You may have been advised by a sleep coach, maternity nurse or any other infant sleep specialists to top up the bedtime breastfeed with formula or give a larger formula feed.
Well, Let Me Tell You, None Of This Advice Is Based On Evidence!
There will always be someone who claims that one of these strategies was a miracle cure for their baby’s sleep, but in general, the large studies have not found that this will make a huge difference to the way your baby sleeps. Despite what older relatives may tell you, it is a myth that feeding a baby a larger feed before bed helps them to sleep. You will not meet a reputable Baby Sleep Consultant or find a baby sleep program which will advise you to feed your baby to sleep, which surely speaks volumes in itself.
This sounds sensible though, doesn’t it? However human digestion doesn’t quite work that way and how quickly your infant will empty their stomach isn’t entirely dependent on how much is consumed in one go.
The fact is, babies, can’t store up ‘fuel’ to keep themselves going for extra time, hence feeding them more will not make them sleep longer. Some research has even shown that the opposite is true, and the larger the feed volume, the faster the stomach will empty.
Did You Know That Breastfed Babies Will Drink Approximately The Same Amount Of Milk Over 24 Hours Between The Ages Of 1 To 6 Months?
Despite what many people still believe, if your baby suddenly starts breastfeeding more often, it has nothing to do with trying to increase your milk supply. If a baby suddenly wants to feed more frequently, this could be due to developmental changes, not just hunger. What will happen is they will likely drink less at each feed if they begin to feed more often. Again, some research suggests that this is to do with the changing milk composition, faster stomach emptying time, or an increased need for comfort. Whatever the reason, it is important to know this, because if the total daily milk volume stays about the same, then giving extra milk on the assumption that your baby is extra hungry will not work.
The Risk Of Overfeeding Your Baby
Overfeeding is another problem with giving a baby extra milk, often parents ask can you overfeed a baby? And the answer is yes! This can have a negative effect on your milk supply (if you are breastfeeding), but it can also stretch your baby’s stomach, leaving them feeling too full or uncomfortable. Think about what happens to us when we overeat, how do you feel? You likely feel very sleepy, all you will want to do is relax and sleep it off, right? Not to mention feeling uncomfortably full and bloated. But, if you keep doing this, your appetite increases as your stomach stretches. The same can happen with a baby. I have experienced this over and over again. Overfeeding your baby will not stop them waking up, but often this will make them wake up even hungrier. As parents, we certainly don’t want that to happen!
Too often we are told that the only reasonable excuse for waking up at night is because of a genuine need for food and that the other reasons are unnecessary.
Parents often believe that the baby wakes up at night mostly because they are hungry, and feeding them is the only way to get them back to sleep. Particularly with breastfed babies as it can be hard to know how to stop breastfeeding throughout the night especially as, in the early stages, the night feeds are so important to milk supply.
The truth is Babies may wake up for many reasons, such as warmth, connection, comfort or they might be in pain. Yes, feeding will help them to get back to sleep, but we have missed the important message the baby is trying to communicate to us. As parents, we need to recognise the difference between comfort-nursing and hunger.
I have worked with numerous babies, both breastfed and bottle-fed. Night wakes are usually an indication of something else going wrong, which once identified and dealt with correctly will usually solve the problem fairly quickly.
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For more advice on how to help your baby sleep and find a baby sleep solution that works for you and your family, you can check out our 1 : 1 consultation services or our new baby sleep guides which come with free access to my Sleepy Village Facebook community for easy access to get your questions answered.