It’s cause for celebration when your baby starts sleeping through the night. However, if you’ve been breastfeeding during the early hours and your baby suddenly skips a feeding, you may wake up with uncomfortable and engorged breasts. At times, they can become so swollen that you experience pain. So, what can you do to avoid this?
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Managing Overnight Engorgement
If you find yourself engorged overnight, there are a few strategies you can employ to alleviate the discomfort. Firstly, you can nurse your baby or express just enough milk to relieve the fullness and make yourself more comfortable.
During the newborn stage, when your baby wakes every two to three hours for nursing, it helps establish your milk supply while preventing your breasts from becoming overly full. Now that your baby can go longer stretches between feedings, your body needs to adjust accordingly. Over time, as your baby gradually extends their sleep duration, your body will also adapt to going longer stretches without breastfeeding at night. However, there are instances where a baby who previously nursed every three to four hours suddenly starts sleeping six or seven hours, leading to excessive breast fullness.
If you choose to nurse to relieve engorgement, try not to fully awaken your baby. Instead, encourage them to suckle while still half asleep (also known as a “dream feed”). Completely waking your baby for a feeding can disrupt their sleep patterns, as your body will continue producing milk for that specific nighttime feeding instead of adjusting to the extended intervals.
Another option is to wait until your baby wakes on their own, and then feed them. If your breasts still feel very full after the feeding, you can use a breast pump to express milk. This not only relieves engorgement but also allows you to create a small stockpile of pumped breast milk.
However, it’s important not to wait too long while feeling engorged. Going more than an hour or two with overly full breasts can potentially reduce your milk supply and may even lead to plugged ducts, breast inflammation, or mastitis.
You may be concerned about interrupting your baby’s developing sleep routine by waking them up to feed. After all, the goal is for them to sleep through the night. The good news is that if you wake them just enough to nurse (especially if you barely wake them), it shouldn’t be a problem. The hormones present in nighttime breast milk, such as tryptophan and prolactin, can help both you and your baby relax and easily fall back asleep.
Alternatively, you may choose to use a breast pump instead of nursing, allowing your sleeping baby to continue sleeping. If you wake up spontaneously because your breasts are full and uncomfortable, simply pump “to comfort” – just enough to relieve the fullness. You can use an electric or manual breast pump, or even hand express into a bottle or cup. Repeat this process for a few days, gradually extending the time before you pump each night if possible.
Pumping Frequency at Night
There’s no strict rule for how often you should pump at night. The goal is to pump just enough to feel comfortable. If you wake up feeling overly full and your baby is still soundly asleep, pump only enough to relieve the engorgement. Avoid pumping more than that, as it signals your body to continue producing milk for a feeding at that particular time every night.
If you find it necessary to pump again before morning in order to feel comfortable, that’s perfectly fine.
After a night or two of pumping as needed to release pressure, you may be able to go a little longer before needing to pump again, perhaps waiting five or six hours instead of four. Gradually increase the time between pumping sessions until you and your baby are on the same schedule.
Will Engorgement Always Happen Overnight?
Thankfully, no. Give yourself some time, as it may only take a few nights, and eventually, your breasts will adjust to your baby’s new sleep schedule.
Of course, as with most things involving babies, progress may not always be linear. Your baby might sleep through the night one night and then wake up halfway through the next for a feeding. They may sleep soundly for weeks and then experience a sleep regression or begin cluster feeding during a growth spurt. In such cases, it’s important to follow your baby’s lead. Remember, breastfeeding is all about supply and demand, and your breasts can adapt to meet your baby’s changing needs.
Once your baby settles into a consistent schedule, your body will recognize that an all-night milk buffet is no longer necessary. After just a few days, you’ll find that you can go longer and longer before waking up feeling uncomfortable. Eventually, you’ll wake up at a normal time when your baby is ready to eat, feeling more rested and comfortably full in the mornings.
- Newborn sleep guide
- Night weaning your baby
- When can my baby go through the night without a feeding?