This is the age-old question and I hear it all the time “Will feeding my baby formula help them sleep longer?”. This is quite a tricky one to answer. Because for some babies the answer is yes but for many it is no.
Firstly, why do people suggest that formula fed babies sleep longer through the night? Well to put it simply, its composition is different to breast milk and technically formula can sate a baby’s hunger for longer. While both formula and breast-milk contain proteins which satisfy baby’s hunger, the inherent difference lies in the composition of proteins dominant in each kind of milk.
Formula v breast-milk composition
- Breast milk protein is whey dominant which is very easy for your baby to digest. Therefore your baby may become hungry again sooner and need additional feeds. However, breast milk has also been found to have sleep inducing properties which should help your baby relax for bedtime.
- Formula protein on the other hand is predominantly casein based. Which is more difficult for your baby to digest and therefor keeps them feeling fuller for longer. However, because casein protein is harder to digest, it can subsequently cause gut irritation. This irritation can lead to wind pain or constipation. Which may have adverse effects on your little one’s sleep.
For more detailed information on breast milk, formula and their composition please click here.
Does formula really help your baby sleep? Or is it how much they eat of anything that counts?
While the composition of breast-milk and formula is different, there are other factors at play when determining whether formula makes babies sleep better. One great study looked at 715 mothers and their 6-12month infants. This study concluded that there was no obvious difference in night waking between breastfed and formula-fed babies. However, those babies that consumed higher total calories during the daytime, actually slept for longer periods than those babies who consumed less calories.
Now this does not by any means mean I suggest you stuff your babies full of solids and milk all day. But it does help to explain why a good feeding schedule is important. I personally find with my own clients, that where a good feeding routine is implemented, night sleep consolidates much faster. This is because we are able to better monitor the calorie intake of their babies. This study tells us that it is not necessarily what our babies are eating, but rather how much and when.
So why do some breastfed babies sleep amazingly while others don’t?
Another interesting study concluded that parenting practices are likely to have more to do with night waking in babies then the way they are fed. This study reviewed 10321 infants (0-11 months) from Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The overall results of this study tell us that breastfed babies do have more night awakenings. However, the results of the study also insinuate that lower sleep consolidation was most likely to occur in children whose mothers fed them back to sleep.
Babies who had the ability to self-settle themselves, regardless of whether they were formula or breast fed, woke less during the night and had better overall sleep consolidation. This may be why we see so many breastfed babies achieving sleep consolidation and so many formula-fed babies that don’t. It may not be about what they eat and more about how they fall asleep.
Do I think that formula feeding equals more sleep?
The studies I have referenced above are just a couple of many many studies out there, which look into the difference in sleep consolidation between breast and formula fed babies. However, working with babies everyday myself, I know one thing to be true. You can get a beautiful breast-fed baby to sleep just as well as a formula fed one. Breastfeeding is a personal preference. I have the upmost admiration for those wonderful mothers who do it. Regardless of whether it be for a short while, or long term. I truly believe that with the right age appropriate feeding and sleeping schedule, your little breastfed bubby can sleep just as well as any formula fed baby.
Please note: Newborn babies need to feed frequently. In those first precious months it is perfectly normal for all babies to: .
- wake frequently as a safety reflex
- need their mum a lot through the night for food
- need their mum a lot through the night for comfort
- until well established on solids, it is reasonable to expect at least 1-2-night feeds between 7pm and 7am.
There is no need to work on self-settling with a newborn. It is unrealistic to expect total night consolidation in the first 3 months of your little one’s life. Just be patient and work on creating a beautiful soothing sleep environment. See here for my best sleep environment tips: https://dreamtogrowsleepconsultant.com.au/perfect-sleep-environment-for-newborns/.
The bottom line…
So, “Will feeding my baby formula help them sleep longer?”. It may, or it may not. It really depends on your circumstances. But before you throw in the towel, if you want to continue to exclusively breastfeed, then consider whether you can reduce night waking by:
- improving your babies daily milk/ solids intake
- Start on an age appropriate routine, or tweak your existing one
- Gently teach them to fall asleep without the boob
Whatever your feeding journey entails, Dream to Grow is here to support parents. By giving them the gift of a great night’s sleep. So if you are struggling to get your head around baby sleep and need some help in this department, please send through an enquiry to Courtney@dreamtogrowsleepconsultant.com.au. or drop me a line at Dream to Grow’s Facebook or Instagram pages.
**If you have any concerns about your babies feeding please consult your GP or paediatrician.