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Breastfeeding mums don't get less sleep! Myth Busted!

Rearch published this month in the European Journal of Paedatrics, by Dr Hawley Montgomery-Downs of West Virginia University, contradicts the myth that breastfeeding moms get less sleep.  Dr Hawley said:
"The results represent good information to be able to tell women; that not breastfeeding is not going to help you get better sleep.  There has been an "urban myth" that women who breastfeed get less sleep, which may cause some to hesitate to do so.  Indeed, babies digest breast milk faster than formula, the researcher said, so breastfed babies may need to be fed more often in the middle of the night."
When Montgomery-Downs and her colleagues asked 80 new mothers to report how often they woke up and how rested they felt, and to wear sensors that measured how long and efficiently they slept, they found Breastfeeding mothers slept just as long and felt just as rested.

This suggests that "there may be some kind of compensation" for breastfeeding mothers, Montgomery-Downs said in an interview.  "For instance, babies who breastfeed may wake up more (and wake up their parents more), but those nighttime feedings may have less of an impact than if they were drinking formula", she suggested. "In order to prepare a bottle, women often have to get up, turn on the lights, and move around quite a bit, all of which may make it harder for them to go back to sleep."
"Alternatively, when breastfeeding, women may be awake for shorter intervals, and be less active, which makes it easier for them to go back to sleep. Women who breastfeed also have higher levels of the hormone prolactin, which facilitates sleep," Montgomery-Downs noted. "And if the babies are sleeping next to the mothers, they may feed while the mother is sleeping, she added".
"Better sleep really is not a reason not to breastfeed," she concluded.
These findings are consistent with other recent evidence.  Several studies between 2004 and 2009 have indicted exclusive breastfeeding mothers got more sleep; three sets of parents have been studied: those that were exclusively breastfeeding, those that were breastfeeding AND formula feeding, and those who were feeding only formula.  Although, the exclusively breastfeeding mothers were awakened more times throughout the night than the other mothers, they still got an average of 40-45 minutes MORE sleep each night.

Not only did the breastfeeding mothers get more sleep, they got BETTER SLEEP. The studies showed that REM (rapid eye movement) sleep was similar within the groups, but the difference in slow-wave sleep (SWS) was remarkable. People who get less SWS report more day-time fatigue. Studies also show that those who get less SWS are more likely to suffer depression. To be clear, the “breastfeeding mothers got an average of 182 minutes of SWS. Women in the control group had an average of 86 minutes. And the exclusively bottle-feeding women had an average of 63 minutes.”

In short, women who do not exclusively breastfeed get less sleep, get less restorative sleep, and are more likely to suffer depression.

Doan and colleagues noted the following.

“Using supplementation as a coping strategy for minimizing sleep loss can actually be detrimental because of its impact on prolactin hormone production and secretion. Maintenance of breastfeeding as well as deep restorative sleep stages may be greatly compromised for new mothers who cope with infant feedings by supplementing in an effort to get more sleep time. In sum, advising women to avoid nighttime breastfeeding to lessen their risk of depression is not medically sound. In fact, if women follow this advice, it may actually increase their risk of depression.” ibreastfeeding with references


  1. I don't doubt that breastfeeding vs bottlefeeding mums get about the same levels of sleep, and the prolactin etc sound great, but surely the fundamental difference is that bottle-fed babies can be fed by someone else?! I fully accept breastfed is more wholesome and preferable all round, but it IS an ideal, and often requires lots more support than is ever discussed or truly offered. It's equally 'natural' to live with your extended family, who would care for, advise and take over responsibilities for the new parents while they adjust and focus on the baby (at least 4-6 weeks). Find that in most modern lives. The discussions for and against breast and bottlefeeding miss the point; it's what you can manage in your circumstances, with the support you can access, and with your own well-being as crucial to the baby as what it is fed. An over-wrought mother breastfeeding is not better than a sane mother bottlefeeding. Any militancy on this is damaging and cruel.

  2. Hi Anon
    I think there's lots of points muddled together here.

    Firstly sleep - It's an interesting argument that someone else can do it. Perhaps my two just have super strength vocals or something, but when either was awake and crying for a feed; I was awake and would be regardless of who was doing it. In fact half the street was likely awake too ;) lol So sleep is disturbed regardless for a lot of mums. With AF someone has to get up and give the bottle...
    I also wonder how many dads continue to do half the nightfeeds after the first couple of weeks. When they are back at work and mum is still on maternity leave...some partners have jobs which mean they need to be really on the ball to either a) keep their job b) keep their life! (depending upon the environment)

    Your second point is absolutely right - that breastfeeding often does need a lot more support than is discussed or offered. This in part is due to the fact that 96% of infants are not exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. Whereas mums would have had support from all friends/family who had done it, now those community skills are lost and the NHS is NOT filling the gap in most areas. Ditto it's about doing the best you can with the support you can - but let's not forget some mums DO just choose bottlefeeding because it appears the easiest option, or they can't be bothered or (perhaps the best I've heard) because they look so cute when feeding from a bottle....(and some argue play as a child has no impact HA!) so perhaps realising bottles don't = more sleep may influence their decision?

    Perhaps instead of trying to decide whether a bottle is better when a mother is "over-wrought", we should be looking to improve support for the women who want to succeed, so we can try and prevent the situation arising at all? This is a big part of why we started :)

  3. I totally agree. I only fed dd1 myself for a few weeks (wish I had done much longer, but was young and not given any support, but thats a whole other story lol) and was knackered all the time.I am nearly at 6 mths feeding this time and have much more sleep. Not only is there the benefit of not having to get up and make bottles ect, in the early days I could feed laying down and still sleep. Even now she has a feed about 4.30-5.30 sometimes we fall asleep together while feeding then when she has finished I plonk her back and off she goes to sleep.

  4. im exclusively breastfeeding and my baby sleeps from 9.30pm till 4am,then feeds for 10mins and sleeps in untill 8am when we get up for the school run,and shes only 6 weeks old. we struggled with soreness due to latch probs in the beggining,but glad i stuck it out as its so easy not having to get up and sort bottles! i fall straight back to sleep after a feed and so does she!!
    so yeah- i get plenty of sleep which is excellent!!!
    gemma, mum of 2 x


    QUOTE Why didn’t sharing night feedings help mothers sleep more? Because the mothers’ sleep was significantly disrupted while the baby’s father fed the baby. END

  6. As I was never able to breastfeed laying down (and I am not the only woman I know who has struggled with this) in the end breastfeeding was not more restful because I still had to sit up, arrange the bf pillow, etc. I struggled for month after month to bf, but I wasn't alone and - despite an army of support including 4 lcs, my midwife, LLL leaders, local bf supporters and a host of bf friends + 3 tongue and lip tie revisions that never fully resolved baby's suck issues - baby was unable to properly transfer milk. I was able to pump and bottle feed thankfully.
    My point is this: yeah, Moms should know that bf doesn't necessarily have to mean less sleep, but that is only a generalization. We still can't know and shouldn't presume to know how someone else is getting from day to day. Even beyond bf we all have different sleep habits. DD2 was a dream to cosleep with - having her on my chest was better than any sleeping pill on the market. But DD1 thrashed and couldn't settle if anyone else was touching her.
    Amen to providing Moms with more support. I think most Moms will agree that there is a comprehensive lack of structural support for bf, esp for Moms who are struggling with latching/structural issues with baby.

  7. i wish this were true in our case. i am still breastfeeding my 2 1/2 year toddler and i can honestly say i have been exhausted from the day he was born and rarely get any quality sleep. i am committed to continuing because it is the best thing for him but i am knackered and cannot relate to this article at all. incidentally, we co-sleep!

  8. Hi Anon is this because he wakes frequently? ie how is the sleep in your case linked to feeding at 2 1/2?