Nurturing Rest: Practical Tips for New Breastfeeding Parents
By Evonne Smith, IBCLC, NCS
Becoming a new parent is a beautiful and life-changing experience, but it can also be exhausting, especially when you’re breastfeeding. In this blog post, we’ll explore five simple, practical breastfeeding tips to help you maximize rest while nurturing your new baby.
Use a “Blanket of Noise”
When breastfeeding a newborn, it’s common for parents to have the baby sleep in the same room for convenience. However, you soon learn that newborns can be very noisy sleepers! They often grunt, groan, kick, and whine, and sometimes even cry out briefly when in a deep sleep. While these noises are normal, they can make it hard for you to sleep.
During my time as a newborn care specialist working overnight shifts, I perfected the art of sleeping next to a grunty newborn while still being able to wake and respond quickly to their needs. One strategy I found helpful is using a sound machine. The gentle and consistent sounds it produces can help mask your baby’s noises.
My favorite sound is brown noise, which is a lower frequency than white noise and sounds more like ocean waves than static. I find white noise too harsh/activating to listen to all night, and I’ve found that other sounds like fans, heartbeat, or rainfall aren’t as effective at masking baby grunts. Set the noise machine to a volume that masks your baby’s baseline “soundtrack,” allowing you to tune out random noises while still being able to hear your baby when they wake and need a response from you. Experiment to find the type of noise and volume level that works best for you (I recommend staying around 50-60 decibels to avoid hearing issues—70+ is probably too loud).
When it comes to lighting during nighttime feedings, the right hue matters. Red light has been found to be the least disruptive to production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). Using a red night light near your nighttime nursing and diaper changing areas can help you fall back asleep faster after night wakings. I personally love using a dimmable Himalayan salt lamp or something like the Gummygoods red gummy bear light.
On the other hand, the most disruptive light is blue light—the kind that comes from phone screens. If you use your phone to keep yourself awake during nighttime feeds or use an app to track your baby’s feeds, the screen can disrupt your own melatonin production. Although many phones have a built-in “night mode” or a similar feature to reduce blue light, I still find red light to be more effective.
To achieve a red light filter on my iPhone, I go to Settings -> search for “Color Filter” -> Color Tint -> Slide the “intensity” slider to about 90% and the “Hue” slider all the way to the end (it doesn’t matter which end). Pro tip: you can even use the accessibility shortcut, enabling you to activate the red screen feature with a triple click of the lock button.
Side note: Android users, I know there’s a similar Color Filter feature but I’ll have to send you on a Google search for instructions on how to activate it on your particular device (sorry!).
Strategic Diaper Changes
Does your baby get nice and cozy and start drifting to sleep after a feed, only to scream their little head off during diaper changes? Changing your baby’s diaper after feeds can disrupt their full-belly bliss state and make it harder for them to get back to sleep.
To minimize the upset, consider changing the diaper before night feeds or in between breasts/sides if your baby tends to poop while feeding. This way, you can ensure your little one stays cozy and content after being fed, making it easier to lull them to sleep. (Note: the debate about feeding to sleep is a hot topic online these days. For middle-of-the-night feeds during the newborn days, this advice applies regardless of which “side” you land on.)
In the first couple of months, most nursing parents can do one 4-5 hour stretch per 24 hours without significant impacts on milk supply. If you have a partner, family member, or hired help to support you at night and your baby is over 2 weeks old, consider having them offer the baby a bottle while you get some consolidated sleep.
This tip can be helpful but requires planning and finesse to pull it off without disrupting breastfeeding. A lactation professional can help you make a plan. Proper bottle feeding technique is important to prevent the baby from overfeeding and later rejecting the breast. You can watch a video teaching my version of bottle feeding technique. Additionally, you’ll still need to pump within 1-2 hours of the baby getting the bottle to “replace” that feeding. This will help maintain your milk supply and help mitigate engorgement. Once your baby has surpassed their birth weight, which should happen by two weeks old if feeding is going well, you don’t need to wake them to feed at night anymore (unless your healthcare provider gives you a specific reason). I do still recommend waking the baby at least every 3 hours during the day to ensure they get in as many calories as possible before bedtime.
Mind Your Nervous System
You’re well aware by now that sleep is in short supply during the newborn days. When we’re not getting as much physical rest as we’d like, it can be helpful to focus on the other types of rest (spiritual, mental, emotional, sensory, social, and creative). This is especially true if you often find yourself feeling anxious. Consider what soothes your nervous system (hint–it’s probably not scrolling social media).
The internet is a double-edged sword. It provides more information than ever before, but it also leads to information overload. The next time you find yourself on a midnight scroll, check in with your body to see whether reading/watching all those posts calms or activates your nervous system. If it’s not as soothing as you need in that moment, explore other types of rest that might better serve you.
It may sound a little woo-woo (so am I), but in those anxious or overwhelming moments, I’m a big fan of EFT tapping. It’s easy, and I’ve always felt noticeably calmer within two minutes. You can even do it one-handed while holding your baby. There are plenty of videos on YouTube to help you get started.
Being a new breastfeeding parent is a notoriously sleepless job. By incorporating these practical breastfeeding tips into your routine, you can start to maximize your rest and recharge in a variety of ways.
If you’re interested in being in community with other breastfeeding parents, you’re welcome to join Drop In, our lactation and mindfulness support circle, which meets on Monday mornings at Village Birth. At the group, I’m always happy to hold a baby if you’re feeling touched out or just need a little break! You can find more information on the Village Birth website or at www.newnorthbaby.com/lactation/.
Article Written by Evonne Smith, IBCLC, NCS
Village Birth offers doula services, childbirth classes, newborn care classes, lactation and pregnancy support for Los Angeles. Our space is in Sparrow’s Nest in Pasadena (bordering Eagle Rock) where we hold classes, support groups, workshops, and meetups. Interested in learning more about the birth process and options available in your birth setting? Check out Village Birth’s prenatal classes.