I often talk to moms who want to have their partner give their baby a bottle through the night so that they can get some more sleep (or dads who want to give a bottle at night to help their partner). Unfortunately, this idea rarely works, or if it does, it can have negative (and usually unintended) consequences.
Breastmilk production works according to supply and demand. When milk is removed from your breasts, it tells your body that it needs to make more. If milk is not being removed, then milk production slows down because your body gets the message that the milk is not needed.
In order to make sure that your body continues to produce the amount of milk your baby needs, it is important that milk removal continues. This means that if someone else is giving your baby a bottle, you should ideally be pumping at the same time to make sure that your body gets the message that milk is still needed. It is important to your overall milk production, and obviously if you are up pumping, then you are not getting any extra sleep! If you decide to skip pumping, you’re likely to find that you’re not able to sleep anyway. Your breasts know it’s time to nurse your baby, so there’s a good chance that you’re going to be leaking and feeling full (and possibly uncomfortable). Also, if your baby starts crying while waiting for your partner to warm up a bottle, you’re likely going to be awake thanks to those wonderful mama hormones that make you so aware of your baby.
If you do manage to regularly sleep through a feeding while your partner gives a bottle, you run the risk of having issues with your milk production. Although some moms may be able to skip nighttime feedings without a negative impact, for many moms and babies, those night feedings are extremely important to maintain overall milk production. Prolactin, which is the hormone responsible for milk production, is highest at night, and the surge in prolactin that happens in response to your baby nursing is also higher at night than during the day. If milk is not being removed at night through nursing or pumping then you are missing out on those higher levels of milk making hormone. If you unintentionally cause a decrease in your milk production due to skipping those night feedings, then you’re looking at needing to increase feedings or pumping sessions through the night to rebuild your supply, and again, you’re not getting that extra sleep that you were hoping to get! If you really feel like you need to have someone else give a bottle while you sleep, having them give it during the evening, would be preferable to through the night so that you can still take advantage of those higher prolactin levels.
Current research shows that breastfeeding moms actually get more sleep than those who don’t breastfeed. That doesn’t however, change the fact that parenting a new baby is exhausting and leaves many moms looking for ways to get more rest. So how can partners help and how can moms get more rest? First of all, keep your baby close to you at night so that you’re not having to get up (and therefore fully wake up) each time your baby wants to nurse. Having your baby in bed with you, while following the guidelines for safe co-bedding, can be a great way to minimize disruptions to your sleep. If you’re not comfortable having your baby in bed with you, or if medications etc create an unsafe environment for co-bedding, then have your baby next to your bed in either a crib or bassinet. Your partner can always help by getting up to put baby in bed with you and help you get him positioned to nurse, and then taking him after he’s done nursing and settling him back to sleep.
Along with keeping your baby close at night, try to maximize your rest during the day. We’ve all heard the saying “sleep when your baby sleeps” and although it can be very hard to do, it really is a good way to get more sleep. It can be temping to use the time that your baby naps to do chores around the house, but (unfortunately!) the housework isn’t going anywhere, so leave it and go to sleep! In the early weeks of having a new baby, it can feel like all you do is nurse and sleep, and that’s OK. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Many of us have unrealistic expectations about being home with a baby, and the reality is that if you make it to the end of the day with both of you fed, you’re doing really well!
Photo credit: Bighugelabs.com