To all of you pregnant and new moms out there, have you been weighing the important decision of whether or not to breastfeed your precious new arrival?  Well, researchers suggest that you shouldn’t lose any sleep over it…literally. A new study found no significant difference in the amount of sleep among moms who breastfed, formula-fed or used a combination of the two methods. Although the breastfed babies woke more throughout the night, their mommies were still able to catch some winks.

Pregnant women and new mothers with healthy babies were studied postpartum for up to 16 weeks to assess different methods of feeding and their impact on mothers’ sleep. Total hours, efficiency and fragmentation of sleep were all measured using movement signals from wearable wrist monitors. Moms also recorded sleep time and feelings of fatigue throughout the day. Researchers found that, although breastfeeding moms awoke more often during the night to nurse, these women returned to sleep more quickly or slept during the feedings. All three groups shared similar levels of sleepiness and fatigue regardless of feeding method. Mothers who both breastfed and formula-fed slept more efficiently than even those using formula alone.

You might have overheard whispers in your prenatal class about how formula minimizes those middle of the night feedings allowing both mom and baby to sleep soundly through the night.  The theory is that breast milk is more quickly digested than formula causing breastfed newborns to wake more often due to hunger. Since these babies wake frequently during the night, it was thought that nursing mothers slept less and felt more fatigued during the day. Instead, authors suggest that breastfeeding itself may foster sleepiness through prolactin, the hormone responsible for lactation, which peaks overnight and facilitates a deep, restorative sleep state.

There were a few limitations with this study.  For example, the mothers sampled were generally older, more educated and had higher incomes than national averages for the U.S.  Additionally, women suffering from depression, including postpartum depression, were not included in the study. Finally, the method for quantifying feelings of tiredness had not previously been validated for use in a maternal population such as this.

Nonetheless, this study confirms previous research, which also showed no difference in total sleep time between breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers and that breastfeeding mothers had more sleep periods in 24 hours than formula feeding mothers.

These findings support yet another reason among many to try breastfeeding.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and states, “Breastfeeding ensures the best possible health as well as the best development and psychological outcomes for the infant.”  This “liquid gold” has been associated with reducing the risk of SIDS, childhood obesity, asthma, ear infections and diabetes in children while providing benefits to mom such as lowered risk of diabetes, ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.

The decision to breastfeed is a personal one considering those first few weeks with a newborn can be very tiresome, both emotionally and physically. Sleep is one of many factors considered when opting to breastfeed your baby. As these authors suggest, “Women should be told that a choice to formula feed does not necessarily equate with improved sleep.” If you would like to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding or need support on how to breastfeed, La Leche League International has a number of valuable resources.

Read on to find out how breastfeeding for 6 months or longer has recently been attributed to higher scores in academics in children.