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Breastfeeding Moms Get Just as Much Sleep

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Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: There are a lot of reasons breastfeeding is hard. Lots of new mothers have trouble getting the latch right, many find themselves feeling trapped during those early-evening cluster feeds, and then there's the perpetual issue of getting funny looks (or getting thrown out of restaurants) while nursing the baby in public.

mom breastfeeding
One of the biggest reasons many women give up breastfeeding very early on is that they feel that night feedings are going to cost them sleep. Many times this worry is amplified by well-meaning new grandparents (and even husbands) who assure the woman that she'll be able to sleep like ... well, a baby, while they get up and handle some late-night feedings by means of a bottle. Before long, even moms who were pretty committed to breastfeeding find that sleeping through night feedings hampers their ability to produce milk, and then they're locked in to bottles and formula, whether they wanted to be or not. (In most cases, that ever-helpful grandmother has left the building, leaving the tired new mom to handle night feedings on her own anyway.) 

But not all night feedings are created equal. Breastfeeding in the middle of the night can require a woman to wake up only in the most limited sense. If you're co-sleeping, for instance, you can just roll over slightly and make your breast available to the baby, who will happily nurse while you (and she) are mostly if not entirely asleep. Even if your infant is in another room, you merely have to get yourself there to breastfeed her -- no need for a kitchen visit. Night feedings with a bottle, on the other hand, require a little (or a lot) more mental energy. You have to find a clean bottle and nipple, measure and mix. If your baby likes it heated, you have to heat the bottle without making it too hot. 

All of which makes a new study on maternal sleep completely unsurprising. No matter what your mother-in-law tells you, it turns out that nursing moms are no more sleep-deprived -- and may be less -- than formula-feeding moms. So go ahead and feed your baby the way that works best for everyone in the family, and don't listen to old wives' tales about how nursing your baby will rob you of sleep. New parents always need more shuteye than they get, but breastfeeding is not to blame.

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9 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous November 23, 2010, 3:22 AM

I was happy to not have to get up and walk to the kitchen and attempt to prepare bottles at night. We co slept and I nursed until my son was 15 months old. Yea, that meant daddy couldnt help much at night and I was the one waking up…but like the author said co sleeping helped. And now that Im not nursing and hes in his crib if he has night wakings its daddy that tends to him. I think its fair lol

Katie November 23, 2010, 4:42 AM

Again with too each their own. I’m all for moms who breastfeed as well as those that don’t. Funny thing about this is that I started out breastfeeding and my own experience was that I got up waaay more with breastfeeding. I prepared my bottles ahead of time and *gasp* warmed bottles in the microwave until i figured out he was cool with cold bottles. I went from waking up five times in a ten hour stretch to only three so even the little time I spent in the kitchen wasnt going up against the 15 minute stretches I had with breastfeeding

Katie November 23, 2010, 4:49 AM

I meant formula feeding

Amy November 23, 2010, 5:07 AM

no need for a kitchen visit. Night feedings with a bottle, on the other hand, require a little (or a lot) more mental energy. You have to find a clean bottle and nipple, measure and mix. If your baby likes it heated, you have to heat the bottle without making it too hot

COMPLETELY INACCURATE!! My bottles were already clean (um, do it BEFORE bed) premeasured and in a mini-cooler bag in baby’s room.

As a woman who breastfed her first and formula fed the rest I can assure you there is NO WAY a breast feeding mom gets as much sleep. Unless she’s pumping she’s the ONLY one who can get up at night to do the feeding.

Plus, please don’t encourage the dangerous act of co-sleeping. Even stating you don’t have to wake up all the way and can just “roll over” to kind of feed the baby. Yikes unsafe and not a whole lot of bonding!!

Noelle November 23, 2010, 6:19 AM

I love breastfeeding. I nursed all three of my kids and plan to do so for my fourth. It’s best for baby, best for mom…However, MAN, is this article way off. No, in a collective sense, breastfeeding moms do NOT get more sleep. It might be easier to nurse at 3 am than it is to make a bottle, but breastfed babies don’t usually sleep through the night until sometime between 6 and 12 months. Formula fed babies, on the other hand, can sleep through the night as early as 6 weeks! (I know that’s not typical….but even the typical age - 4 months - is a lot sooner than their breastfed counterparts.) So, for all the many reasons to decide to breastfeed, getting more sleep IS actually a valid reason not to.

Kara November 23, 2010, 7:56 AM

Noelle - you’re dead on. My formula babies were sleepig straight through the night from 3 weeks on! I would literally need to wake them up to take a night feeding since my ped. told me newborns should be woken if not getting up on their own for a night feeding.

KS November 23, 2010, 4:55 PM

I co slept and breast fed all four of our children. It was great just popping a boob in checking the diaper then going back to sleep. No need to meander about the house waking up my other children.

When we were no longer able to breast feed and I had to formula feed the children it was an absolute sleep disruptor. I had to turn on the light, mix bottle, shake it up, warm it if the child preferred it warmed, then stay sitting up holding my baby in my arms the entire time. It was exhausting to tell you the truth and in no way did switching to formula slow my children’s eating patterns.

OH and I never once rolled over on my children. Neither did my 6’5” husband. Co sleeping is not inherently unsafe people just like to say it is to justify their choices when in all reality you don’t need to justify your choices. You chose what you chose it doesn’t make other people bad or wrong for making a different choice.

ss November 23, 2010, 5:21 PM

Night feedings with a bottle are simple. Make up a couple of bottles during the day and keep them in the fridge. When the baby needs the bottle give it to him then put it back in the fridge. There’s no medical reason to heat a bottle.

Bottle-fed babies tend to sleep longer because formula takes longer to digest. Every woman I know who breast feeds at night is up every two hours whereas the formula-feeding mommies get anywhere from four to 8 hours of sleep in a row depending on how old their babies are.

jen November 23, 2010, 9:23 PM

I too was horrified at the “just roll over and make breast available”…um, there is ALWAYS the possibility that you could roll right over and suffocate the baby. And who washes and mixes formula at 3am?? You do that ahead of time. Everyone should do what is best for them- but what is best for baby is at the very least, having some kind of barrier to keep baby safe if he/she is in your bed.

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