3 Myths about breastfeeding and sleep

infant newborns Sep 09, 2021

   “If you are breastfeeding, that means you can’t sleep train or have a baby that sleeps through the night, right?”

   It’s a question that I often get from my families who breastfeed.  SPOILER ALERT!  The answer is you can have a breastfed baby sleep through the night, and you can absolutely sleep train a breastfed infant.  In fact, if you have a newborn, you can still lay the same foundations I teach and have them primed to sleep through the night when they are developmentally ready, while still giving them their night feedings! To give you a little more faith, here are some of the myths we decided to dispel:


3 Myths About Breastfeeding and Sleep


Myth #1: It’s better to “tank up” in order for your child to sleep.

   When I talk about “tanking up,” I do not mean ensuring your child has a FULL feed appropriate to their age and weight.  Yes, make sure you spend a good time at the breast or make sure they have an appropriate full bottle before bedtime.  What you want to avoid is OVERFEEDING to tank up by squeezing in that extra session after they have just fed, giving them an extra-large bottle, or trying to give them cereal or gains.   

   Doing this can actually have a counter effect to sleep and cause digestive pains and of course, the wonderful night poop that could actually cause your child to awaken, and awaken more frequently.  In fact, studies have found that there is no link between feeding your baby infant cereal and more nighttime sleep. So while you may hear that tanking up, even from your Pediatrician, may help your child sleep better,  research actually suggests that feeding additional solid food to your child will not decrease wakefulness during the night. Even more so, cereals or other foods should not be added to bottles for safety reasons and can cause increased wakings and hazards.



Myth #2: Formula-fed babies sleep better at night.

   You are probably thinking, wait, what?  Everyone says that...well, this is also a big fat MYTH.  Now, while it is true that formula takes longer to digest and offers fullness for longer than breastmilk, that wasn’t necessarily the root to more sleep. On the contrary, while breast milk is easier to digest, it also contains natural melatonin that has actually been shown to decrease colic and crying spells and help them fall back asleep faster. This is a true story, and proven!  So at the end of the day, both formula and breastmilk have something going for them in supporting more sleep.


Myth #3: Breastmilk-fed babies can’t be trained to self-settle because they need to be at the breast more in order to gain the calories they need. 

   Here’s an interesting find in my research on breastfed babies.  One study in 2015 showed that formula or breastmilk had little effect on the sleep/wake patterns of babies over the age of 6 months.  Why did they choose 6 months?  Many babies are capable of sleeping longer stretches over 6 months, so that developmental variable needed to be eliminated.  The finding was that both breastfed babies and formula babies showed a similar wake pattern to sleep improvement, meaning one group didn’t do better than the other.  Add in this study in the Asia Pacific, and we seem to dive in further to the actual core difference...

A study done in Asia Pacific studied Parents of 10,321 infants to determine if the act of breastfeeding or the breastmilk was specifically a determinant of less sleep because of the popular belief that breastfeeding means that babies take longer to fall asleep or cannot be sleep trained. What they found however was it wasn’t the breastmilk or feeding itself that made a large impact on the nights, but it was that as a nursing parent, those who nursed were more likely to nurse their child back to sleep in the middle of the night.  This created an association with nursing and sleeping versus nursing and feeding.  At the end, the families were encouraged to limit the association between nursing and falling to sleep, to improve sleep while maintaining breastfeeding.


   So there you have it!  The truth about Breastfeeding and sleep is that they are not mutually exclusive.  You can still enjoy breastfeeding and still have a child who sleeps through the night.  The key is laying out a plan of healthy sleep habits to keep milk for feeding!  This is the foundation of what I teach and how to have the best of both worlds.  As a nursing mom myself, I know that I was worried about sacrificing my sleep to continue to breastfeed.  I’m happy to say that I didn’t have to sacrifice either!


Sleep is around the corner,

Rested Mama, Happy Baby Founder

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