A few days ago, I received a panicked call from a very worried mama. She was concerned her milk supply was dropping, her baby was losing weight, was upset at the breast, and wouldn’t latch. The mother was getting plugged ducts and worried about mastitis. After the course of the call, we tried to pinpoint what it was that went wrong. Decongestants were used once, not long enough to make a huge difference, her pump broke while she was away from the baby, but that should have been remedied the moment she got back with her baby. The baby was teething, so that could make a bit of a difference in the latch, causing the ducts to clog, sure. Then she dropped the bomb. She admitted she had seen a sleep consultant a month ago (when her baby was 5 months old) to help the child sleep 12 hours at night. She was told by this trainer to spread out feedings to only 4-5 times a day, and never to feed at night.
So, a little background on how milk supply works. When you drop your feedings in half overnight (no pun intended) your milk supply will drop by (anyone, anyone? Bueller?) half. It is a supply and demand relationship. The baby or pump demands, your breasts supply. If you stop demanding, they stop supplying.
Let’s do the math shall we? An average baby 5 months old, needs 24oz-32oz of milk a day to continue growing and being healthy. They get 100% of their calories and hydration from this milk. So, when a mother is told to bar on demand access to the breast, the baby is still only going to take in about 3oz per feed because their tummies are still the same size, but only four or five times a day. Now, what if you took everything you ate normally and cut the portions in half? What if you also drank half the water you should? What do you think would happen to your body? Science tells us malnutrition and dehydration would set in, and you would become very weak, and really sleepy…huh. Yes, it turns out that a baby getting half their nutrition become quiet, sleep a lot, and become very “good” babies. As opposed to those awful “bad” babies with their punk music and their bar room shenanigans.
Many of these sleep trainers, in fact ALL the trainers I found in my area, take babies as young as a couple months old. We know from research in this area that babies must nurse on demand to establish milk supply, and grow correctly. We also know that babies are not made to sleep through the night at this age, and in fact it can be extremely dangerous for babies to sleep too deeply.
Nobody likes to miss sleep. In fact, sleep deprivation can be used as a form of torture!However, starving your baby is not the solution. If you value breastfeeding, and would like to figure out how to continue and get some sleep, hire an IBCLC with years of education on child development, infant nutrition, and breastfeeding management. There could be several reasons your baby is having trouble settling, is nursing more often than is normal, and keeping you up at night. An IBCLC will look at sleep arrangements, schedules, anatomy to check for ties, check weights to check for intake at the breast, work with your other health providers, follow up with you and your little one over the next couple of weeks, help you get reimbursed by your insurance for her visit, and will charge about a QUARTER of what these trainers are charging. The thing is, the person who referred this mother to me once things went south, WAS the sleep trainer.
It is absolutely normal and healthy for your baby to wake up at night. Don’t you? Sometimes you need some water, sometimes you need to pee, sometimes you have a bad dream, and need a snuggle. Would you deprive your husband of these things? Your dog? Yourself? I am 33 years old and I don’t remember the last time I slept through the night. It just stopped being my mother’s problem at some point.