Dr. Bill’s Outlook on Nighttime Baby Formula
Will nighttime baby formula help my baby sleep longer stretches?
Dr. Bill gets this question a lot in his Pediatric practice, so I am passing this question along to him:
Most of our learning as parents, and most of our books, were literally learned and written on the job. Our first three babies were easier and longer sleepers. Then came along baby number 4, Hayden – the star of The Fussy Baby Book. She would not “sleep through the night” for the first two years, even though Martha was not doing anything different than she had with our other three babies.
That is when I learned that most sleep patterns are the innate differences of babies and not due to all the sleep-training tricks of mothers. I also learned that many mothers exaggerate how long their babies sleep as if it were a badge of successful nighttime mothering. One of the oldest and easiest answers that well-meaning friends and healthcare providers can offer you is: “Give your baby a bottle of nighttime baby formula.” The theory is that nighttime baby formula (aka artificial baby milk) may help baby sleep longer stretches because it is more satisfying. Not true, and not always smart!
The luscious taste and natural fill-up fat factors in breastmilk are immensely satisfying and nutritious to baby. However, we also know that breast milk is digested faster than formula which usually means more frequent feedings. Also, it is important to remember in most babies’ tiny tummies don’t hold enough milk to sleep through that night. Knowing this can help reset any unrealistic expectations that you may have had.
Nighttime Baby Formula Hinders Baby’s Microbiome
I have always thought that both science and maternal sense are partners in mother’s and baby’s health. Now we know that breastmilk contains nutrients that help plant seeds for the healthy bacteria that fertilize the lining of your baby’s intestines, or what we call growing a healthy gut garden. A few years ago, when writing our cute little book, Dr. Poo, I coined the phrase “I love M.O.M.!” as what breastfeeding babies would say if they could talk. Actually, M.O.M. stands for “milk-oriented microbiota,” the nutrients that feed the microbiome (community of gut bugs) that live in the lining of your baby’s intestines and not only protect your baby’s intestines from infection but produce natural nutrients that contribute to your baby’s overall growth.
Even one bottle a day of infant formula, especially during the first six months, could sabotage the health of your baby’s growing gut garden. Microbiome researchers teach that giving infant formula after the first six months, a time when most babies growing gut gardens are mature is less of a problem than giving infant formula during the first six months. Therefore, unless necessary or recommended by your healthcare provider we discourage using infant formula during the first six months just to help your baby sleep longer stretches.
Benefits of Nighttime Breastfeeding
In those desperate, sleep-deprived moments, hang on tight to the science and beauty of nighttime parenting and breastfeeding. Tops benefits for mom and baby include:
- Helps boost and maintain milk supply since prolactin (the milk-making hormone) is highest at night.
- Breastmilk contains tryptophan, an amino acid used by the body to make melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps induce and regulate sleep.
- Infants’ arousal is a built-in safeguard against SIDS and is an important mechanism for survival. These arousals are more frequent for breastfeeding babies.
- The Lactational Amenorrhea Method is a form of birth control and is effective if used correctly. If your baby is younger than 6 months and is being exclusively breastfed, and if your menstrual cycle hasn’t returned, you can consider using LAM as birth control. Of course, this is not 100% guaranteed. For more details on how to use LAM correctly, see The Breastfeeding Book, updated edition.
- Research shows that moms who breastfeed exclusively at night sleep more per night on average.
My teaching to all new breastfeeding mothers is: “Remember, what your baby needs most is a happy, rested mother.” If you are blessed with what I dub an “all-night sucker,” see my many time-tested tips for helping your baby sleep longer stretches at night without the necessity of introducing nighttime baby formula in The Breastfeeding Book.
One night when Martha felt like she was in the trenches. I asked her the next morning how she was doing. She admitted that there were some nights she did not look forward to comforting our “all-night sucker”. I preached: “What our baby needs most is a happy, rested mother” and she listened. But it was not enough for me to preach. I had to be willing to take over for some occasional “father nursing.” Yes, men are what I affectionately call “milk duds,” yet “nursing” implies comforting not just breastfeeding, so father can “nurse” while mother gets an extra hour of sleep, whether that is in the middle of the night or early in the morning.
In our books on Becoming A Father and The Baby Book, in addition to The Breastfeeding Book, you will find lots of father-nursing tips that help baby and daddy get more closely attached and help mother and baby enjoy longer stretches of sleep. So, regardless of whether babies are breastfed, or formula-fed, sleeping longer stretches at nighttime is a developmental milestone that all babies reach at a different rate.
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”