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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Breastfed Babies and Sleep

Some people feel that bottle fed babies sleep better than nursing babies. An abstract presented at this month’s national American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) convention should help dispel that myth.

A team led by Jodi Mindell, author of several influential sleep books for parents and professionals, studied about 140 infants over their first 18 months of life. They tracked feeding and sleeping habits during several interviews. Though young breastfed babies did have more frequent wakenings and more-fragmented sleep during the first six months of life, sleep differences disappeared by the time babies reached nine months of age. There did not seem to be any long-term adverse consequences of breastfeeding on sleep habits.

The study did confirm a kernel of truth for younger babies: bottle-fed babies do seem to sleep better at first. Why would that be?

Breastfeeding moms are more likely to respond quickly to their babies. Think about it: if you’re bottle feeding, after baby wakes up you’ll go through several steps before feeding. Mix the formula, warm it, maybe go to the bathroom, then settle down for a feeding. During that time, at least some babies will fall back asleep. Contrast that to the nursing moms, who can very quickly start a feeding. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to quickly respond when babies cry, but if getting longer sleep is a priority, breastfeeding moms may wish to wait just a few minutes before starting to feed.

Breastfed babies are also more likely to share a room, or a bed, with their moms. That means that its more likely that baby will wake in response to mom’s stirring, or that mom will wake in response to baby’s minor noises. Babies sleeping in their own room are more likely to stay asleep. The AAP’s policy recommends that for safest sleep, babies should stay in the parents’ room, but not in the parents’ bed.

If you’re highly motivated to get a solid night’s sleep with a nursing baby, there are some simple steps you can follow. It’s good to know that in the long run, breastfeeding will not adversely affect sleeping habits.

Posted by: Roy Benaroch, MD, FAAP at 10:31 pm

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