Whether you are breastfeeding or bottlefeeding, your baby is going to wake throughout the night.
Unfortunately for new parents, long stretches of uninterrupted sleep are a developmental milestone that babies aren’t meant to reach until at least 3 months of age – maybe not even until 6 to 12 months.
While babies do sleep a lot – between 12 and 20 hours a day – they’re programmed to wake often, rarely sleeping longer than 3 hours in a row.
Small tummy size, short sleep cycles, and an immature nervous system all contribute to waking, whether or not the baby is breastfed.
Well-meaning family and friends might tell parents of a breastfed baby that giving “just a little formula” will help their baby sleep better (or longer) at night. And sleep-deprived new parents are eager for anything that might help them catch up.
Will Formula Help Baby Sleep At Night?
Should you follow this path? Will it really work?
Surely it couldn’t hurt, could it?
Here are 6 reasons why you may want to skip that route and breastfeed instead:
#1: Your Breastmilk Supply May Suffer
A supplemental bottle – whether it’s filled with formula or expressed breastmilk – decreases breast stimulation. The baby isn’t nursing, the breast isn’t stimulated, milk isn’t removed, the brain tells the breast to stop making so much milk.
It’s a negative feedback spiral that is difficult to reverse. And if baby is sleeping longer stretches, additional feedings might be missed, adding to the signals that a mother’s body should shut down production.
#2: Your Prolactin Levels Are Higher At Night
Take advantage of your daily hormonal fluctuations! Prolactin – the milk-making hormone — reaches higher levels at night, so breastfeeding at night helps keep your milk supply strong.
#3: Breastmilk Is Easier On Baby’s Tummy
Anything other than breastmilk disrupts the delicate balance of baby’s gastrointestinal tract. A breastfed baby’s gut is colonised with beneficial bacteria that help to keep baby healthy – this is the host site of the developing immune system.
Formula changes the types of bacteria present in the GI tract, potentially disrupting the process. In addition, breastmilk is extremely easy to digest. Formula, on the other hand, is harder for baby’s body to process.
This may be why baby seems to go longer between feedings, but it can also be the source for discomfort, gassiness and fussiness.
#4: Long Periods Of Deep Sleep Increase Your Baby’s SIDS Risk
This is essentially what you’re trying to do when you give your baby formula at night – you’re trying to force your baby to sleep longer than the body is prepared to do.
This may be inappropriate for young babies, who need to wake more often to regulate normal bodily functions such as respiration and heart rate. Researchers think that breastfeeding at night helps this happen – babies wake because of an empty stomach and these wakings maintain other essential functions.
Find out more about how breastfeeding significantly reduces the SIDS risk here, which includes studies and the recently updated SIDS and Kids guidelines.
#5: You Run The Risk Of “Nipple Confusion”
Trust me … your baby’s not confused. Your baby quickly learns that there’s a difference in flow rate. Not only that, a baby uses his tongue differently with a bottle than when at the breast.
While some babies have no trouble going back and forth between breast and bottle, others come to expect the rigid stimulus the bottle nipple provides and can’t figure out what to do when offered the breast. Find out more about nipple confusion.
#6: You May Unintentionally Wean Your Baby
If your milk supply dwindles from supplementation, and your baby begins to have difficulty latching, you may find yourself supplementing more and more often – and not just at night. All of a sudden your baby may no longer be nursing at all and you wonder what happened. A bottle of formula at bedtime can start you on this slippery slope.
So What Should I Do Now?
If formula isn’t going to help you catch up on sleep, what can you do to make nighttimes a little easier on you?
- Consider sleeping with your baby near you – put the crib or cradle in your room so you don’t have to run down the hall to get baby during the night. Keep the lights low, and minimise stimulation during nighttime feedings.
- Nap when your baby sleeps during the day – don’t use that time to catch up on housework. If you can’t sleep, at least try to rest.
- Alter your own expectations – think about your own sleep habits. Do you wake occasionally to look at the clock, sip some water, go to the bathroom, snuggle with your partner? Babies just need our help to do these same things.
- Maybe most importantly, stop comparing your baby to others. Every baby is unique. Your baby will sleep longer when his body and brain are ready for that milestone. Until then, enjoy the cuddle time with your little one.
- Read our article 6 things to do when you need more sleep.
There are lots of great articles in BellyBelly’s baby sleep section on understanding your baby’s sleep patterns and how to cope with a lack of sleep. Here are some you might like to read:
- Why Does My Baby Wake Up When I Try To Put Him Down?
- Why Nighttime Breastfeeding Is So Important
- 4 Baby Sleep Myths Busted
- 15 Tips To Help Your Baby Sleep Better
- What A Cabinet Maker Taught Me About Babies And Sleep