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How Breastfeeding Affects Your Sleep

by Yvette Manes

Sleep becomes a rare commodity in mid-to-late pregnancy, when it is difficult to find a sleeping position that is both comfortable and safe. And when your baby arrives and your body becomes round-the-clock nourishment, your sleeping patterns will inevitably change once again. If you're currently pregnant and planning to nurse, you are probably wondering how breastfeeding affects your sleep.

According to La Leche League International, breastfed babies usually need to breastfeed every two to three hours, at least eight to 12 times every 24 hours. Because they are waking so often to nurse, moms tend to lack REM sleep, according to a Parents magazine interview with Lauren Broch, director of education and training at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center of New York-Presbyterian Hospital. REM sleep takes about 90 minutes to reach, and can affect the way moms think and cope.

Anne Smith, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and mother of six breastfed children recommends in Breastfeeding Basics for moms to consider co-sleeping or bed sharing in order to get better sleep while breastfeeding. Because babies who sleep in other rooms tend to becoming fully awake in order to get their mom's attention, it becomes harder for both the mother and the baby to fall back to sleep. Safe co-sleeping can make it easier to feed your baby as often as necessary and allow you both to get more rest.

Smith also noted that breast milk contains a sleep-inducing protein known as prolactin, which enters your bloodstream and has a tranquilizing effect. Because of this, breastfeeding moms may find it easier to take daytime naps while the baby sleeps and catch up with their night time sleep deficit.

Some breastfeeding moms will have a harder time with sleep deprivation than others, which can trigger postpartum depression. According to Postpartum Progress, a study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing shows that symptoms worsen in patients with postpartum depression when their quality of sleep declines. Katherine Stone, the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress, suggests that moms who have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder consider developing a plan for family members to help with overnight feeding. This will allow the nursing mom to get a couple of uninterrupted nights of sleep. "Let me tell you," she wrote, "a full night's sleep does a lot for your ability to cope."

If you find that you have a difficult time handling sleep deprivation as a new nursing mom, talk to a medical health professional to discuss options that can help you avoid or treat postpartum depression and anxiety.