One of the common myths about breastfeeding is that mothers will lose more sleep than if they choose to formula feed. A new study, however, found that this is not true at all. Breastfeeding does not take away sleep from mothers who choose to do so.
Hawley Montgomery-Downs, an assistant professor of psychology and coordinator of the behavioral neuroscience program at West Virginia University in Morgantown, published the results of a sleep study in the journal Pediatrics. The study involved 80 mothers to see whether breastfeeding did affect sleep. Twenty-seven of the mothers exclusively breastfed, 18 mothers exclusively formula fed, and 35 mothers used a combination of both.
“Women sometimes use the rationale of wanting and needing more sleep as a reason not to breast-feed, but breast-feeding is so important for both the mom and the baby’s health, we wanted to determine whether formula- or breast-feeding would have an effect on maternal sleep,” Montgomery-Downs said.
The researchers found no significant difference in the amount of sleep between breastfeeding and formula feeding. This was a change from the common myth that breastfeeding would decrease a mother’s sleep. According to Shelby Harris, director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, because breastmilk metabolizes more quickly, breastfed babies tend to wake more often to eat. This has long made mothers assume they would get more sleep by choosing formula.
“I’m not in a position to say exactly why there was no difference, but women who breast-feed may not have the same arousal levels as women who have to get up and prepare formula. It may be that breast-feeding moms are just staying in the dark, and are able to get back to sleep faster,” Montgomery-Downs said
One reason may be that breastmilk naturally contains the hormone prolactin, a sleep inducing hormone that puts both mother and baby back to sleep more quickly. Whatever the reason, choosing to breastfeed does not mean giving up sleep for a new mother.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding, so consider the risks and benefits of breast-feeding versus formula-feeding and see if you can work it into your life. But, don’t go with the old thinking that you’ll sleep better if you formula-feed. The first couple of months are going to be tough, regardless of which feeding method you choose, so think about other things, like the health of your baby.”
Montgomery-Downs suggests that breastfeeding mothers who feel they are not getting enough sleep do have some options to help them. Scheduled feedings, and pumping milk to let someone else feed the baby at night can help let mothers get more sleep. However, all mothers will feel sleep deprived the first few months as they adjust to motherhood. – Summer, staff writer
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