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Making the decision to feed with formula is often not an easy decision to arrive at. A common question many people wonder is if formula fed babies really do sleep longer, and, although this may seem to warrant a simple answer, perhaps you may appreciate a bit of context. 

This article hopes to bring some clarity as well as supporting reasons for why the answer may be that, it depends, as there seems to be no definitive answer as to whether or not formula fed babies actually sleep longer. 

Differences and Similarities Between Breastmilk and Baby Formula

The best way to start this article off is to explain a few key differences and similarities between breastmilk and baby formula. From this, we can start to pick out what factors that may influence your baby’s sleep habits, and your sleep habits as a new mom as well!

Similarities Between Breastmilk and Formula

Since formulas have been designed to be as close as possible to breastmilk in terms of nutritions, there are quite a few similarities between the two sources of milk supply. 

The purpose 

The purpose of feeding with formula or feeding with breast milk is ultimately the same: your baby needs food for nutrients and energy. A hungry baby needs to eat. 

Providing energy and nutrients

One important thing about formula is that although all the nutrients and elements of breast milk are not matched to a T, formulas are undoubtedly nutritious and full of the components your growing baby needs. The nutritional makeup for infant formula is such that it is able to be a safe and often recommended part of an infant’s diet. 

Regardless of which you choose, your baby will still wake at night

Newborn babies will wake throughout the middle of the night. When a baby is born, it is both common and normal for them to wake every 2-3 hours, and this often means nighttime feeding will take place. Choosing formula feeding or breastfeeding over the other will not make your baby sleep through the night. 

Differences Between Breastmilk and Formula

Although formulas are made to be as close as possible to breastmilk, there are some things that can’t be matched. 

How it’s made

As you know, breast milk is all-natural, and produced by moms during and after pregnancy. As for infant formula, it’s manufactured, and often still uses natural ingredients, and in some cases organic ingredients as well. Though infant formula cannot fully compare to breastmilk, we here at Bobbie ensure that our formulas are made with simple ingredients that work to nourish babies because how it’s made matters.  

The thickness 

When it comes to consistency, breast milk is noticeably thinner than formula. Now, this difference does not necessarily have anything to do with nutritional content, but it may contribute to why infant formula takes more time and more work for babies to digest compared to breast milk.

Certain specific nutrients

There are some things present in breast milk that formulas simply will never have. Since we are talking about sleep, it’s only fair to mention that one of those things are certain hormones and nucleotides that may aid with the development of healthy sleep and wake habits. Other contents not found in infant formula include certain antibodies, hormones, and white blood.

Amount of feeding required 

Due to the makeup of formula versus breast milk, infants who are formula-fed often go for longer periods between feedings, meaning fewer feedings overall. Formula often helps infants to stay full longer for many reasons, like the fact that sometimes it may be easier for babies to drink more formula, as well as formula taking a bit longer to be digested. 

Since some moms may be concerned about formula feeding at night and the digestibility of formula, we asked a member of our medical team for some pointers: 

Since formula takes longer to digest, will it upset my baby’s stomach after night feedings? 

Make sure you choose the right formula for your infant’s needs with your pediatrician. Take frequent burping breaks throughout the feed to help digestion, and make sure not to overfeed. Choose the right bottle and nipple for your baby so it limits how much air the baby gets.

So, now that we have looked at the similarities and differences between breastmilk and formula, let’s explore how this helps us to provide a reason for why there is not a definitive answer for whether or not formula-fed little ones experience less night waking. 

There’s No Definitive Answer 

This is because the question and the answer are subjective, depending on what “sleeping longer” means for you.

Sleeping longer may mean different things to different people. In one instance, sleeping longer may mean an extended time per sleep cycle. In other instances, it may mean the overall amount of sleep per night. 

As mentioned, formula-fed babies yearn for feedings less often than breastmilk bottle-fed babies. The reason is that formula usually takes a bit more time and effort to digest and so, babies stay fuller for longer. So, in context, if a breast-fed and formula-fed baby went to bed at the same time, the formula-fed baby may not wake for feeding as soon as a breast-fed baby might. However, this says nothing for the overall amount of time a baby may sleep. 

For instance, a formula-fed baby at 3 months of age may wake for a feeding every 4 to 5 hours during the day. Conversely, a breast-fed baby of the same age may wake for a feeding every 3 to 5 hours during the day. However, on any given day, both babies will sleep an average of 15 hours. 

Babies may wake for more reasons than just hunger, too. 

Because it often seems that all babies want to do is eat and sleep, many may think that every time a baby cries or wakes it’s because they’re hungry, but that’s simply not true. 

Your baby may be awake but not want to feed. Keep in mind that just because they accepted food didn’t mean they were hungry. With this, it’s hard to say that breastfed babies sleep longer when we can never truly know for what reason the baby woke up. 

Here are some common reasons why babies wake during the night: 

  • Hunger: Of course, there are (a lot of) cases where your baby may wake from being hungry. However, if your baby has had enough to eat during the day, this may be less likely. As babies start to get older, waking from hunger will also diminish. 
  • Transition in sleep cycle: Similar to adults, babies may wake several times throughout the night between sleep cycles. This occurs when there is a shift from rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to other stages. With babies, it may be a tad bit difficult to go back to sleep and some may cry out just because they’re frustrated or cranky.
  • Teething: As your baby gets a bit older and approaches the 6-month mark and gets closer to starting on solid foods, they will begin teething. In most cases, teething can be uncomfortable and painful, and this often interrupts a baby’s sleep. 
  • Sleeping habits: Not all babies are alike, this we know. Some babies are better sleepers than others, and so while some babies may sleep for a longer time per session, others may not. The good news though is that sleep training for good sleeping habits even in young babies is possible. 
  • Development: As your baby develops, you may notice that their sleep patterns change. Some babies wake at night simply because they want to explore ,or because their brain is active with new skills that they are developing. 

If you find you’re concerned that your baby actually is sleeping through the night, here is what our medical professional says has to say:

This all depends on the age and weight of the baby, and their growth curve. This is a doctor question, but very dependent on many factors.

The research surrounding whether or not formula-fed babies sleep longer than bottle feeding breast milk babies is not clear. Some have touted that feeding babies something more filling may make them sleep longer. For some, formula is the milk of choice while other moms have given their baby bedtime cereals to keep them fuller. Older studies however have shown that feeding infant bedtime cereals did not appear to influence whether or not they slept through the night. 

On the other hand, studies done on breastfeeding moms’ sleep patterns have indicated that breastfeeding moms get more hours per sleep session during the night. On average, breastfeeding mothers reported an average of 45-minutes more per night than formula-feeding moms. 

As well, it is not uncommon for breastfeeding moms to sleep with their baby, and to this, many moms may simply help their baby to latch and then fall back to sleep. On the other hand, the formula-fed mom may need to get up and go get a bottle or get their partner to help feed, answering to the slightly greater lack of sleep. Yet, this study indicates that formula-feeding moms and breastfeeding moms get roughly the same amount of sleep, meaning sleep deprivation is probably inevitable either way, but more so pointing to the fact that study results around whether or not formula helps babies (and moms) sleep for longer stretches of time remains unclear.

To Summarize…

In the end, it comes back to the fact that whether or not your baby sleeps longer with formula just depends, and what it depends on is a lot. There are many similarities as well as many differences between breastmilk and infant formula. From this, we were able to identify several reasons why there is no set answer to our question. Instead, what we have are varying situations that may present different results. 

So, the takeaway points: 

  • “Sleeping longer” can mean different things, and babies tend to average the same amount of sleep per day even if the length of each sleep session differs.   
  • Yes, infant formula leads to less frequent feedings, however, whether you breastfeed or formula-feed babies will not make them wake less often because that’s simply what new babies do.
  • There are many reasons why a baby may wake at night.
  • The research looking into sleep patterns in regards to formula feeding versus breastfeeding are not definitive.  

In such a case, all you can do is tough it out and be patient. Your baby will eventually start sleeping through the night, regardless of breastfeeding or formula feeding. For now, do your best to deal with the temporary sleep problems associated with the joy of a newborn, and look forward to the day that your little one waits ’til sunrise to summon you for breakfast.

Sources: 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17700096/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2672785/
https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/sleeping-through-the-night.aspx
https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=infant-sleep-90-P02237

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23958944_The_possible_role_of_human_milk_nucleotides_as_sleep_inducers

Bridget Reed
Author

Bridget Reed is an experienced writer, editor, and SEO content manager. She graduated with her bachelor’s in business management and organizational leadership and is a proud mom of three.

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