Breastfed babies DO sleep

At a mummy morning tea I organised this week, the age-old topic of sleep came up (as it inevitably does). Mostly the mums were just venting, there was lots of nodding and eye rolling and ‘that sounds just like us!’-type revelations, reinforcing that all we really need to know is that most disrupted sleep is normal when you have a little person in your life and that eventually, all babies DO sleep (really, they truly will). There were a few mums with babies who would cat-nap for 20 minutes during the day but go longer stretches at night, others who would happily nap all day but then are wide awake from 6pm to midnight, cherubs who fed hourly overnight and slept with a boob permanently in their mouth and others who slumbered so much, they had to be woken for kinder or school pickups. All individuals, all normal.

I have found quite frequently, that in their quest for the perfect sleep, some mums find themselves trying things that don’t sit well with them, sleep ‘methods’ that go against their instincts, maybe because of what a certain baby book says, or they’ve been to a sleep school, or receive advice from a well-meaning friend/aunty/cousin/mother-in-law. When these mums chat to me, I try to explore why they are looking to change things. Is it because they are unhappy with the situation, or are they trying to fit into a mould that others are trying to set for them? Have they been told about that wretched ‘rod for their own back’ or worried they’ll spoil their baby or get them used to being cuddled/fed/rocked to sleep? Almost always, it’s one of the latter reasons, which makes me despair. Are we losing our ability to listen to our own mothering instincts? If it’s the first reason, and the mother really does feel she is losing it through lack of sleep, change doesn’t necessarily mean cracking the whip and ‘fixing’ things in a night or two. Mostly I direct these mums to books by authors like Pinky McKay, Elizabeth Pantley, Anni Gethin, & Beth Macgregor, James McKenna, Jim Sears, and they are usually able to find a sleep solution that works for them and their families.

I’d also like to address the myth (and keep reading to see why I call it a myth) about offering an evening bottle of formula ‘so he’ll sleep’. It just seems soooo common and I get mums calling the Breastfeeding Helpline asking me whether it’s detrimental to their otherwise breastfed baby. I think it is. You see, mums who offer this nighttime bottle notice their baby does sleep longer so they assume he was hungry. Hunger isn’t the culprit here. Bubs is usually unsettled because it’s simply that time of the night (the dreaded witching hour). The formula puts them into a deeper sleep because the casein in cows’ milk produces more rubbery curds that sit heavily in their baby’s stomach, taking longer to digest. Cows’ milk also has a sedative effect on a breastfed baby (cause mama cows need their calves to be docile and safe by their sides and not run off), who is used to the more digestible, softer curds of human milk. If you persist through the unsettled behaviour and forgo the evening bottle, babies will cluster feed until their mum’s breasts are nice and soft and drained, which means they will be producing the fattier milk that helps bubs to sleep. Now for a bit of startling scientific evidence. New studies[1] show that mothers of bottle-fed babies (up to 12 weeks old) don’t get any more sleep than those of exclusively breastfed babies — and despite the fact that anyone can give the bottle to a baby on formula, it was ultimately the mother who fed him. So if you’re thinking bottle-feeding is the way to getting more of that elusive sleep, think again. Don’t forget the delicious CCK hormone, which sends the mother and the baby off to a drowsy slumber during breastfeeding, who’d want to miss out on that?

For more info on breastfeeding and sleep, visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association website: