeping with me' and from birth he did sleep with us, duvet over him [laughs] much to everyone's disgust, but, I mean my health visitor actually came out two weeks before I had my son and said, 'Well you do know the new guidelines on cot death' I was like, 'mmm, okay', and I sat here and switched off. She went to the door, out of the door, and I just didn't tell anybody, I didn't bring it up, I made sure that I never ever brought it up with my midwives, any heath professional I never brought it up, and even now if he's getting too bad he comes in bed, with us.

Many women tried to distinguish between daytime and night-time breastfeeds by keeping the lighting low and disturbing their baby as little as possible. Several women said that they made up for their broken sleep at night by napping or snoozing during the day and that learning to feed lying down was a great advantage, while others were not physically comfortable feeding like that. Some women, whose babies were gaining weight slowly, had to actually wake themselves and their baby during the night to ensure that their baby was getting enough breastmilk in a twenty-four hour period. One woman, whose baby was gaining weight but sleeping for long periods, was also setting an alarm to ensure four hourly feeding (see 'Feeding patterns in the early days' and 'Monitoring baby's growth').*2


Her baby was not gaining enough weight so she had to set an alarm to wake them both to feed in...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
What sort of arrangements did you make during the night?

Again I had to wake her up, I mean the hardest thing for me was the fact that I had to wake her up, again because it was so contrary to what I'd, you know, everything I'd been led to believe prior to giving [laughs] birth was that I would be up all night with this screaming baby I'm actually [laughs] Lily as evident here, you know, can sleep beautifully and she used to sleep through the night so I had to wake up, I had to sort of, I didn't want to set an alarm because I was kind of conscious of my husband as well, I didn't want to kind of wake him up if that could be avoided, so internally I sort of set my own little alarm, but I mean that wasn't particularly successful because you don't really, you lie there and worry that you're going to sleep through your own little alarm, so in the end I just set my little alarm, it'd go off at two o'clock in the morning, I would get up, take, pick her out of the Moses basket, take her into the nursery, 'cause she Lily sleeps in our bedroom in a Moses basket with us, so I would take Lily into the nursery, just sit down, and breastfeed. Very low key, no lights, kind of soft lights, try and not wake her up too much and change the nappy first of all so get the kind of disruptive bit of the way, and then breastfeed for as long as she wanted to and then put her back down, and again I didn't really sort of talk to her, I'd try to keep things quite kind of calm in order not to try and excite her so that hopefully she wouldn't wake up too much and therefore she would go back down, which she did in fairness to her, she always went down. So I generally would feed her sort of at ten, then feed again at two in the morning, and then feed her again at six in the morning, and when my husband got up so that's how we sort of did it. But it was me waking Lily up rather than Lily waking me up to do that so that was kind of unexpected for me.

How long did you continue that routine?

I continued it until, I did it for, certainly for three months whilst we were breastfeeding, at the time we then changed over sort of about, between three and four months I think we decided that she was getting quite a bit of formula so I was comfortable as she was sleeping to let her sleep through the night, when she started to fall off the charts I then sort of thought, 'Oh you know should I be waking her up and feeding her?' which I tried to do but she really wasn't interested, she just didn't want really to feed at that time, so what I did was I just made sure that we, the requisite number of feeds in, if you like, daytime so between sort of six and midnight really, and that she went for six hours at night, which she's always done quite happily and has done, and does so now really. So she's very good in that respect, aren't you Lily?

Finally, a very few women said that their baby slept through the night from quite a young age while a few others used sleep programmes to attempt to achieve this. Some restricted the hours that they breastfed their baby during the night and one offered her older baby water only if she woke. One woman introduced 'hungrier baby formula' for the last evening feed to get her daughter to go a little longer through the night before waking*3. A few women expressed breastmilk after their baby's last breastfeed in the evening and stored it for use at a later time (see 'Variations of the breastfeeding experience').

*Footnote 1: Co-sleeping is common. Women who co-sleep with their baby get more rest and are likely to breastfeed for longer. There are precautions that a family can take to make co-sleeping safer. However, co-sleeping is discouraged when either of the parents is a smoker, has consumed drugs or alcohol or is excessively tired. Co-sleeping on sofas or chairs is not recommended.

*Footnote 2: It is not necessary to wake (for extra breastfeeds) a baby who is developing and gaining weight satisfactorily.

*Footnote 3: There is no evidence that supplementing a baby with infant formula (whether standard formula, 'follow-on formula' or 'hungrier baby formula') or solid foods at bedtime will make them sleep longer. The production of the non-standard infant formulas is simply a marketing gimmick. In the early weeks, the introduction of infant formula will decrease the likelihood of the confident establishment of breastfeeding.

Last reviewed November 2018.
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