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Why You Make So Much Milk in the Middle of the Night

Raise your hand if you have ever woken up in a pool of breastmilk.

Raise your hand if you know the feeling of being awoken by your rock hard, milk-filled breasts.

Me too, mamas. Me too.

I have been breastfeeding for a combined 6 years over the last 8 years, and there's one thing that I have always wondered: Why do I feel the most 'full' in the middle of the night?

You may think that it's an easy answer...  that I go the longest between nursing sessions, so there is more milk waiting to be expelled. But that's not right, at least not in the beginning. My babies do not sleep for long periods of time; if anything, they nap during the day for longer stretches than they sleep at night. If the previous theory were to be true, I would produce the most milk around 1:00pm every day!

But I don't.

Somewhere between 2-3:00am every morning, my breasts become engorged and milk starts soaking my sheets. I know I'm not alone either. This topic has been brought up in mom groups all over social media.

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Middle of the Night Milk

This 2:00- 3:00am hour is the most important hour of breastfeeding for new moms. Lactation consultants and researchers agree that the prolactin production (the milk-making hormone) follow a circadian rhythm, which means prolactin levels are significantly higher at night -- especially during this hour. It is why newborns wake to nurse sometime during this timeframe; they don't want to miss out on the most milk of the day! Source

It's not just newborns that love this boost in milk; babies who are nursed on demand will fight hard not to let go of this feeding. And there's an awesome reason for moms to not give it up too  If you are one of the lucky breastfeeding moms whose period does not return right away, you may have this 2-3:00am nursing session to thank. It seems to be linked to your fertility! Moms who continue breastfeeding on demand throughout the nights, and exclusively nurse without adding cereal or supplemental formula into the mix, tend to go longer before having the return of their cycle.

Another beautiful thing about breastmilk is that it changes throughout the day, meaning that your nighttime milk actually contains melatonin. Babies do not produce this 'sleep hormone' during their infancy, so they cannot establish a difference between day and night. That's right, scientists believe melatonin-rich nighttime breastmilk helps babies develop their own circadian cycles and helps them eventually learn to sleep longer stretches at night. Amazing right? Not only does your middle-of-the-night milk contain melatonin, but it also contains tryptophan, which is a sleep-inducing amino acid. Source and Source

It's also been noted that the body produces the most milk when it is the most relaxed, and the middle of the night is the best example for this.

If all of this isn't reason enough to love your 3:00am milk supply, remember that it is a special time and tends to be silent, dark, and just the two of you. Continuing to nurse your baby (or pump) in the middle of the night also grants you:

  • More sleep overall (hello, dream feeding!).
  • Lower risk to postpartum depression.
  • Knowledge that you are providing extra high-fatty milk to baby, which aids in brain and motor development.
  • Insurance your breastfeeding relationship continue long term.
  • Peace of mid that your child will naturally sleep well throughout the night, when she is meant to -- not when she is trained to.
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