To breastfeed or not ought to be a well-considered personal choice for every mother. But fear for poor sleep should never be a reason not to breastfeed. The positive effect of breastfeeding on baby’s sleep is easily illustrated by looking at a few common myths and misconceptions.

Breast is best: when you have chosen to breastfeed and it goes well, breastfeeding is a joyful experience full of benefits for both you and your baby. But how does it affect sleep?

Does breastfeeding make my baby sleep less? Will switching to formula help my baby sleep through the night? Does breastfeeding keep my baby from learning to sleep alone?

Prejudice that links poor sleep to breastfeeding often tempts a young mother to switch to formula sooner than she planned. However, this is usually not necessary and more often than not the bottle feeding does not improve sleep.

Myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding and sleep

Myth 1. A breastfed baby’s sleep is poorer

A breastfed baby’s sleep is not poorer but it can be lighter than for a formula fed baby. Breast milk, ideally adapted to baby’s needs, is lighter than formula. This may require baby to feed a little sooner and therefore fragment sleep a bit more. This is no accident: the breastfeeding simply supports her natural sleep patterns.

These promote a lighter sleep in the early months, exactly to feed healthily and also because the lighter sleep is safer. Easy arousal protects baby against sudden infant death syndrome (cot death). (Over)feeding with formula may result in too deep sleep that can put baby at risk.

Myth 2. A breastfed baby will sleep through the night at a later age

There is no scientific evidence to support this common misconception.

At what age a baby learns to sleep through the night depends on her physical development, personality and environment. There are as many magic stories of sleeping through at 6 weeks about breasted fed babies as there are about formula fed babies. Without magic, there are many tried-and-tested tips that help baby sleep through the night for real, and consistently.

Myth 3. Switching to formula feeding makes baby sleep through the night

Many young moms are tempted to switch from breastfeeding to bottle feeding. Formula fills up more and is therefore thought to make baby sleep for longer at night. Even if this switch does work for some, unfortunately it mostly does not work.

Cramps and gas due to the formula are also more likely to make baby sleep worse in stead of better. The extra work from sterilising and preparing bottles gives many moms an unpleasant surprise too.

Myth 4. Breastfeeding overtires mom

It is true that, especially during the first months, breastfeeding requires some extra energy of mom’s body. A well-balanced diet and regular rest is usually enough to keep fit – apart of course from the sleep deprivation experienced by many young parents, regardless of whether mom breastfeeds or not.

But a mother who manages to take a relaxed approach can enjoy and actually rest well during feedings – quiet time and energy she otherwise might spend on washing, sterilising or preparing a bottle.

Also, breastfeeding hormones induce sleepiness in mom, making it easier for her to fall asleep after night feedings. This is a great help to prevent lying awake at night and therefore sleep more and better - when baby allows it ...

Myth 5. Breastfeeding supports erratic baby sleep patterns

At no other stage in life does sleep develop as rapidly as in the first six months. It is a crucial development that will have its consequences for the rest of the child’ life. Supporting baby’s natural sleep patterns is the most effective way to ensure healthy sleep habits. This support is exactly what breastfeeding provides.

Parents who bottle feed can, and are advised to, support the natural sleep patterns as well by mimicking breastfeeding schedules and by keeping away from trying to force sleep.

Also, research shows how the composition of breast milk changes during the day. Recent research has even suggested that morning breast milk may be stimulating for baby while night time milk would contain sleep inducing compounds. Further research is required to establish the effect on baby’s sleep patterns.

Myth 6. Breastfeeding doesn’t teach baby to settle and sleep alone

It is true that many breastfeeding moms find themselves nursing their baby to sleep. It is such a sweet and tender way for both mother and baby to doze off. Hormones in the breast milk are partly responsible for this. Nursing to sleep teaches baby how settling for sleep is pleasant and does not have to be a fight.

Most babies who are used to being nursed to sleep, stop needing this long before turning one. The positive feelings they have learnt to associate with sleep, help them become confident sleepers. This is invaluable for good sleep and overall health now and in later life.

Concluding, breastfeeding is not to blame for most baby sleeping issues. Rather it supports a natural development towards healthy sleep habits.

Author's Bio: 

Having researched sleep independently for 10 years +, Heidi is a seasoned mother of two and certified breastfeeding counsellor who gives effective sleep advice to parents through her website.