Infant sleep, milk feeding and food intake

Infant Sleep and Night Feeding Patterns During Later Infancy: Association with Breastfeeding Frequency, Daytime Complementary Food Intake, and Infant Weight



Why do the research?

Waking at night and needing care is a biologically normal behavior for babies, predominantly because they cannot meet their own needs such as thirst, comfort or needing a nappy changed. However many firstly believe that babies should quickly ‘learn to sleep through the night’ and that secondly what babies are fed might affect their sleep. Beliefs that breastfeeding makes babies wake up more or that giving a baby more solids will help them sleep are common. Anecdotally and logically we know that this should not be true, but research had not explored night waking during the latter part of infancy in a UK sample

Who took part?

756 mothers with a baby aged 6 – 12 months

What did they do?

The mothers completed a questionnaire exploring how often their baby typicaly woke in the night, how often they had a milk feed in the night, whether their baby was breast or formula fed and how many solid meals they had a day.

What did we find?

We found that the majority of babies in this age group still woke up once or more a night, with the most common number of times being once or twice. However some babies woke up to seven times a night still. Less than 20% did not wake up at all.

Around 60% of babies still had one or more milk feeds at night, most once or twice, but with some having up to seven feeds.

We found no difference in how many times a baby woke up each night depending on whether they were breast or formula fed. However, babies who were breastfed were more likely to have a milk feed at night.

We also found no relationship between how many solid meals they had in the day and how many times they woke up.

What does this mean?

What milk babies have or how much solid food they eat does not affect how much they wake up. Babies just wake up, for lots of other different reasons and there is no logical reason why milk or solids should help them sleep. Carrot – a typical weaning food – does not induce sleep after all!

When babies are tiny they might wake up frequently because their tummies are tiny, but when babies are older they are capable of taking more milk. And babies wake up for other reasons such as comfort, being too cold, or needing a nappy change – things they cant do themselves!

Breastfed babies did feed more at night but did not wake up more. It is likely that mums who breastfeed are able to feed their babies quickly back to sleep and this is reflected in other studies that show breastfeeding mums actually get more sleep overall. Formula fed babies still woke up, but it is more difficult to make a bottle to help a baby back to sleep.

After all, how many adults genuinely sleep through the night without waking up?

You can download a copy of the paper here Infant sleep and night feeding during infancy-2