💤 Prolactin, the major milk making hormone, is rises when we sleep, so it is naturally higher at night. Prolactin rises about 90 minutes after sleep begins and peaks around 4-5 hours later and stays high for about 2 hours after waking up. This helps you make more milk throughout the rest of the day
🛌 For most, milk removal in the middle of the night is essential for maintaining milk supply. If your exclusively breastfed baby under 12 months is waking at night, most likely they want to feed. If your baby is naturally sleeping longer on their own (with no sleep training or sleep devices to help baby sleep longer), they are telling you they are getting enough milk from you at other times to not need milk at night for growth.
Breast storage capacity has a LOT to do with whether or not you need to wake up to pump. If you have a large breast storage capacity you may be able to go longer between pump or feedings without dropping supply or feeling uncomfortable. You may be able to get a 4, 5, or even 6 hour stretch of sleep and not see your supply drop. Baby also has more milk available at other feedings and may take very large, less often feedings.
Those with low supply, small breast storage capacity, or baby struggling to feed efficiently may need to take advantage of higher night time prolactin levels made during REM. Even if you feel like you have a healthy supply in the first 4-6 weeks, a sudden drop in supply can happen if insufficient milk removals start too early into your breastfeeding journey when supply regulates around 3 months.
If you’re not sure what your storage capacity is, if baby is sleeping longer and you’re waking up engorged, or you’re waking up and pumping and then baby wants to feed and you have now pumped that milk, there are Lots of options:
✏️ Dream feed. If you’re waking up engorged and baby is still sleeping, some times you can sneak in a dream feed to relieve the breast and help baby sleep even longer. Bring sleeping baby to the breast to root and usually they will latch and feed while still sleeping. Lay them back down when you’re done. Don’t burp or change diapers as this will wake them up.
✏️ Pump 30-45 minutes after your last breastfeeding ends when you anticipate baby to take a longer sleep stretch. This will help you go a little longer before the next feeding without getting as engorged, seeing as drastic a supply dio, or pumping too close to the next feeding.
✏️ Pump when you feel uncomfortable but only pump enough to feel comfortable and not to empty the breast. If baby wakes up, you can always offer the breast and top off with what you pumped if they’re still hungry
✏️ Do nothing. If your baby is naturally sleeping longer at night on their own with no sleep training, your body will naturally regulate your supply.
✏️ If you are sleep training baby or using something like the Snoo to help baby sleep longer, you may need to still get up every few hours over night to maintain your milk supply.