Please watch my video below on the relationship between breastfeeding, formula, and your baby’s sleep.
To ask a question about your child’s sleep, just leave it in the ‘Comments’ section below! I’ll choose one and create a new video answer each week!View the Video Transcript
Hi! I’m Dana Obleman, creator of The Sleep Sense Program. If you’d rather read than watch, I’ve transcribed the text of this video below.
This week’s question comes from Tracy. She asks:
“I recently stopped breastfeeding, hoping that formula milk will fill up my nine-month-old so she will sleep through the night. I’ve now gone from breastfeeding every two hours to just giving her bottles of formula. What can I do?”
Well, Tracy, I want you to first think about the journey into sleep. Everybody has to make a journey every night to get themselves to sleep. Over here is A, over here is B, this is asleep, this is awake—how do you get yourself from one spot to another? And what a lot of people do—what a lot of babies do—is, they’ll attach themselves to little vehicles that carry them into sleep. In your daughter’s case, she was using the breast. As soon as she got onto the breast, that’s her little vehicle, and off she goes to sleep. So, not only does feeding have one job, it’s now got two. It’s not just for food; it’s also now for sleep.
That’s what I would call a sleep association. You’ve got this idea that one leads to another, so, thinking it’s hunger, you’ve replaced the breast with a bottle of formula. It’s still a sucking motion. It’s not the breast, but it’s a bottle and it’s still the idea that, “I need to be consuming something in order to get myself to sleep.”
The actual act of sucking for the baby is quite soothing. So, she starts sucking on that bottle, it reminds her of the days when it was the breast, and she makes her journey into sleep. When she has a naturally occurring wake-up somewhere in the night, instead of relying on her own strategies, she’s just going to want you to come in and recreate the situation that got her to sleep in the first place. Again, it used to be the breast, now it’s the bottle. So you’ve just basically replaced one sleep prop with another.
I know it’s a common mistake, because a lot of times, as parents, we assume it’s a hunger issue. We think she’s waking up all these times in the night because she’s hungry. But, given her age, for a nine-month-old, there’s really no reason at all that she would need to wake in the night for food. As long as she’s healthy and a good weight, there’s no reason she can’t be going all night—and by all night I mean an eleven- to twelve-hour night—without food.
So, I want you to break that connection she has between sucking, eating and sleeping. Help her find some ways to do this that are independent, that she has the power to do all on her own, and that don’t require you to do anything for her. When you do your bedtime routine, I would suggest you keep a feeding in your routine somewhere. If you want to go back to breastfeeding, that would be fine, and if you want to stick with a bottle, that’s fine too. But I want you to keep a close eye on her, and when she starts doing some heavy blinking, looking like she’s starting to make that journey, I want you to stop her. You can take the bottle out of her mouth for a second or two, you can tickle her, you can talk to her, leave the lights on. Just make sure she stays with you through the feed and doesn’t start the journey. I don’t even want you to let her get sleepy. I want you to completely say good-bye to the idea that she needs any kind of food in order to get to sleep.
Once she’s had her feeding, then she’ll be nice and awake. I would suggest you even break it off a step further by maybe reading a book after the feed, just to break that connection. Then into the crib she’d go, wide awake.
Then it’s the hard part. What are you going to do? You have a couple of options. If you want to stay with her, you can follow the stay-in-the-room method. If you want to do a leave-and-check style, then you can leave every two or ten or five minutes—whatever you feel most comfortable with—until she figures this out. And the good news is, she will figure out a new way to get to sleep that doesn’t involve any kind of sucking or food. It’s interesting what babies come up with. She might suck her fingers or cuddle her teddy or play with her blanket tag or whatever is comforting to her. She will find one. It does take a bit of practice though, so you’ll have to give her that opportunity to explore the options.
I would suggest that you not offer a feed in the night anymore. Just a cold-turkey approach to night feedings is really the best strategy because it’s less confusing to the baby. If she’s met with the same response every time she wakes in the night, then she’ll quickly understand that it’s all the same and there’s no point in waking up, and she’ll start sleeping through the night a lot sooner.
That’s my best advice for you, Tracy. Good luck and sleep well.
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