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Do Breastfed Babies Sleep Worse Than Formula Fed Babies?

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

This question comes up very often in my weekly Q&A sessions, and sometimes parents even ask if they should switch to formula before they start working on sleep. Don’t worry, you don’t and you can still achieve great progress with both. If you need help to guide you through this process my Online Courses can help you with that.


There are many myths surrounding baby sleep and this is one of them. If I’m being honest I also used to think that, simply based on the fact that my niece was formula fed and was sleeping through the night, and Sophie was breastfed and she did not (spoiler alert, switching to formula didn’t help with her sleep).


How do I know if my baby is waking up because of hunger?


As a parent I understand that we might feel anxious about meeting all of our baby’s needs. The first thing that comes to mind when they wake up in the middle of the night is “they are hungry”. And sometimes it can be easy to fall into feeding to sleep association, because you end up feeding your little one at every wake and with time they become more frequent and most likely they fall asleep before they manage to get a full feed.


In the long run, such wakes can become more frequent and less to do with their fullness. If it is on an hourly basis (or every 2 hours at night0 for a baby aged 5 months or more, I can take a guess that they have a feeding to sleep association, rather than being actually hungry.


Some of the questions you want to start by asking yourself: do they feed more often that during the day? Foe example if your baby feeds every 3 hours during the day and every 2-3 hours at night, it most likely is settling related.


When working with families we always identify a number of feeds the baby needs and put a night structure in place. If you are worried about improving sleep meaning ignoring your babies’ needs, I can reassure you it is not the case.


You can keep night feeding in place, and improve their sleep at the same time. This is why you don’t need to wait until your baby is fully weaned in order to start sleep training.


My courses have a special Night Feeding Section, which is aimed at establishing an optimal night feeding routine, which will work for your family. Parents who come to me with frequent wakes get very surprised when after a couple of nights their baby stops waking up as often and is quite happy to keep sleeping without a feed. If you need more guidance on the daily feeding/sleeping rustiness including night wakes, my Online Courses are here to help.


If your baby is breastfed there are a few tricks you can use in order to make sure they are going to bed full. If you are expressing, you can give a bottle of expressed milk before bed. It was something our GP has suggested from when Sophie was only a couple of weeks old. It means that:

- someone else can help you with the feed

-it can promote bonding experience for the second parent

- also it can help you ensure they take a full feed before bed


While giving your baby their last milk feed of the day (breast or bottle) split their feed into two parts by doing a main feed before the bedtime routine and giving a top up before putting them in bed. This will help you make sure they’ve taken on a full feed and are not going to bed hungry.


For younger babies this trick will also help to ensure that they are fully winded before going in their cot. As in newborns discomfort is usually the main cause of frequent night wakes.


Having that break in-between two milk feeding parts will provide more room for more milk and you can be sure, that your baby doesn’t wake up hungry.


If you are unsure if your baby is hungry or not, and need a clear plan on how to reduce this night wakes my Online Courses can help you with the solution. Or if you need a more bespoke plan for your family, check my available services here.


All the best,

Ilona

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