November 8th, 2010
12:01 AM ET

Sleep same for nursing, formula moms

Breast milk or formula?  New moms are often told if you want your baby to sleep through the night, give her formula.  Why? Many moms swear since it's thicker than breast milk, it fills little tummies up and not only helps baby sleep better, but also helps Mom get more deep sleep.  But is that true?  It's a question that's debated around kitchen tables and on mommy blogs. Now a new study finds breastfeeding moms and moms who feed their babies formula, get the same amount of sleep.

West Virginia University researchers asked 80 new moms of babies 2 weeks to 3 months old to keep sleep diaries.  They also wore watch-like devices that measured nighttime sleep.  At the end of  the study, researchers found no difference in total sleep time or sleep quality between mothers who were exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively formula feeding or using a combination of the two.  They also found there were no differences in daytime sleepiness or fatigue.  The results are published in this week's  journal Pediatrics.

So what should new moms take from this study?  Researchers hope it will encourage moms-to-be who are thinking about exclusively formula feeding their babies to consider nursing as well.  When it comes to breast milk, says Hawley E. Montgomery-Downs, the study's lead researcher and assistant professor of psychology at West Virginia University, "the benefits for mom and baby are unequivocal.  Yes, they are exhausted, but getting better sleep can't be used as a reason not to breastfeed."

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Jennifer

    No surprise there – babies need to eat whether it's breast milk or formula. But why is there so much hate surrounding this issue? Please leave your thoughts at this article that addresses this question.

    November 8, 2010 at 09:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • N

      FACT: Breast milk is always without a doubt the absolute best for a child. There is no argument there whatsoever.

      November 8, 2010 at 18:27 | Report abuse |
    • mabnng

      It is not ALWAYS the best. Mothers that choose to smoke should choose to bottlefeed.

      November 9, 2010 at 00:29 | Report abuse |
    • Lville

      FACT: Breast milk is almost always the absolute best for a child. Except when the child has classic galactosemia and faces complications such as mental retardation, organ failure, and death from drinking breast milk or any animal milk. Galactosemia may be rare but it exists.

      November 9, 2010 at 08:33 | Report abuse |
    • Haley

      In response to saying smokers shouldn't breastfeed.. That is absolutely not true. The benefits of breastfeeding are likely to keep the baby healthier with a smoker parent. Either way, a parent has to hold the child so if they are going to hold their child to their smoke filled clothes, they may as well be getting the best and safest food for them. Children of smokers are more likely to have allergies and asthma, and breastfeeding can help prevent that!!

      November 9, 2010 at 08:36 | Report abuse |
    • Lani

      @mabnng Even if you smoke only a very small amount of nicotine would ever reach the baby. The benefits of breastfeeding almost ALWAYS outweigh the risks, even when you take prescriptions drugs. The ingredients in breast milk are far superior to that chemical soup we call formula even with a very slight amount of nicotine in it.

      As for the sleep issue, my 4th son started sleeping 8 hours a night at about 4 weeks old. My first son slept 12 hours and I had to wake him to breastfeed. My second child was a girl and she only slept 1 hour at a time and I thought I would go insane. My 3rd was a 4-6 hours sleeper for the first 4 months on breast milk. I think each child is just different and it doesn't matter what you feed them in terms of sleeping. Breast milk is just far better for them any which way you look at it.
      There is nothing better you can offer you child in terms of health and well-being than to offer breast milk.

      November 9, 2010 at 10:32 | Report abuse |
    • Retired lactation consultant

      What a shallow, ignorant treatment of the subject. Formula fed babies and their mothers are forgoing what nature provides and intends for an experimental behavior and form of nutrition, the full effects of which are unknown (not blaming them, given the formula industry's slick and relentless marketing and our unfortunate cultural bias). It is known that mothers that have breastfed are healthier throughout their life span, having a significantly decreased incidence of breast cancer and osteoporosis, among other ailments, compared to mothers that formula feed. Breastfeeding couples are in sync with each other. The mother and baby learn to read and respond to each other's cues. The milk is only a part of breastfeeding. The process, meant to be very frequent in the early months for good reasons, promotes bonding, warmth, and security for the baby, who is helpless at birth. All that holding and skin to skin contact not only provides warmth and security, but the tactile stimulation promotes optimal neurological development. Formula fed infants are prone to illness not only in childhood, but throughout their lives. Most people would be surprised to find out that formula feeding has been strongly associated with neurological problems. including learning disabilities when compared with children who were breastfed. For more on that and references, see the American Academy of Pediatrics position statement on breastfeeding at their website: http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;115/2/496. As far as sleeping is concerned, babies nurse beautifully while they and their mothers sleep (but it's important to keep pillows, comforters and heavy blankets away from baby's face). That's how it's been done and how our ancestors evolved and survived over millions of years without modern formulas that were invented in the 1900s in partnership with the new medical specialty of Pediatrics, a specialty which became a necessity to care for the sickly children that arose once the majority of women abandoned breastfeeding, taking their doctor's advice. Most people also don't realize that the infant formula industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that is a part of the pharmaceutical industry. Because what they're being fed isn't physiologically perfect for them the way that human milk is, formula fed babies are prone to gastrointestinal upsets, colic, and unphysiological sleep wake cycles that are brought on by digesting a substance that they were not meant to ingest, and by the lack of components that they're missing from human milk that isn't in formula. Also, remember that not all formulas are the same made with the same ingredients either. So, with regard to sleep and other behaviors, it's safe to say that babies most likely respond differently to different formulas. What formulas were the babies in this study being fed? One other very important point to make with regard to the sleep wake patterns of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding couples, is that human milk has an opiate like substance that calms the baby and promotes sleep. No such substance is in formula. Also, hormones released by the mother as she breastfeeds, calms her and promotes her restful sleep. Formula feeding mother baby couples would not know about these advantages, and even if the breast and formula mothers report the same quantity of sleep, because of these other variables, it is doubtful that the quality or type of sleep would be equivalent. And too, it's possible that the breastfeeding mothers in this study reported getting the same amount of sleep as the formula feeding mothers, because they were not taking advantage of their ability to sleep while feeding. As is often the case in our culture, the breastfeeding mother-infant couples might also have had separated sleeping arrangements, which is unphysiological, would needlessly disturb sleep and distort the study's data. Because of the irresponsibly oversimplified hypothesis and tiny sample size of the study cited, the results are meaningless and misleading. To the mothers who I know will say, " I tried and I couldn't..." : Breastfeeding for humans is a learned behavior. For the baby, it's instinctive, in that if a baby is put on his mother's abdomen after birth, he will crawl to the breast unaided and take his first feeding (that's in an unmedicated labor and without handling the baby too much, just putting him on his mother as soon as he comes out of the birth canal). But for mothers, it's learned, and in our culture it is very hard to learn because we don't see women breastfeeding growing up. Women who do breastfeed are made to cover up and go into bathrooms and kids don't see, so when it is their turn, they don't have a clue. It's the same with the great apes. In the wild, they do fine. In captivity (the zoo), if they've never seen another of their own breastfeed, they don't know how and vets struggle to mimic the behavior to teach them. So don't be hard on yourself if it didn't work out and don't blame breastfeeding. It was probably that you didn't know how (not your fault), or you didn't have the help you needed, or, it could have been that you were given free formula samples that were meant to dry up your milk and your confidence, in order to make you into a guaranteed return customer for the next year.

      November 9, 2010 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
  2. livewiremaggoo

    I was always under the impression that it was how often they would need to eat that was the difference between timing with formula vs. breast milk, as breast milk is digested more quickly (so I was informed) so they are more hungry in less amount of time in between feedings – but this sleep thing is a whole new topic to me???

    November 8, 2010 at 10:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Kate

    Neither of my boys slept any better or longer after having a bottle of formula rather than breastmilk. My husband would give them one formual bottle a night so that I could get a longer stretch of sleep–and I was still up 2-3 hours later during those early weeks/months.

    November 8, 2010 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Britt

    I would argue that by nursing my daughter (now 6 years) and my twins (now 2 years) until they were 18 months old that I got more sleep than any formula feeding mother since I didn't have to waste all that time preparing and heating formula or cleaning and sanitizing bottles! 🙂
    Also, I slept better knowing how much money I was saving each month. That formula is EXPENSIVE!!! The monthly savings coupled with our country's current economy should be enough for many Moms to reconsider breastfeeding!

    November 8, 2010 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jp

      MY COMMENT was meant for britt...sorry kate

      November 8, 2010 at 14:59 | Report abuse |
    • Britt

      Meow!!!! P.O.S is a little strong, calm down.... I know that there is a place for formula in our society. Save your comments for someone that is insulting you.

      November 8, 2010 at 15:05 | Report abuse |
  5. E Barlow

    breastfeeding is exhausting, making milk is very tiring. The authors forgot to factor this into how tired new nursing moms are.

    November 8, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Desiree

    Getting less sleep or not, I would rather nurse my child. I just pull her into bed with me and then we both get more sleep and she still gets the good stuff! 🙂

    November 8, 2010 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Lily

    It's freedom of choice ladies. Choose for the right reasons. Making milk is a natural process.
    Nursing moms are no more tired than moms who feed formula.

    November 8, 2010 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Olivia

    Interesting study. If a mother does choose to breastfeed, I would encourage her to learn how to nurse side-lying and learn about safe co-sleeping. Doing so means once be baby is a month old or so, she can doze lightly while the baby breastfeeds. She also won't have to get out of bed to breastfeed and she will feel more rested overall.

    November 8, 2010 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Another Waste of a Study

    Breastfeed your child. All mammals do it. Nothing compares to breast milk. Using formula is inferior.

    November 8, 2010 at 18:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Wendy

    The study did not look at brestfeeding on demand in the same bed. I know it's a taboo topic around here but co-sleeping allows the mother to get a great night's sleep as well as the baby. You half wake up to nurse rather than actually having to get out of bed and wake up to feed the baby (b-feeding or formula feeding) The benefits of co-sleeping and breastfeeding and too many too list!!!!

    November 8, 2010 at 18:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. slf

    I'm too lazy to make a bottle and while there is a place for everything in our society (even formula), I don't think it can ever compare to the benefits of b-feeding. STOP BEING LAZY AND DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOUR CHILD!

    November 8, 2010 at 20:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Elizabeth

    I wish that everyone would be a little more understanding of moms who don't breastfeed exclusively. Yes, I know about the benefits of breastfeeding. For my son and I, we did that for 6 weeks and it seemed that every time we did, both of us ended up in tears. I wasn't doing it right or we weren't doing it right together and he wasn't getting enough. I tried La Leche League (which truly just made me feel horrible about myself though I understand it helps many), and the hospital lactation consultants. I was sure before I had my son that I would breastfeed for at least a year. I took two classes, attended La Leche League meetings, read the books. It didn't work out. Formula just seemed to work out so much better for us. I still pump some but working full time in a state that doesn't have any laws for it does not let me pump enough to give him just breastmilk. We are both happy now. Yes, I realize my breastmilk is better for him, but for both of our sakes (specifically our sanitys' sakes), formula has been a helpful alternative. And I do feel like I get more sleep. My husband can feed him once in the night or in the morning if he sleeps through. He doesn't need his bottle warmed and you don't have to sterilize it. We just keep the bottle full of water with a pre-measured container of formula next to his crib and it takes literally less than 30 seconds to put together.

    Yes, breastfeeding is better. Just don't make moms who are already feeling like that aren't doing a good job feel worse about being a mom. Tell them the benefits of breastfeeding and support them once they make their choice.

    November 8, 2010 at 22:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sergio

      After watching my wife's titanic struggle to breastfeed our child–mother, in the nick of time, managed to do it with the help of fenugreek and a little formula feeding by the dad (me)–I absolutely think you have a beautiful attitude, Elizabeth, and are right-on about the need to somehow balance (for the moment–politically, absolutely do not accept!) the societal/business backwardness that is seen nearly everywhere in America wherever there are working women, with the natural abilities of child and mother.
      You are right–everyone, please respect the accommodations so many mothers must make when breastfeeding plans do not pan out.
      I'll always remember the mother who said she could not understand mothers with difficulties latching since her first child was so amazingly easy to feed. Then her second and third children were problematic in different ways, and she understood how lucky she was with her first child. All women should support each other as they find a way to do what is best for their families.

      November 9, 2010 at 00:38 | Report abuse |
    • Tori

      Elizabeth, I have two things based on your comment. One, please try again to breastfeed. It took me until my third child to finally get it right and to breastfeed exclusively and each experience was different. I don't judge how anyone feeds their child because a baby needs a healthy, happy mama, not a trainwreck, stressed out mama and I've been on both sides of this issue.

      Two, the health care reform that was passed created a federal law that requires all employers of more than 50 people to give breaks to all mothers for pumping breast milk during the first year of your child's life. They are unpaid breaks, but they are breaks all the same. And it's been ruled that if they give smokers and others paid breaks to smoke, etc., then they must do the same for the pumpers. It doesn't matter what state you are in, as it's federal law.

      In general, on this article, I've done both and I definitely sleep better as a breastfeeding mama. When my little one gets hungry, I pull him next to me in bed (king sized bed, covers are below my waist and pillows above my head. Practice safe cosleeping!) and he nurses like a champ while I doze. No getting out of bed to warm a bottle so he can eat.

      November 9, 2010 at 07:29 | Report abuse |
    • Libby

      Moms who fail at breastfeeding, very often suffer from hypothyroidism . I breastfed my daughter until about 4 months when my supply dwindled. I tried frequent feedings, fenugreek tea - nothing helped. I went from exclusively breastfeeding to supplementing with formula and finally just formula. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism 2 years later - even though I'd had hypothyroid symptoms for years prior.

      November 9, 2010 at 10:01 | Report abuse |
    • Retired lactation consultant

      Maybe you did the best you could, maybe not. That's for you to decide. But instead of denying the facts, instead of making believe that it doesn't matter, why not work toward changing society so you can be successful next time and so that other mothers and future generations including your children, won't have the problems that you had? Better to figure out how to improve the American work place so that women will be able to breastfeed. Laws should be passed to ensure that women will have enough time off after childbirth in order to establish a good milk supply (minimum 2 months) and women should be guaranteed sufficient pumping breaks and a supportive environment. It's a shame that when women for whatever reason don't succeed with their first child, they throw up their hands and then decide that formula is just fine, despite abundant scientific evidence to the contrary. Not trying to make you feel bad, but work for a better outcome next time for yourself and for others. Continue to be an advocate for breastfeeding because it's the right way to feed a baby, instead of becoming a formula advocate just because you didn't succeed.

      November 10, 2010 at 01:07 | Report abuse |
  13. Poppy

    "Thicker then breastmilk?" Well that's certainly a new one. It's a little bit of powder in water how is that any thicker? That's the silliest thing I've ever heard. It's not "thickness" that is supposed to "fill little tummies" but the fact that it's harder and takes longer to digest then the simple protiens and sugars in breast milk.

    I breast fed my daughter for 10 months (wanted a year but she started to bite around that time when her teeth came in, so the milk went into the bottle after that) but I have lots of friends who for varying reasons (breasts were too large and caused latching/positioning issues, premies, c-sections) tried to nurse and ended up going with formula. The one thing I noticed between the breast fed babies and the formula ones was gas and smell. No offense to any mother who gives their baby formula, but depending on what kind they used it could have the most terrible smell. Yes all diapers smell but I mean they could be just foul at times. And sometimes they would cry so hard from such terrible gas that most of the breast fed ones didn't get near as bad.

    This is not to try and scare mothers away from formula. It is a wonderful product that is a blessing to mothers who, through no fault of their own, can't breast feed. But if the formula you are using is causing your child intestinal distress talk to your pediatrician about helping find one that won't. And if you can't afford to buy better formula there are programs like WIC that can help.

    November 8, 2010 at 23:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. cathyrose

    this is the MOST foolish thing I keep hearing about.. breastfeed vs forumla feed.. are we that low that we are putting each other down for how we feed our children... it seems we are more childish then they are.. I formula feed my daughter was called a bad mother,, well you can all kiss my NON breastfeeding ass.. !!

    you want to breastfeed,, good.. then go right ahead I think no better or worse of you for what you want to do.. it is your choice, and I stand by your choice.. I would NEVER look down on any one for the way they feed their child..

    what everyone needs to do is grow the F*CK up..

    November 8, 2010 at 23:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Catherine

    my kidneys shut down while I was pregnant, and I didn't have a choice. I had to use formula. I am certain I got more sleep than I would have if I had breast fed. This is because my husband did one of my night feedings. He slept every night from 10 to 3, I slept every night from 3 to 8. Unless there is a man who can breast feed, I don't see how they could do a feeding. that said, I understand the benefits of breastfeeding. Just know that for a lot of moms, it isn't a choice at all.

    November 9, 2010 at 03:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. amy

    I agree that we've hit a new low when were insulting one another over how we feed our children. Especially in this fanatical fashion. Support your sisters. Its hard enough being a mom. What I do not understand about the article is, to me, the glaringly obvious missing factor. Fathers. I plan to bottle feed (pumped or not) so that my husband can share in the feeding of our child. This study is NOT about health. Its about mothers sleep. How would I not sleep if I'm sharing in the feedings?

    November 9, 2010 at 07:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Whitney

    There is a confounding factor here. There are pros and cons to each method of feeding for women, but one of the pros for formula feeding is that dads can be equal partners in feeding the baby. What's going on here? Did these dads just sleep through all nighttime feedings regardless of their babies feeding method? (Bring on the snarky replies.)

    November 9, 2010 at 08:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Carrie

    I'm not sure how this study could be correct. As a mom who breastfed, I was up every 2-3 hours for an hour each time because I had no idea what I was doing and had to psych myself up for the rather painful experience. I now know where the saying, "It'll make your toes curl" comes from. Regardless, my husband wasn't able to feed our son because I had the milk- occasionally he would do a formula night time feeding so I could get an extra stretch of sleep. I think the mother's may have been dillusional in their record keeping. Time takes on a whole new meaning when your day is broken up into three hour increments.

    November 9, 2010 at 09:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Amanda

    I feel deeply offended and saddened that there are people out there attacking my choice to feed my daughter formula. I attempted to nurse, and was rather successful for about 5 weeks, but with a debilitating flare up of my Multiple Sclerosis, I had to stop nursing so I could return to my once a day injectables. Before some of you cast stones towards mothers who feed their child formula, please stop and think about our situations. It breaks my heart that some of you consider me a bad mother just because my baby is formula fed.

    November 9, 2010 at 17:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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    December 11, 2011 at 07:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Zenobia Cordy

    Fenugreek has been used either short-term to boost milk supply or long-term to augment supply and/or pumping yields. There are no studies indicating problems with long-term usage. Per Kathleen Huggins “Most mothers have found that the herb can be discontinued once milk production is stimulated to an appropriate level. Adequate production is usually maintained as long as sufficient breast stimulation and emptying continues” ."."

    My current blog page http://www.healthmedicinebook.comax

    June 20, 2013 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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