Thursday, May 22, 2008

Breastfeeding babies and sleep

Getting your baby to put himself/herself back to sleep at night can be challenging for parents. We are answering your sleep questions every Thursday.

Here's today's question:

"What can and/or should be done to help parents better understand the differences between breastfed and formula fed baby's sleep?" ~Maria

Pediatric sleep specialist Dr. Sarah Zallek says she is not aware of any biological differences between breastfed and formula fed babies when it comes to sleep. But she says one issue that often crops up is babies being nursed to sleep.

She says moms can get into this habit and then the baby doesn't learn to self sooth. Dr. Sarah Zallek said, "Ideally you would nurse until they're not quite asleep, put the happy baby in the crib and let them fall asleep where they are meant to fall asleep." But Dr. Zallek says she nursed her babies to sleep and it didn't become a long term problem. She says it's really up to the parents and she said the same problem can happen when babies are fed a bottle as they fall asleep.

Lactation consultant Denise Broeker says breast milk is digested faster than formula, so their stomachs are emptied faster. "Breastfed babies eat until they're full instead of eating what they're given. So, it is not uncommon for them to be hungry more frequently." She says that can have an impact on the baby's sleep the first few months.

When did your kids start sleeping through the night? My youngest did around one-year-old and I have been thrilled with that. I know some kids start sleeping 12 hours straight at only a few months old. Is anyone out there that lucky?

-NewsAnchorMom Jen


Ms. PH said...

My kids both started sleeping 12-14 hours through the night around 6 months old. They are now 18 months old and almost 3 years old and both sleep from 7pm to 7am with a 2-3 hour nap during the day. I am dreading the time when my almost three year old gives up her nap!!

I have to disagree with the statement that "Breastfed babies eat until they're full instead of eating what they're given." Bottle fed babies also have the ability to regulate their amount of food intake and don't just "eat what their given." Both of my children were bottle fed and, while my daughter always emptied her bottles, my son only ate exactly what he wanted and it varied greatly from day to day how much he wanted from the bottle at each feeding. And he slept through the night no matter how much he had eaten or not eaten throughout the day. I have found this to be true for most of the babies I have known.

Shannon said...

It has always been my understanding (after attending a bf group for 5 years and going through lactation educator training) that formula takes longer to digest, which is why it's not unusual for formula-fed babies to sleep longer stretches. On average, it's only about an hour more - but it's one of the reasons many women give up breastfeeding after they try supplementing with formula because the baby sleeps longer and they conclude it means they weren't getting "enough" from breastmilk alone. That, plus we all inevitably compare our babies to others and many mothers are told (often very accurately) that formula-fed babies will sleep "better." It just depends on how you define "better" and we have come to equate that with "longer."

Having said all of that, none of my three children slept through the night regularly until they were past a year old.

Maria said...

We also know (as is indicated in research) that breastfed babies sleep cycles are different than those of formula fed babies, because they do wake up more often. I asked this question as a trap, and the "doctor" indeed fell in to it. Is there something different in the biology-- ok, no. But there are distinct differences between how breastfed and bottlefed babies sleep-- some of which we have discussed here before.

The entire concept of "self-soothing" and "fall(ing) asleep where they are meant to fall asleep" is nothing more than a way to advocate crying it out and try to discourage parents from attachment parenting. I don't see my job as a parent ending just because it is dark outside.

My son slept well (six hours at a time) until we moved from Frankfurt to Minnesota (3 months old) to Frankfurt (4 months) to Tulsa (5 months) all within about three or four months. Then we had to start over again, but I also got smarter (for us anyway) and switched to full-time co-sleeping. He is 17 months now and wakes once or twice a night or so-- primarily for a drink (from me or the sippy cup), and I'm cool with that. He will sleep through the night when he is ready.

rachel b said...

Both of my kids were breastfed until at least three months and they were both totally different sleepers! My son was up every 2-3 hours until at least two months and my daughter has slept 3-4 hours or more since she was born! She's a little over three months now and sleeps from 8pm-2 and then 2:15-7am! said...

If I could choose when my kids would sleep through the night, it would be at 6 months! I wish it worked like that. I think it depends on the child. I treated both of mine the same way and one slept, one still doesn't sleep. Although, the older one has slept through the night the past four night. Knock on wood! I am happy to hear none of you are dealing with the horrific sleepless nights! I, too, am not bothered by once or twice or night. It's the 6-8 times a night that gets me aggravated.
Maria-Dr. Zallek doesn't teach the cry it out method. She teaches the slowly leaving the room night after night method. She says it takes a lot longer, but she doesn't like to have babies crying for nights on end. It sounds like your situation is working perfectly for you. I don't think she'd recommend changing a thing unless you as a parent are unhappy. Sometimes when I type the words out the people are saying, it's hard to include the emotion.She was very understanding and really spoke like a "real" person, not a doctor.

Maria said...

I don't know the details of Dr Zallek's method, but the book I read on the method of slowly moving out of the room included a lot of crying. You move the chair closer to the door each night and only pick the child up enough to calm him/her down once the crying becomes disruptive (child too upset to calm down).

The "preferred" method of calming in the book I read included as little touching as possible (first try just putting your hand on the child, then gently rubbing if that doesn't work, etc). I actually tried it when someone convinced me that I was a horrible parent for allowing my son to sleep with me. Each week that passes, I get more and more confident in my parenting style and resist more and more other people's opinions. Thankfully.

AP isn't for some people, and that's their choice, but I am a big fan of Pantley's methods, which have worked well for me. said...

I think it is fantastic that you are getting the word out about less main stream ways for sleeping. Crying it out works for some people and for others it just doesn't. I don't think anyone should be forcing their opinions on you or any other parent. Especially if you aren't having any problem. Why change something that's working for you?

Maria said...

Exactly, but early in the parenthood experience, I struggled with sticking to my guns. First child... it was a learning processes. :)

Also, I should have said Sears and Pantley. Sears for AP and Pantley's sleep books (The No-Cry Sleep Solution) were quite helpful. :)

MamaGina said...

Aaahhhh! Breastfeeding while sleeping is heaven. My kids wouldn't have wanted to deal with me if I had to get up during the night several times. I would have to fully wake myself up to walk across the house to the nursery. Half the time I laid down on the floor with my first daughter. After a few times of this, we coslept full-time. I nightweaned (with Pantley's No Cry Sleep Solution and Dr. Jay Gordon's nightweaning methods) both of my children at 12 months. After this was mastered, I put them in a toddler bed RIGHT next to my bed. The next week they moved to the foot of my bed in their toddler bed. The next week they moved close to the bedroom door. And, voila, they were in their own rooms sleeping 7p-7a the next week. I cherish the times that they come back in with us and miss the bonding moments of breastfeeding with them cuddled up at my breast. I wouldn't have had it any other way! :)

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