I've heard rumors of mythical newborns who wake every 3 hours, nurse, and fall promptly back to sleep, or better yet, who sleep through the night within a few short weeks...but alas, that was not my baby.
First of all, I was lucky if I got one "long" stretch of 3-4 hours' sleep in before my son whimpered awake for his first night feeding. Once I got him down after that, he would sleep for shorter and shorter increments until I finally greeted the dawn with bleary-eyed relief, because even though I was a zombie, I could at least surrender the battle for sleep and move on to facing the day. Secondly, serving up fast-food was not an option; troubled by gas pains and reflux, my son would writhe in discomfort and/or spit up his entire liquid meal if laid down too soon. Attempts at burping delivered inconsistent results, so I resigned myself to holding him upright for 15-20 minutes after each feeding...which meant each of several night feedings took 30-40 minutes, slicing cruelly into my already-minimal sleep time.
Many a midnight hour was thus spent camped out at what I came to refer to as the "Lactation Station," the corner of the living-room couch to which I'd begrudgingly retreat each time duty called. I'd pivot my lower body out of bed (ladyparts still sensitive post-delivery), scoop baby out of his bedside bassinet, and shuffle off to start the tedious feeding routine. And it was grueling, for sure...but I came to accept, and even grow fond of, those late-night moments spent together under the weak lamplight.
And it was grueling, for sure...but I came to accept, and even grow fond of, those late-night moments spent together under the weak lamplight.
It wasn't all precious bonding time, though. I mean, you can only stare at a baby, even your own baby, for so long before you get bored. I thus equipped the Lactation Station with a few other essentials that enabled me to survive the sleep torture of those first weeks and months, and that hopefully will help you through your own night-nursing toil!
Lactation Station Must-Haves
Nursing pillow: Strictly speaking, this doesn't have to be a "nursing" pillow, per se; any firm-ish pillow will do, so long as it helps prop your arms up as you cradle your baby up to boob-height. The constant strain of holding a baby can trigger carpal tunnel in your wrists; the pillow helps relieve the pressure.
Inflatable donut: No, not the fun, Homer Simpson-kind made for Instagram-worthy pool pics - the kind they may have given to you at the hospital to sit on as your vagina heals post-delivery. Hopefully you won't need this, but maybe - especially if you experienced tearing - you will.
Burp cloths: Again, you don't need to buy "burp cloths" - any hand towel, cloth napkin, or even a strip of cut-up blanket will do. You just need something on hand to sop up spit-up (and cry into as you remember what pre-baby sleep was like).
Nipple balm: I almost forgot this one (I think my brain erased the trauma), but a friend who is on ground zero with a newborn reminded me. Keeping a thirsty baby alive means your boobs are suddenly seeing a LOT OF ACTION, and like your lips after a makeout marathon (is that a thing?), your nips are prone to getting dry, chapped, and raw. Nipple balm to the rescue! Oh, and keeping some nursing pads handy is also a good idea - you can use disposables or go with more eco-friendly washables.
Water and snacks: Breastfeeding is dehydrating! It can also make you ravenous, which makes sense, since your body is now a 24-hr milk factory. I guess if I were more intent on dropping the baby weight I would've abstained from midnight snacks, but goddamnit, I needed that chocolate-chip-laced trail mix to get me through to sunrise.
Your phone and some good podcasts: This is a topic of debate - some maintain that good sleep hygiene means avoiding the nighttime glow and stimulation of screens at all costs, and under normal circumstances, I'd agree. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and as a new mom on the night shift, I was ready to grasp for any source of encouragement. I happened to have a work acquaintance dealing with a similarly nocturnal newborn at the time, and we grew a special bond through commiserative text messages. I also started listening to podcasts - in particular, The Longest Shortest Time, the title of which so perfectly encapsulated those seemingly interminable yet precious moments of new parenthood. Listening to others who had suffered through the hazing period and made it through to the other side helped me soldier on through the sore boobs, spit-up, and sleepless nights.