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The 411 on Feeding and Sleep: What comes first?

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Feeding and sleep are two of the most thought about topics after having a baby. As a mom of four, I know all to well the stress and brain energy that comes with ensuring your baby is feeding well (and enough), AND sleeping well (and enough). Each day is consumed with feeding schedules and sleeping schedules. The mental load of the two can feel pretty overwhelming and exhausting! (looking for more help on feeding, check out my Feeding in Year One Guide)

Well, there is an easier way, and a somewhat ‘science’ to thinking about sleep and your child's feeds so that you can truly maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of both. Basically, lighten the mental load and have a baby that feeds and sleeps well. Sounds nice, right? Here’s how you can think about it:

The Relationship Between Feeding And Sleep: How To Get The Best Of Both

Feeding and sleep are each their own beast. BUT, if you are a new parent, you know how connected they are in supporting one and others functions. Babies for the most part, take turns eating and sleeping - so new moms are forever juggling between the two in a day. A hungry baby will not sleep well, and a sleepy baby will not feed well. See, they need to support each other.

However, a common school of thought is that baby should be filled up with milk in order to sleep well. Feeding becomes the lead as a way to ensure sleep. So parents are often feeding like crazy before naps and as much as they can all they way until bedtime, in the hopes that baby won’t wake from hunger. Assuming that’s the only reason they are waking (we’ll get there)…

Yet, all this feeding before sleep can actually be hindering your end goal of more/better sleep. Why? There are two reasons:

1. Regularly feeding before sleep can be creating a feed-sleep association. Do you notice baby is getting sleepy during the feed? Maybe even falling asleep during the feed? And then baby takes a short nap (30-40 mins, which is one sleep cycle) or wakes shortly after they’ve gone to bed, and often through the night. This is because baby is now used to only getting to sleep with a feeding. Therefore every time baby wakes (usually after one sleep cycle), the feeding is needed to soothe her back to sleep. This is the only way baby knows how to get to sleep.

2. Baby is too tired to take a full feed. Feeding right before baby is ready for sleep makes it difficult for her to maximize that feed. She’s tired and the action of feeding is exerting and takes a lot of energy. Baby then only takes what she can muster, and essentially falls asleep. Only to wake shortly after because of #1 (we got there, as per above) and because she is hungry and didn’t fill her tummy enough at the earlier feed.

So, how can we avoid the above and improve the feed-sleep relationship? They are both crucial to our child’s development and need to support each other in a way that achieves success and calm for mom and baby. First, try not to think of the feeding as the lead player in bettering sleep (i.e. Filling baby up in order to achieve more sleep).

Flip the switch! A well-rested baby will in fact feed at their best, and then sleep better with a full tummy, and so on... Feed AFTER sleep (with the exception of bedtime), so baby will have all the energy they need to take that full feed to sustain them until the next one – therefore, avoiding drowsiness at the breast or bottle (which helps prevent the feed-sleep association) and allows them to get the full nourishment in each feed.

Quality sleep will support the next feed - and that quality feed will in turn support the following sleep.

A note on making adjustments to your child’s feeding and sleep schedule. If you found this helpful and are considering now moving that feed to after sleep (yay!), know that the changes can take some to settle in. Your child will now be adjusting from more frequent smaller feeds to spaced out fuller feeds. If you are breastfeeding, your milk will start to adjust to the new demand. Try not to pump in between feedings, so production can match what baby will need when time for the feeding.

For more on feeding, check out my post How Much And How Often Do I Feed My Baby? A Feeding Guide For Year One. There is an actual guide in here, with feeding needs up to a year!

Hope this helps. Keep coming back for more baby and child sleep tips, advice and support. Follow for more.

If you feel you are ready for sleep support or would like more information on how I can help your child sleep better, book a free call here.

Breastfeeding content vetted and supported by The Modern Way Lactation. Follow @themodernwaylactation for supportive, effective and just straight up awesome breastfeeding and feeding advice and support.

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