Breastfeeding: Is insomnia common in nursing moms?

My wife and I have a question: My wife -- a lactating mom -- has recently had bouts of insomnia (while our six month old kindly sleeps through the night). It has happened three times already -- each time about a month apart. Is this common in lactating women who have not yet menstruated?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Nursing mothers probably experience insomnia less frequently than other mothers. The hormone, prolactin, that is released during breastfeeding aids a mother's relaxation. It has a very calming effect.

Prolactin levels are highest at night, so mothers who nurse their babies during the night are getting larger doses of this relaxing hormone. This helps them to return to sleep more quickly during those nighttime feeds. Insomnia is a common reaction to stress. Let's face it -- motherhood (and life, in general) can be stressful.

I hope these suggestions will help your wife get a restful night's sleep:

  • Exercise regularly (it's a great outlet for stress), but don't exercise vigorously, just before going to bed.
  • Practice meditation and progressive relaxation for 15 minutes each day.
  • Rest when your baby rests during the day. It may be harder to go to sleep at night when you are overtired.
  • Don't consume caffeinated beverages and chocolate in the late afternoon or evening, and consider eliminating or reducing your intake of these foods altogether (at least for the time being.)
  • Ideally, avoid eating heavily for at least four hours before bed.
  • Treat yourself to a warm, relaxing bath before climbing into bed.
  • Enjoy quiet, calming music. A relaxing before-bed ritual is a wonderful way to prepare for sleep.
  • Get in the habit of going to bed and waking up at regular times each day.
  • Making love can be very relaxing, and is a great stress reliever. Connecting intimately with your partner is a nice way to end the day.

If insomnia is disrupting your life, you need to be evaluated by your Health Care Provider to rule out any underlying medical condition. Depression can be playing a part, and is more common than most people think -- even at six months postpartum. By finding healthy ways to deal with the stress in your life, and rearranging your bedtime routine, you should find yourself sleeping peacefully before long. Best wishes!

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