Being a new parent is tiring, and if you're a breastfeeding parent, you might find that you are even sleepier than usual. Obviously, being your child's main source of nourishment is especially exhausting when you're up every two hours, but why does breastfeeding make you tired, anyway? You might be surprised to learn that there’s actually a hormone involved in breastfeeding that may play a role in some of that sleepiness.
Does breastfeeding make you tired?
If you’ve ever darn near dozed off while breastfeeding, you’re not alone. Turns out, breastfeeding does make you sleepy, for reasons other than being up all night or being extra comfy with your babe. After you deliver your baby and placenta, your body triggers the release of a hormone called prolactin. “Prolactin plays a role in your milk letdown,” which is an automatic natural reaction signaling your body to start making breast milk, Sterling Grey-Simmons, a certified breastfeeding specialist, explains to Romper. “[It] helps you make and maintain your milk supply.” But the hormone can cause something else, too: drowsiness.
While prolactin doesn’t directly affect the parts of the brain that control sleep, he can see why it might contribute to feeling drowsy. “Most of the fatigue is related to altered sleep patterns in breastfeeding moms and the metabolic demands of producing breast milk,” Jason VanBennekom, M.D., board-certified OB-GYN at Baptist Health, tells Romper. “But prolactin does have a direct role in reducing stress and anxiety. Oftentimes, the decrease in stress allows greater relaxation, and therefore could make someone feel sleepier, especially if already fatigued by lack of sleep during nighttime hours.”
“Prolactin seems to make a mother feel relaxed and sleepy, so she usually rests well even if she breastfeeds at night,” Jessica Shepherd, M.D., OB-GYN and partner with Happy V, tells Romper. “More prolactin is produced at night, so breastfeeding at night is especially helpful for keeping up the milk supply.”
How to keep your energy up while breastfeeding
Although falling asleep while nursing might sound like a sweet, tender moment, it's not always feasible or safe. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can keep your energy up while breastfeeding. Some of these you can even do while your baby eats, helping you to stay even more alert during those cozy sessions.
Take your supplements
In addition to adding more calories, protein, and generally nutritious foods to your diet, VanBennekom is a big fan of continuing your prenatal while you’re breastfeeding.
“We recommend that patients continue to take their prenatal vitamin for as long as they breastfeed. One additional recommendation for vegan moms is to really concentrate on adequate protein and to consider a B12 supplement, as this is less abundant in a vegan diet,” he says.
Battling tiredness with exercise can seem like the absolute worst idea, but these experts promise a little bit of activity will make you feel so much better. One study even found that people who are typically sedentary can decrease their fatigue by 65% with a low-intensity exercise like walking or aerobics.
“Exercise helps boost energy levels as well as mood,” says Shepherd. “Even just a short walk outside in the fresh air can feel good.”
“In addition to improving overall health, exercise stimulates endorphin production, which improves feelings of well-being and energy level,” VanBennekom explains.
Skip the chores and take some naps
Sleep when baby sleeps? Yeah, you've heard it before, but it can seriously help. The dirty dishes will still be there later, but this opportunity to snooze may not. “Naps can do wonders, though we don’t recommend napping while breastfeeding or when holding the baby at any time,” says VanBennekom. “A 10 to 20-minute nap can actually be more invigorating than an hour-long nap, so it’s worth grabbing one when you can.”
Overall, prolactin can definitely make you feel relaxed and give you the urge to nap while you’re breastfeeding, “but postpartum recovery and lack of sleep also play a role in your sleepiness and definitely help take you the rest of the way to snoozetown,” Grey-Simmons says. “It’s your body’s way, especially in the beginning, of reminding yourself to slow down. Combat the tiredness and fatigue by taking good care of yourself. Eat and drink well, rest or take naps, [and] get comfortable while breastfeeding. Also remember to be gentle with yourself. Your body didn’t grow a baby overnight, and it definitely isn't going to heal overnight.”
As long as you prioritize your health, give yourself some time to relax, and maybe even use the help of a little coffee, sleepiness associated with breastfeeding should be no problem.
Fahmy, S. (2008, February 28). Low-intensity exercise reduces fatigue symptoms by 65 percent, study finds. UGA Today. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://news.uga.edu/low-intensity-exercise-reduces-fatigue-symptoms-by-65-percent-study-finds/
Sterling Grey-Simmons, certified breastfeeding specialist in Atlanta, Georgia
Jason VanBennekom, M.D., board-certified OB-GYN at Baptist Health in Jacksonville, FL
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