One of the common myths perpetuated about breastfeeding is that it causes your baby (and you) to sleep less soundly at night. Formula is said to be heavier and harder to digest, knocking your baby out for longer, whilst ‘weaker’ breast milk just isn’t as satisfying. A friend of mine was criticized for not using formula (by her mother, of all people) for this very reason. I’ve met lots of breastfeeding mothers who are doing fine sleep-wise, and bottle feeding ones who are knackered, and have always thought this was nonsense, so I was happy to hear recently about some research that confirms what I always expected1.
The study examined the sleeping patterns of 133 parents of three month old babies over a 48 hour period. The parents were asked to report how much sleep they got, while the actual amount was measured using a special device called a wrist actiograph. Mothers who breastfed exclusively reported getting a greater amount of sleep than those who supplemented with formula at night, and the actiograph confirmed that they did indeed get on average an extra 40-45 minutes. As it can take a while to prepare formula, this isn’t entirely surprising – the extra time might be due to the fact of having to make up the bottle. Here’s the really interesting thing, though: mothers whose partners shared the night feeds (in theory allowing them to sleep longer) STILL slept less than mothers exclusively breastfeeding. It seems that when the baby wakes, the mother does too (thanks, biology!) and when she doesn’t need to feed the baby, she instead lies there worrying about whether her partner is doing it properly… So, although the results confirm how hard it is for mothers to sleep easily (even if they have a partner willing to help out), they are very encouraging for breastfeeders – an extra 40 minutes can make a BIG difference!