It is typically assumed that breastfeeding moms get less sleep. I’ve been told on more than one occasion, “I’m breastfeeding, so I don’t sleep.” I often find that potential clients will ask if they have to give up breastfeeding in order to improve sleep. No, not if you don’t want to. Do what is working for you, and if you want to continue breastfeeding, we can figure out sleep while maintaining that!
According to evidence-based research, breastfeeding mothers are getting more sleep, despite being solely responsible for feedings, feeding on demand, and potentially waking every 20 minutes to 2-3 hours for those feedings. How is it possible that statistically, breastfeeding mothers clock more sleep? Breastmilk contains a hormone called Prolactin which helps to induce sleep. They release this hormone into their own blood stream while breastfeeding which allows them to fall asleep faster and easier after a nighttime feed but also for naps during the day. Prolactin also helps to soothe and calm our nerves which allows for a more peaceful postpartum period. The more relaxed we are the easier it is for us to fall asleep and stay asleep.
I’m going to break down one study for you that looked at sleep totals when breastfeeding, combo-feeding, and formula feeding then include some tips for improving your sleep no matter what how you feed your baby! This study included 6,410 mothers with babies 0-12 months old. They completed a survey with 253 questions all about sleep patterns, where their baby slept, and mom’s physical/emotional health. It also included pregnancy/birth experiences, past trauma, and detailed questions about feeding.
They found on all measures, breastfeeding mothers reported significantly better functioning: more sleep, felt better during the day, and were less depressed. There was no difference in combo or formula feeding on any measure. The study also found that breastfeeding mothers reported sleeping more hours and two previous studies found that when moms reported more hours of sleep, it was a better predictor of lowered postpartum depression-- even if the measure of “actual sleep” is lower than what they think!
In anticipation of this question—no, not all of the breastfeeding moms were bedsharing. It was pretty evenly divided between bedsharing and in a crib in their own room. So bedsharing did not increase the number of hours they slept and moving them out of their room/into their own crib did not decrease the number of hours they slept. In addition, this study concluded, “Parents of infants who were breastfed in the evening and/or at night slept an average of 40-45 minutes more than parents of infants given formula. Parents of infants given formula at night also self-reported more sleep disturbance than parents of infants who were exclusively breast-fed at night.”
When feeding your baby at night, try these tips to get back to sleep the quickest:
- Don’t turn on a light—try to use a salt lamp or a nightlight with a red bulb
- Change their diaper first before feeding them
- Wear clothes with easy access if you’re breastfeeding
- Keep essentials close by (cup of water, burp cloth, nursing pillow)
- Don’t browse your phone unless you’re afraid of falling asleep while feeding them and need a way to stay awake
Other ways to get more sleep:
- Napping (I know, you have a to do list a mile long, but wear the baby during the day to get chores done if needed!)
- Go to bed early
- Limit visitors so you can rest, even if you don’t actually “sleep”
- Don’t watch the clock or try to time things with feedings
- Limit screen time, especially before bedtime
- Nurse on your side and let dad handle the changing/getting baby back to sleep
- Take shifts if needed
The early days of motherhood will be filled with some sleepless nights regardless of whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Build up a support system of family and friends and hired help that you can call on when the time comes. Remember that this is a short time in your life and asking for help when you need it is crucial! Call in that village, mama!