Nothing can prepare you for how exhausting a baby can be. I had NO clue the level of tired I could be and not be lying face down on the floor. You do eventually adapt to it (I swear!), but here are some tips to survive nights with a baby when you are a breastfeeding mom.
1. Learn side lying nursing...like NOW
This is the single best piece of advice you will ever hear. Side lying nursing is when you are laying on your side and baby lays parallel to you and nursing off your bottom breast that is resting on the bed. It allows you to rest and potentially sleep (always use safe co-sleeping practices!). When you are so exhausted from multiple night wakings, you will thank me for this, I promise! It does take some practice and even if it feels uncomfortable at first, keep trying. It is now my favorite nursing position and lifesaver for nighttime AND naps. Here is a great resource with photos to help you get the idea.
2. Cosleep (safely- see tips here) or keep baby close to you in a bassinet/pack n play
You don't want to be getting up and stumbling down the hallway to the nursery every time baby wakes up. That will only lead to infinite bumps and bruises from running into the wall and/or door frames from sheer exhaustion. Especially in the first six months (it is MUCH safer for baby to sleep in the same room as you to reduce the SIDS risk), keeping baby within arms reach or in bed with you is really the best option. It creates less of a disturbance to everyone (you AND baby!) and makes your total sleep loss less. If you don't want baby in bed with you, I have heard great things about The Arms Reach Cosleeper.
3. Wear comfy pajamas with easy nursing access
The last thing you want to be doing when baby is hungry and crying in the middle of the night is be struggling to pull your boob out of a shirt. Baby wants it NOW! Wear a simple cami or nursing shirt that provides quick, easy access. I LOVE sleeping in our Latched on Love Long Sleeve Nursing Shirt (it seriously is so soft and comfortable).
4. Keep it dark
Don't bother turning on lights each time baby wakes for a feeding or diaper change. It will just make it harder for everyone to go back to sleep. Get a night light (I recommend a red light like this) instead. Also, black out curtains are great when the sun is rising early- we use these and love them.
5. Turn the clock around
I know this one is hard since many of us are wired to watch the clock to see how long baby sleeps or how frequently they nurse (which you need to stop doing anyways!). But it really doesn't help at all. Guess what, you're going to be tired regardless, so you might as well not agonize over how little you've slept.
6. Add some white noise
This helps to prevent everyone from waking up at every little noise from a creaky floor or an annoying bird that keeps relentlessly chirping in the early morning hours. You can get a white noise machine or a simple fan will work (here is the cheap fan we use).
7. Keep necessities in reach
Avoid getting up as much as you can. I always keep a full water bottle on the nightstand as well as some tissues and a burp cloth. In the early days, I also had a little bin full of diapers, wipes, and an extra diaper bag changing pad next to the bed as well during the early months.
8. Have your partner help
Sometimes you are just too exhausted to do the simplest things. Task your partner with making sure they restock and make sure you have everything in number 6 above. Even if it is just getting up and handing the baby to you so you don't have to get out of bed, that can make a world of difference. Emotional support during late night feedings is wonderful too!
9. But really, sleep when the baby sleeps
I know, I know. You've heard this a million times. I'm guilty of not doing this too even when I am beyond exhausted. But it does help, really. Even just taking the time to lay down with baby can help you recharge mentally and physically. Chores can wait (I recommend babywearing and just doing them while baby is awake- HERE are my favorite baby carriers).