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The facts about formula-feeding versus breastfeeding and newborn sleep

If you’re a new mom, you may be wondering how breast milk and formula may affect your new baby’s sleeping habits. Figuring out which route to take is completely up to you, but here are some facts that may help you decide.

During the first few months of life, formula-fed babies wake less often at night, take more naps, and sleep for longer stretches than nursing babies. That’s because formula takes more time and effort to digest. Breast milk is naturally designed to nourish a mother’s baby and is very easily absorbed into a newborn’s system. Known as a “perfect” food, human milk delivers virtually all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that an infant needs—and nothing extra that he or she doesn’t need—to thrive. Man-made formula doesn’t have the same nutritional profile as breast milk and isn’t as “perfectly” matched to a baby. Thus, it takes more time for babies to digest formula than breast milk. And babies tend to wake from sleep and cry when they feel hungry.

So it might sound like formula is your best bet, when it comes to helping your child get his or her zzz’s, but here is something to keep in mind: Breastfed babies and formula-fed babies still get the same amount of total sleep. Plus, within nine months, any and all differences in sleeping habits disappear.

Most experts agree that breastfeeding is ideal, even if it does lead to temporary sleep problems in your child, because it’s associated with reduced diarrhea and infections, lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome in year one, better intellectual and motor development, and more. Talk to your doctor to figure out the best strategy for you.