Formula and sleep: Will introducing a bottle help your breastfed baby sleep longer?

“Just give him a little bit of formula- it’ll help him sleep longer!”

Boy, if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that piece of advice thrown around, I’d be very wealthy!  Parents are always asking me if they should supplement with formula to get their babies to sleep longer.

Here’s the lowdown: If your baby is at least a few months old, and breastfeeding is established, and your have good milk supply, then introducing formula will probably not make much of a difference to your baby’s sleep.

There are two sizable myths around formula and sleep, which have contributed to this misunderstanding:

Myth#1 Around Formula and Sleep: Hunger causes all nightwakings with babies

When a baby is in those first few weeks of life, his sleep patterns will revolve solely around the need to eat.  Babies in this age range spend their lives eating and sleeping, only to wake up from their sleep to eat again!

By the time your baby is a few months old, things change.  Sleep is more complex, which creates a multitude of reasons as to why your baby might be waking up at night.  And most of these potential culprits have NOTHING to do with hunger!

Here are some common sleep stealers:

  • Overtiredness: Perhaps your baby doesn’t have a solid, age-appropriate daytime schedule, or she isn’t napping well during the day.  Or perhaps her bedtime is too late.
  • Sleep environment problem: Perhaps there is too much light in the room, or the temperature is too hot/cold. Maybe the baby isn’t dressed appropriately for the room’s temperature, or there’s too much outside noise.
  • Sleep association: Perhaps your baby needs to be assisted to fall asleep, such as through rocking, nursing or patting.

These are all factors that can cause unnecessary nightwakings, and they have nothing to do with hunger.  So replacing your breasted baby’s feeds with formula might not do a darn thing if the root of your sleep problem isn’t nutritive.

Myth#2 Around Formula and Sleep: Formula fed babies can eat more than breastfed babies

A bottlefed baby CAN take down more ounces in one feed than a breastfed baby can because it’s usually less work for a baby to eat from the bottle than it is to eat from the breast.

HOWEVER, as long as a breastfed baby is eating more frequently during the daytime and can compensate by getting those extra calories, she can sleep JUST as well as her bottlefed buddy can.  Replacing a breastfeed with formula really isn’t necessary!

Here’s the thing…

If you have been legitimately struggling with your milk supply, introducing formula might help with your baby’s sleep.  However, I find that many moms tend to THINK their milk supply is going down, when their milk supply is just fine!  See, if you have an exclusively breastfed baby who’s been giving you lots of wet diapers and who’s gaining weight beautifully, your milk supply probably is just fine.  But always check with a lactation consultant if you’re worried.

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