FORMULA = FULLER =
Will offering a bottle really get you and your child a better nights sleep?
It’s World Milk Day on 1st June, and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate it, than to address the most commonly asked question that I receive about milk. One of the biggest fears of a breastfeeding Mum is that her baby isn’t recieving enough milk, and as a hungry baby won’t settle to sleep, it often leads to thinking about alternatives.
Have you heard the common advice that switching to formula will guarantee a better nights sleep? It’s a line I’ve heard uttered by many well-meant individuals at baby groups or in online parent community groups. But is there any truth behind it?
For those happy formula feeding, this could be great news. But what about mothers who really want to carry on breastfeeding, but are also desperate for some rest? Let’s see what the science says…
Fed is best
Luckily, we seem to nearing an understanding nowadays that whilst breastmilk is utterly amazing, there are plenty of reasons why you may not choose to breastfeed your baby or babies, and that’s just fine. I definitely live by the mantra “happy Mum, happy baby”, so for me it’s always about choosing a feeding method that’s going to provide the easiest route to the whole family’s happiness. If you’re interested in finding out more about the other benefits of breatsmilk vs formula, you can find lots of useful information from the Baby Friendly Initiative. But what about the implications on sleep?
Formula takes longer to digest
It’s easy to see where the idea that formula is more conducive to a good nights sleep comes from. Formula is metabolised slower in a baby’s stomach, helping them stay fuller for longer. But why?
Ever felt sleepy after a large meal? Our bodies need to concentate on digesting our food after eating, so the bigger the meal, the sleepier we are. This does mean that babies are more likely to sleep longer after a formula feed. This is because it is harder to digest formula, and it takes longer for your baby to feel hungry again. The disadvantage to a meal that is harder to digest is that it often comes with wind, constipation and bloating, which is one of the biggest factors that keep young babies up at night.
Another reason why formula leads to increased sleep duration is also down to bigger meals. Formula doesn’t contain a hormone called leptin which helps regulate food intake. So formula fed babies are less likely to know when they are full, and take in larger quantities of milk than a breastfed baby would. Once again, the larger the meal, the longer it takes to digest, the sleepier the baby. Yet current advice from the WHO is to follow paced feeding, even when bottle feeding, especially as there are links to obesity later on in life. So if you are following the guidelines, you are less likely to overfeed, but also less likley to get longer stretches of sleep afterward.
What does the science say?
So formula in theory should give the opportunity for longer spells of sleep, but does this actually translate into more sleep overall?
The research says not.
Breastfeeding mothers are as likely to get the same, if not more sleep, than parents who are formula feeding their baby. Several studies have shown that despite breastfed babies waking more frequently to feed, this doesn’t actually impact maternal sleep duration.
Breastfeeding pros for sleep
- breastfed babies can fall asleep faster due to the presence of the sleep hormone, melatonin, in breastmilk
- a breastfeeding mum passes on her immunity to her baby, so there’s less chance of sleep disturbances later on from illnesses etc.
- with no need for getting up and putting lights on to make a bottle, breastfeeidng means you can stay sleepier before and during a feed – if co-sleeping then you can even safely snooze whilst feeding
- breastmilk is easier to digest, so there’s less chance of bloating, wind and constipation
Formula feeding pros for sleep
- parents can share the night feeds
- A fmaily member or friend can take over during the day whilst you nap
- formula takes lomger to digest, menaing a slightly longer stretch of sleep during the early months
- formual fed infnats are more likely to conslidate sleep faster than breastfed babies
It’s all about the bonding
I discussed in a recent blog the importance of bonding and attachment on sleep, so is there a link between feeding method and the attachment formed with your baby? It seems not. The act of responding to your hungry baby when they cry, holding your baby, and comforting them when they are upset are all key to successful attachment foundations. These crucial steps can be carried regardless of how you feed or what milk your child receives, so neither can be more beneficial to sleep when it comes to attachment.
An interesting thought is that with more frequent waking in breastfed babies, this gives more opportunity for settling and close physical contact, so this may just be natures way of increasing the bond between mother and baby.
What else can affect your child’s sleep?
So looking at the research it’s clear to see that there really is no right or wrong when it comes to feeding your baby and getting a good nights sleep. Another assumption is that babies will only wake up when they’re hungry, but this is also untrue! I work with many babies and toddlers that are experiencing all sorts of sleep issues, and I would say it’s a fairly even split between breastfed and bottle fed babies. Factors such as daytime napping, bedtime routines, sleep hygiene and associations, plus many more all contribute to sound sleep.
If you’re struggling with sleep but aren’t sure if your baby is waking from hunger, or any other factors, get in touch for a free 15 minute assessment call to find out how I can help. You can also sign up to the HushaBoo email updates to be the first to find out about future blogs. Or follow HushaBoo on social media…
Blogged by Emma Osborne, Pediatric Sleep Specialist, founder of HushaBoo & Mum to one little boy who quite simply wouldn’t have cared how he was fed!
Doan T, Gay CL, Kennedy HP, Newman J, Lee KA. Nighttime breastfeeding behavior is associated with more nocturnal sleep among first-time mothers at one month postpartum. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014;10(3):313–9.
Montgomery-Downs HE, Clawges HM, Santy EE. Infant feeding methods and maternal sleep and daytime functioning. Pediatrics. 2010 Dec;126(6):e1562-8.
Smith, J.P., Forrester, R.I. Association between breastfeeding and new mothers’ sleep: a unique Australian time use study. Int Breastfeed J 16, 7 (2021).