A Good Night's Breast: Does Breast-Feeding Mean Less Sleep?

Filed under: Feeding & Sleeping, Breast-Feeding, Research Reveals: Babies, Sleep

Don't stoop to infant formula because you think it might get you more sleep.

That's what the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and celebrity-lactivist Gisele Bundchen might like us to take away from a recent study showing moms get seven hours whether they breast-feed or bottle-feed.

How did researchers convince mothers with newborns to do anything? Women were chatted up still aglow in pregnancy. Imagine that call from the research assistant:

Research assistant: Welcome to The Study of Maternal Sleeping Behavior.
Mom: This is a sleep study?
Research assistant: Yes ma'am, sort of. As you probably know some people actually think formula helps babies sleep better. We want to know if moms who breast-feed really get less sleep than moms who don't breast-feed, you know the women who either can't or refuse to try and resort to using formula.
Mom: I don't have to breast-feed?
Research assistant: Yes, no, I mean the experts recommend it and it's your baby and your decision whether to risk it so I can't tell you what to do. But we do need to find some mothers who aren't breast-feeding to test this myth about formula.

Motivated by altruism and perhaps a small financial token of appreciation, over 80 women signed up and shortly after giving birth, strapped on "actigraphs," wrist devices monitoring their physical movements. Remarkably, they logged every time they either fell asleep or woke up "in real time" on their PDAs.

Contrary to the belief that breast-fed babies wake more, and thus deprive their moms of sleep, there were no significant differences between women who breast-fed, bottle-fed or did some of each. This was a good study that measured sleep very well with plentiful data, like total sleep time day and night, number of night awakenings, sleep quality, and daytime fatigue. However, this was a small sample with somewhat surprising results that merit further investigation. So, before I make any proclamations about sleep and the bottle or the boob, I'd like to see these results replicated with more mommas. Also, quite frankly, I'd like some explanation as to why my breast-fed babies woke like every other hour for what seemed like months.

Oh, I'm no Friend of Formula. I got the breast-feeding creds. Three kids, minimum three months each, the bleeding nipples, the double-breast pump in the deserted parking garage. Been there. I supplemented only after my pediatrician assured me formula wouldn't condemn my daughter to chronic disease or sub-par SAT scores.* But I don't have to sit silently while yet another study glorifies the almighty power of the breast. Which this one did not. There were no advantages bestowed on lactating women or their babies.

Thank goodness someone did this study! Otherwise who knows how many more children would suffer for the sake of a good night's rest? I do wonder how many formula-feeders turned to the canned stuff on the mistaken assumption of more sleep. If you're not too exhausted, give a holler and let me know.

Sleep tight, sweet dreams!

*The Naked Truth in Breast-Feeding Campaign: I pledge to disclose the details of my breastfeeding behavior and demand the same of every researcher, health authority and journalist, male or female, who has ever uttered or written the word "breast-feeding."

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.