Alas, a solid study which finally “put to bed” the myth that giving your breastfed baby a bottle of formula at night, makes him sleep longer.
The article by Theresa Doan called "Breast-feeding Increases Sleep Duration of New Parents", compared how much sleep parents lost when they gave the formula supplement before bed versus not giving it. Why the focus on the parents instead of the baby? Sadly, to the parents, it's their own lack of sleep that is really the concern, not the baby’s.
Like, James McKenna, PhD, who directs the Mother-Baby Behavior Sleep Lab at Notre Dame, this research is based on “real monitored” sleep. They didn’t just ask parents how they slept, (sleep-deprived parents are just not reliable when reporting how long they slept) Instead, they watched and/or monitored their sleep.
The findings: Babies DO NOT sleep longer with a formula bottle, actually they slept less. Let me put it another way; parents have a 40-45 minute sleep loss when they give A BOTTLE of formula at night as opposed to just breastfeeding. Also, it showed that BOTH parents were affected, not just one.
How did this, “top off” myth come about in the first place? It is simply a “throw-back” from the formula feeding years. Think about it, prior to the 1960’s, when you gave birth in a hospital, there was no rooming-in. As a matter of fact, the feeding schedules were so rigid, you didn’t see your baby often enough to establish a breastfeeding relationship, let alone ample milk supply!
New mothers were in the hospital, for a week or more to recooperate. During that time, the babies remained in the nursery for long periods, especially at night, whether they were crying or not. Back then, the mantra was “crying is good for the lungs” (which many grandparents still think is true).
So, these well-rested mothers ended up with LOW milk supply, due to nothing more than, lack of contact and breast stimulation. This set the stage for formula feeding as a means to satisfy the late night hungry baby and thus equate such bottle, to better sleep. It’s no wonder so many women, from that era, felt they just didn’t have enough milk...I'm sure most of them didn't.
Sad to say, the same practices, while more subtle, exist today. Even though, we have rooming-in. Babies are not nursed frequently enough, especially at night, for fear of “being used as a human pacifier”. What are you left with? a fussy baby and low milk supply.
I don’t believe the myth that, the slow digest-ability of formula has, to do with parents sleeping better. I do believe that “super-sized” formula-feeding before bed, is the direct result of the rigidity, discouragement and/or unwillingness to nurse frequently at night, in the very early weeks. It’s the artificial schedule and formula-feeding together, that ultimately results in less sleep for these parents, not more, like they were led to believe.