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Is it normal for a baby to wake up in the middle of the night to breastfeed?

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

Every mother gets asked: "Does your baby sleep through the night?"

Not only does this question seem loaded (in that if the answer is yes --- everyone states how amazing your baby is, but if the answer is no--- everyone gives you pity responses regarding your lack of sleep) but it also puts an unnecessary pressure and spotlight on the baby's parents.

The truth is that it is NOT NORMAL for a newborn to sleep throughout the night. This is primarily due to the fact that their stomachs are not big enough to last a full 6-8 hours. It is also because babies do not know the difference between night and day at such a young age.

What is the 'norm'?

A newborn feeds on average every 1 1/2 to 2 hours due to the size of their small stomachs. During the night, a newborn may be able to sleep for 3 hours at a time, but most certainly will wake up intermittently throughout the night for feedings. Most infants wake up ~3 times a night.

Fun Facts:

Did you know that breastmilk composition differs throughout the day?

At the beginning of the day, there is a high amount of carbohydrates within the breastmilk that provides 'quick energy' for the newborn. Breastmilk at the end of the day/closer to bedtime is higher in fats. Because fat is the most satiating of the micronutrients, it takes the longest to digest (allowing more sleepy time). This reiterates that the newborn may be able to sleep for a longer period of time without feeding, however, it is still not enough to keep the baby sleeping throughout the night. Many moms perceive not sleeping through the night as insufficient milk supply, but fear not, it is normal!

How can we compare breastmilk to formula?

An infant formula will not have the same composition as breastmilk. As stated above, breastmilk composition changes throughout the day, however infant formula does not. Because of this reason, formula fed infants may sleep less than a breastfed infant (due to the lack of additional fats that work to keep the baby full and nutritionally satisfied throughout the night). Parents of breastfed infants may also sleep 40-45 more minutes each night. This may not seem like a lot, but for new parents--- it makes all the difference!

In summary...

Mamas and Dads... do NOT get discouraged when your baby wakes up to feed. Your baby is hitting their feeding milestones and Mamas breastmilk is still perfect. Rest assured --- this is normal behavior and a sign that your baby is healthy and thriving!

Thank you for reading and please sign up on our mailing list for Mamas Maternal Health updates and weekly blog posts at www.mamasmaternalhealth.com!

Until next time!

Mikayla and Cassie

Mamas Maternal Health Registered Dietitians/Lactation Counselors

Reference: The Lactation Counselor Training Course Notebook (2018)., Healthy Children Project, Center for Breastfeeding., p89

Photo by Carlo Navarro on Unsplash

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