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The Importance of Night Feeds for You and your Baby

As a Mum, I know how tiring it is to have a newborn and when you are feeling sleep deprived you do not want to always embrace your baby’s night feeds with open arms! But if I share with you some information on how important night feeds are for you and your baby you will have a greater understanding as to why they are so crucial for your baby’s development and this might just help you cope with nights feeds a little bit better. 

Evidence based knowledge shows us clearly that newborns need as many feeds during the night as they do during the day and this is biologically and physiologically normal. It is one of their primal needs for healthy development. 

There is a strong western ideology of getting your baby to ‘sleep through the night’ which gives mothers a warped sense of achievement, but it is an unrealistic expectation and as you will soon learn it is actually to the contrary. 

1. Babies are born with no circadian rhythms so cannot differentiate between night and day. 

  • Newborns have a biological need for frequent feeds over a 24-hour period to thrive. Your baby will naturally develop these rhythms by around 2 months of age. 

2. Babies want to feed at night simply because there is more milk available to them during the night. It plays a very important role in supporting breastfeeding and milk production. 

  • Prolactin, which is the milk-making hormone is at its highest level at night. So breastfeeding your baby during this time will not only provide your baby with the nutrients they need for their physical development but it is essential to building a really good milk supply to which your baby will thrive on.

3. Breastfeeding at night helps babies sleep and also has an important role in your baby’s brain development.

  • Babies are born with an inability to produce a sleep-inducing and regulating hormone called Melatonin.

Breast milk contains a substance called Tryptophan which not only makes melatonin but also produces serotonin which is a vital hormone for brain function and development that not only makes the brain work better and stabilises mood, but it also helps with your baby’s sleep-wake cycles. 

Melatonin and serotonin levels are the highest in your breast milk at night so breastfeeding your baby during this time will play a huge part in developing your baby’s circadian rhythms and ability to settle and sleep for longer periods as they develop.

4. Breastfeeding at night provides a higher level of contraceptive cover when using the Lactational Amenorrhea Method.

  • This provides 98% security of contraception when your baby is under 6 months of age and being fed on demand with no supplemental feeds of formula or solids being given.

5. Babies have a natural instinct to want to be closer to their mothers at night. 

  • This not only plays a part in building a trusting relationship between you and your baby and thus developing their emotional intelligence, it also has a physiological affect with helping to maintain your baby’s temperature, heart rate and breathing.

6. Breastfeeding your baby at night protects your baby against SUDI (Sudden Unexplained Death of an Infant). In NZ, 50 babies sadly die every year from SUDI. This is one of the most important reasons as to why newborns need night feeds.

  • Newborns are biologically and physiologically programmed to wake more and to have more active/light sleep cycles. They are just not designed to sleep for extended periods of time. This is a protective mechanism that prevents your baby from entering a deeper sleep state and therefore deeper respiratory state that would put them at a much greater risk of SUDI.

So getting your baby to ‘sleep through the night’ too early in their development, for too long or too deeply would be to the detriment of your baby’s basic survival.

So now you have a good understanding of the importance of breastfeeding your baby at night and how it is a very normal process and is something that your baby is programmed to do. Just remember that this stage does not last forever. Before you know it you will be looking back at these times fondly and will miss the preciousness of what this time gave to you as you held your baby close and shared in the peace and stillness that the night brings. So embrace this time, value the special role that you have taken on and try to fit in a rest or nap when you can to help you to manage during this time.

Feel free to share this blog with any other new mothers that you know so that they too can see what an important job that they are doing and you can all be there to support each other as you share this journey as breastfeeding mothers.

Contact me at any time if you need any further advice or support. Take care and enjoy that precious baby of yours.

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