Much has been said about breast feeding and the effect it can have on baby’s sleep patterns. However, until recently, very little has been said about the effects of breast feeding on the mother’s sleep.
Of course, it almost goes without saying that breastfeeding mothers have to wake up when the baby wakes up to nurse. It is also fairly well known that breast fed babies tend to wake up more frequently than formula fed babies, as a result of a mother’s breast milk digesting more quickly. These facts have led many women to forego breast feeding, in large part out of fear regarding the effect it could have on their ability to get a good night’s rest.
We would never insinuate that sleep is unimportant for a new mother. The fact is that parenting a newborn is a lot of work. Even if a woman doesn’t have other concerns (family, career, home, etc.), taking care of a newborn baby requires that she get as much rest as possible. And if she does work outside of the home, it becomes even more of a challenge or her to get the rest she needs. In a way, it’s understandable why many women would choose to bottle feed.
However, recent studies have shown that women who breastfeed their babies get just as much quality rest as those who bottle feed their babies. These studies, while somewhat limited in scope, would seem to indicate that mothers who breastfeed may need to wake up more often to take care of the baby, but they generally don’t need to stay awake as long.
There are several factors which contribute to this. One of them which is often overlooked is the fact that breastfeeding is more convenient than bottle feeding. There is no looking through cupboards and dishwashers for clean bottles, nipples, and formula. Everything you need to feed the baby is conveniently located right on your person. You also don’t need to worry about cleaning up as much as you do when bottle feeding.
Babies will often fall back asleep on the bottle or the breast, and there is no definitive study (to our knowledge) which shows babies having more or less tendency to fall asleep at one or the other. In general, though, the less time you need to spend preparing to feed baby, the less time she will be fussy. And the less time she spends being fussy, the more likely she is to settle quickly back to sleep once her tummy is full.
When you add it all up, breastfeeding mothers tend to wake up more often, but the disturbances in their sleep tend to be shorter. In the end, it’s a wash. And since breast feeding mothers get just as much rest as formula feeding mothers, it simply makes sense to make the choice based on what’s healthiest for your baby.