If you notice extra fatigue while breastfeeding, there are a few reasons that contribute to you needing extra sleep. Not only is your body under increased metabolic demand to produce milk for your baby, but hormones are also at play. Breastfeeding can make you more relaxed and tired, but there are ways you can keep your energy and breast milk supply up.
Breastfeeding and Hormones
You already know how pregnancy affects your hormones and your body. However, the hormone fluctuations don’t stop once Baby is born. You will feel a rush of hormones immediately after birth and into the first few weeks postpartum, whether you breastfeed or not, and then throughout your breastfeeding journey. These changes in hormones help your body’s milk production as well as milk letdown, and can also cause feelings of relaxation and sleepiness.
Immediately following labor and delivery, breastfeeding encourages the release of oxytocin, which can help with post-delivery contractions. Don’t worry – these contractions are not as painful as the ones you experienced during labor, but they are crucial to your body’s recovery. These contractions help to prevent excessive bleeding, compressing blood vessels in the uterus.
Oxytocin has also been called the “mothering hormone”, as it can enhance feelings of bonding between mother and baby, reduce stress levels, and induce a state of calm. Emotional and physical bonding might be easier for a mom who has high levels of oxytocin and breastfeeding can increase those hormone levels.
In addition to oxytocin post-delivery, breastfeeding triggers the release of prolactin, a hormone regulated by the pituitary gland. This hormone helps stimulate and upkeep milk production but it also has an additional side effect on the mother: relaxation and sleepiness. This usually means that during those first few weeks of newborn care, mom can fall asleep quickly and efficiently thanks to the release of prolactin.
Breastfeeding and Metabolic Demand
In addition to feeling sleepy, relaxed, and calm due to hormones released during breastfeeding, you might also feel fatigued due to the fact that your body is working extra hard to produce the milk that your baby needs.
Breastfeeding mothers require about 300-500 more calories per day to keep up with the metabolic demand of milk production. Not eating enough calories each day can lead to a decreased milk supply, which can be difficult to bring back up.
All that extra work your body is doing to make milk means you might feel more tired than usual, especially if you aren’t getting the fuel your body needs through food. Be sure you are eating enough at meals and increase healthy snacking throughout the day.
Breastfeeding and Postpartum Care
Finally, you might be feeling tired from the strain that comes with having a newborn. Let’s face it: any mom with a newborn is exhausted due to:
- Recovering from labor & delivery
- Caring for a newborn
- Adjusting to a new phase of life
A breastfeeding mom is also tired because they are the one who is feeding Baby every time Baby is hungry. This can add to increased fatigue.
Self-Care Strategies for Breastfeeding Mothers
Your hormones are making you sleepy, the extra metabolic demand of making milk can increase your fatigue, and you aren’t sleeping consistently through the night. No wonder you are tired!
While we can’t give you the magic answer to getting your Baby to sleep for long stretches at night, we can give you some self-care strategies that can help you feel the best you can during the newborn and infant stages.
These strategies rely on you asking for help. In addition to your partner, consider asking your parents, friends, family members, and neighbors for a little extra TLC as you find your way through the sleep deprivation that can come with parenting a newborn.
Keeping your body’s milk supply up can mean your body is working extra hard. Take good care of it by staying hydrated and drinking lots of healthy fluids.
- Keep reusable bottles filled with water throughout your home, including by your nursing chair, your bed, and your couch.
- Tell your partner to remind you to drink water throughout the day because you have a lot already on your mind and could use a friendly push to drink more water.
- Water is the best option here, but any fluids you can get into your body each day are helpful.
- When possible, choose drinks with lots of electrolytes and fewer added sugars, but the occasional can of soda isn’t going to do much harm.
Eat healthy, and eat often
You are going to feel more fatigue and exhaustion if your body isn’t fueled with enough food. Boost your energy levels by eating healthy and eating often. This isn’t the time to count calories unless your physician has said to. Instead, focus on eating when you are hungry and if possible, choosing healthy foods that are packed with protein and vitamins.
- Ask helpful family members and friends to bring you groceries and stock your fridge with pre-cut fruits and vegetables, ingredients for sandwiches that are easy to eat with one hand, and foods that sound good to you at the moment.
- You can also have your partner set up a schedule with friends for dinner drop-offs so that you don’t have to add “plan meals” to your already busy to-do list postpartum.
Sleep when you can
The phrase “sleep when the baby sleeps” is often passed around but is not always the most realistic. However, if you are able to nap as often as possible, you can slowly make up for the sleep you might be missing at night.
- Experiment with different schedules so that you can sleep while your partner is taking care of the baby.
- Breastfeeding mothers can often struggle in the early evenings when Baby wants to cluster feed. If this is adding to your breastfeeding fatigue, see if you can schedule in a nap in the early afternoon when your partner takes the baby and you retreat to a dark bedroom to sleep before the non-stop feeding session begins.
Talk to your lactation consultant about pumping
Working with a lactation consultant, especially during your first breastfeeding experience, can be your best decision. Talk candidly with your consultant about your fatigue and tiredness to see if you can work out some different options that will bring you extra sleep without compromising your supply or breastfeeding relationship.
They can help determine if certain strategies are right for you and your situation, like:
- Using a Haakaa letdown catcher to build a supply of milk that your partner can give to Baby once a day while you sleep in or rest.
- Scheduling an extra pumping session can give enough milk for a bottle to give during the day so that you can rest.
- Helping Baby latch or diagnosing tongue tie, which can negatively affect breastfeeding efficiency.
- Providing suggestions for hydration and diet to boost supply or increase energy.
Try light exercise
The postpartum recovery time is not the right time for you to return to the gym for intense workouts. However, if your doctor gives you permission, you might consider using light exercise as a way to fight off fatigue and drowsiness. For example, a light walk with or without Baby in the stroller or carrier can generate endorphins that can boost your energy and keep you feeling ready to take on the next challenge.
- See if you can add a daily walk into your routine.
- Walking outside is best, if the weather is appropriate to do so. In a pinch, you can walk around your house.
- Put on your favorite music and dance a bit. Moving your body can help fight off fatigue even more than a giant cup of coffee.
Watch your caffeine intake
Speaking of coffee, try to limit your caffeine intake. Not only can caffeine travel to your Baby through your breastmilk, but it can also leave you feeling more jittery or anxious than truly awake. If possible, skip caffeine altogether. If not, aim for just one cup a day.
Delegate household tasks
You are already taking care of a newborn and breastfeeding, which can zap your energy levels. When you have the opportunity to rest or take a breath of air, you don’t need to spend that time doing laundry or cleaning up. Instead, ask someone you trust to help out with those daily household tasks. The person will be thrilled to help you out in a tangible way and you’ll have plenty of time later to catch back up with your household routines.
Keep your doctor informed
Speak truthfully with your doctor, and your child’s pediatrician, during well-baby and well-mother visits. Depression and anxiety after birth are common and can lead to even more sleep disruptions, so be sure your physician knows about what you are feeling.
Share things like:
- Your energy level
- Mental health status
- Water intake
- What your partner is observing
The more your doctor knows about how things are going with your physical and mental health, the better they can make recommendations for treatment or direct you to support networks that can provide some relief.
You’ve Got This
Breastfeeding makes you tired due to hormone letdowns, but being a parent of a newborn also makes life feel downright exhausting. Here’s the good news, though: you’ll find your way through it. Soon, your bleary eyes will clear and your baby will start to sleep for a few more hours each night. Until then, ask for help, stay hydrated, and keep your doctor informed. You’ve got this, Mama!