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Should I switch to formula feed at night to help my baby sleep?

Does switching to formula feed at night help a baby to sleep?

Before I begin this week’s article and video, I want to make one thing clear. If you have chosen to formula feed your baby, or you have chosen to switch to formula after a certain time breastfeeding then I fully support your decision. If formula is best for you, then formula is best for your baby – it is always your choice.

Today’s video is aimed mainly at mums who have chosen to breastfeed, but who are struggling with their baby’s sleep.  If this is you, I’m sure you will already have been told at least once, that if you just switched to formula at night, then that would solve the problem for you. I have quite strong opinions on this subject, so if you want some support to help you make a decision, then please watch the video or read on.

In the video, I will be showing you the sort of individual help and advice that I would give you if you consulted me – in my opinion just changing the milk from breast to bottle is unlikely to be the answer.  If you would like me to take you through the other options that you can try before changing your feeding patterns. please take a look at my sleep plans and the accompanying support packages.

This subject is very close to my heart and something I can really relate to from the pressure side of things, peer pressure, family pressure, and so on. If you’re a breastfeeding mum and you’ve got a little one that doesn’t sleep very well, I am absolutely certain that you will have been told that the reason your baby does not sleep well is because you are breastfeeding.

That’s not the case at all. I can promise you that it’s nothing to do with breastfeeding.

If it makes you feel any better, in the whole time I’ve been a sleep coach, there has probably been about a 60/40 split between breastfed and formula-fed babies whose parents come to me for help. So 40% percent of my clients have formula-fed babies that are still struggling with sleep.

It’s not your fault. It’s not because you’re breastfeeding. Yes, there might be aspects where you create more of a sleep association with regards to feeding to sleep because it’s easy and you might co-sleep. But that is not the reason your baby does not sleep well.

I cannot stress this enough. You have not created a rod for your own back. Your little one can sleep absolutely fine and be breastfed, or your little one may have formula and sleep rotten.

It’s really important. I tell you this because I’m so sure you will have had your friends and your family say to you time and time again, just give them some formula and that will help them sleep.

If we’re talking about in the very early days, then yes, you’re probably going to get some longer stints of sleep if your baby is formula-fed. The reason you’re going to get longer stints is because formula’s heavier and breast milk digests quicker. So breastfed babies need to feed that little bit more at first. But that’s not forever.

So what else could it be?

You might find that a sleep association has been created to do with feeding and sleeping. This commonly happens around the point when they’re going through a big brain development. People call it a sleep regression. But actually their brain is basically going into overdrive and you’ve got new neural triggers that are being created, and that’s when it’s quite easy to develop a feed-to-sleep habit as such.

So the reason I’ve done this video is I need people to know that formula is not your magic cure. Formula is not the thing that is going to get your baby to suddenly start sleeping through the night.

If it’s a genuine hunger thing, then maybe more food is the answer. But it doesn’t have to be formula – it might just be a case that you need to top up some feed during the day maybe.

I’ve had so many parents come to me over the years who have introduced formula earlier than they wanted to and regretted it because it’s made no difference at all. All it’s actually done is given them a shedload of mum guilt. And as if we don’t all carry enough mum guilt around with us as it is.  The last thing we need to be doing is adding more guilt to our load, for something that is completely, totally unnecessary.

So if you are considering switching to formula just to help your baby sleep, please think again because you don’t need to do that.

It could just be that a few tweaks are needed. It could be breaking the feed to sleep habit if that is the root cause of the issue. It could be that you need to start tweaking some nap timings and increasing some sleep in the day to help the sleep at night.

There’s nothing wrong with feeding your baby to sleep at night, by the way. Nothing wrong with it at all if it’s working for you. So if you feed your baby to sleep, they sleep soundly and they don’t wait till morning or they have one or two feeds during the night and you’re absolutely fine with this, then there’s no problem.  However, if you’re stuck in the position where you’re literally waking every hour for a feed, that might be something where we want to look at what’s going on through the whole 24 hour period and start to tweak things a little bit.

So it might be adapting bedtime and say,  maybe what we’ll do here is not feed to sleep at bedtime, but we’ll put another method in. It could be rocking to sleep. It could be co-sleeping, it could be hugging while they’re going to sleep, depending on their temperament and what it is that they’re wanting to do and how they’re going to sleep best.

There are so many different ways I can help you with that. But again, we would be looking at a whole 24-hour period. The problem doesn’t just happen because you feed to sleep. Maybe the routine at bedtime could just do with a bit of a tweak? Is it the fact that we need to look at restructuring the naps a little bit better? Is there more daytime sleep that’s needed? Is there less daytime sleep needed? Do we need to close some of those wake windows down?  Any of these things or all of them could be a reason why they’re waking up frequently.

There are so many reasons why a breastfed baby may be waking up through the night. But again, there are so many reasons why a formula-fed baby might be waking up throughout the night too. With a formula-fed baby, we would look at everything exactly the same. We would look at the naps, we would look at the routines. We would look at the wakeful windows. We would look at the physical activity that is going on as well. We would look at behaviours, look at how the parents are coping and offer strategies to help support the parents to make sure that they’re understanding of what’s going on.

There are so many aspects to understanding a baby’s sleep and it is not down to you breastfeeding them, which is the most natural, normal thing you can do. So if you choose to breastfeed, please, please, please do not think formula is the answer.

There is nothing wrong with formula if that is a choice that you are making, whether you decide not to breastfeed at all, or because you’re going back to work and there isn’t another option, or whether you had already chosen for whatever reason that you were going to breastfeed for X months and then you were going to go on to formula.  If any of these answers are the reason that you’ve changed to formula and it’s your choice, that’s entirely different.

But what I don’t want is mums out there who want to keep breastfeeding, who are feeling peer pressure from family, from friends, from other mums at baby groups, from the Internet, from all these millions of articles out there that are saying that breastfeeding is the root of all evil when it comes to sleep. It isn’t.

Please don’t think that formula is the magic cure, because like I say, I’ve seen it time and time again, mums who have done it and it’s made no difference to the sleep, and all it’s done is add more weight to that mum guilt load. That’s the last thing any of us need. I want to support our babies and support you as a mum, support the dads, support the whole family.

If you’re breastfeeding and struggling with your baby’s sleep – I can help you find the answer, but it’s likely to be individually tailored to you, not something you can just pick up from a mums group or the internet. Take a look at the support packages that come with my online sleep plans. Choose the sleep plan that is relevant to your child’s age, and then take advantage of the support  options to find the help that you need

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