How and When to Drop a Night Feeding
If you’re a mom that is breastfeeding your baby, at some point you have probably wondered: when can I stop breastfeeding my baby overnight without it impacting my milk supply? Many new moms are uncertain if stopping or decreasing milk removal overnight will impact their milk supply. In this blog post, we will explore the various factors that go into determining how overnight milk removal impacts your milk supply so you can make an informed decision.
Infant sleep expectations
When will my baby sleep through the night?
Most Western cultures put a high value on babies sleeping for long lengths of time. Raise your hand if you have been asked if your newborn baby was a “good sleeper”!
The truth is no human sleeps through the night! We all wake up or adults roughly every 90 min, for babies about every 45-60 mi. Adults will roll over or adjust and go back to sleep and babies may fall back to sleep on their own or signal a caregiver for comfort or feeding. THIS IS NORMAL.
So when can parents expect a baby to “sleep through the night”
In sleep research “sleeping through the night” is defined as a 5-8 hour stretch NOT a 12 hour 7 pm-7 am stretch.
All babies reach this milestone at different times. Only about half, or approximately 57% of 12-month olds “sleep through the night”, with SSTN defined as just an 8-hour stretch at any point in the night.
Cyclical nature of prolactin
Prolactin is an important hormone in lactation. Prolactin is considered the major milk-stimulating hormone and it is produced in the pituitary gland. Studies show that prolactin levels are highest overnight and into the early morning hours. This means that overnight your body’s response to your baby’s suckling is the strongest. Skipping or delaying overnight feedings can increase a protein in your breastmilk called “feedback inhibitor of lactation” or FIL. FIL tells your body to make less milk by lowering prolactin levels.
The effects of FIL on our milk supply are temporary but if elevated levels of FIL continue our body will eventually down-regulate our milk supply by shutting down prolactin receptor sites in the breast.
Keeping up with frequent milk removal, especially overnight is important as your milk supply establishes. According to “Making More Milk” by Lisa Maasco IBCLC and Diana West IBCLC.
“Early frequent nursing stimulation also causes prolactin receptors to multiply adding laborers to help the assembly line work faster and more effectively. The more a baby breastfeeds in the first few days and weeks after birth the more receptors are made. Good receptor development is critical to maintaining long-term milk production.”
Milk Supply and Storage Capacity
Your magic number
The term “magic number” is a breastfeeding concept coined by IBCLC Nancy Morbacher IBCLC. The “magic number” refers to the number of times a mom with an established milk supply needs to remove milk to maintain her current milk production.
According to Morbacher, 2 major dynamics impact a mom’s magic number
- Breast fullness
- Breast storage capacity.
As we discussed early having full breasts and a build-up of the protein FIL will tell your body to produce less milk. Reducing breast fullness by increasing the frequency and efficiency of feedings will stimulate milk production.
Breast Storage Capacity
Refers to the MAXIMUM volume of milk available to her baby when her breasts are at their fullest. Breast storage capacity is unrelated to breast size but has to do with the amount of milk-making tissue the mother has. Breast storage capacity can also vary greatly from mother to mother. Studies show a range of 2.5 ounces to upwards of 20 ounces for some moms.
In general, a mother with a large storage capacity can go longer between milk removals without it impacting her milk supply.
It is important to note mothers with smaller storage capacities can have healthy, gaining and thriving infants! A baby that is able to remove 3 ounces per feeding would have to feed more frequently throughout the day and night but with on-demand feedings will be able to gain appropriately!
According to Morbacher, after 6 weeks we can look at infants' ON-DEMAND feeding patterns and pumping output to get an idea of the mom’s breast storage capacity
Small storage capacity
- Your infant often takes both breasts feeds often throughout the day
- You usually don't double pump more than 4 ounces, COMBINED
Medium Storage Capacity
- Your infant may take one or both sides
- Your infant feeds 7-8 times daily
- You pump more than 4 ounces for missed feedings, COMBINED
Large Storage Capacity
- Your infant takes one breast per feeding
- Your infant can gain well on fewer feeds
- You often pump more than 4 ounces, COMBINED
Understanding the concept of your magic number, can help you determine the necessary number of milk removals when they return and overnight.
Determining what works for you
As you can see night feedings are a normal part of breastfeeding and help to support your long-term milk production. Depending on your individual breast storage capacity and milk supply reducing or eliminating milk removal can negatively impact your overall milk supply.
I know it may be frustrating to not have a clear answer, but with breastfeeding and the human body everything is individual.
What should you do?
Educate yourself on normal expectations of infant sleep. As I said in the beginning there is ENORMOUS cultural pressure on new parents to have a baby that is a good sleeper. Learning what is expected and normal can help you decide how to navigate night parenting.
Some resources that I love
- Hey Sleepy Baby or @heysleeplybaby
- La Leche League Book: Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family
- Safe Infant Sleep by Dr. James McKenna
Meet one-on-one with an IBCLC. When you meet one on one with an IBCLC you can discuss your typical feeding patterns, and breastfeeding goals, and help you weigh the pros and cons of adjusting overnight night feedings. Our team offers virtual consults which is perfect for addressing sleep concerns.
Go slowly any changes to your breastfeeding routine should go slowly so you can give your body and your baby time to adjust. If your baby suddenly is wanting to nurse more, is having a decrease in pees and poops, is fussy at the breast, you may need to go back to your old schedule before trying changes.
I designed my breastfeeding program, boob school, to give you all the education you need to meet your breastfeeding goals with confidence. I also know that breastfeeding comes with a lot of unknowns so we offer live support in our private Facebook community and weekly calls. I promise you it's not the “stuff” that makes your breastfeeding journey. It is having access to the RIGHT education and support to navigate every bump along the way.
Cheering you on, always!
Boob School Founder and CEO
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