There is loads to say about this – having a baby is a huge life stress as well as a welcome joy. Breastfeeding often gets blamed for lots of problems with lack of sleep being on of the biggies. According to an article by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett (one of my very favorite authors on the topic of stressed out mamas) we shouldn’t be blaming breastfeeding for our exhaustion after baby is born. The reality is that breastfeeding mothers get more sleep than bottle feeding mothers:
In a study of mothers and fathers at three months postpartum, data were collected via wrist actigraphy and using sleep diaries (Doan et al., 2007). The study compared sleep of exclusively breastfed infants vs. those supplemented with formula. In this sample, 67% were fed exclusively with breast milk, 23% were fed a combination of breast milk and formula, and 10% were exclusively formula fed. Mothers who exclusively breastfed slept an average of 40 minutes longer than mothers who supplemented. Parents of infants who were breastfed during the night slept an average of 40 to 45 minutes more than parents of infants given formula. Parents of formula-fed infants had more sleep disturbances. They concluded that parents who are supplementing with formula under the assumption that they are going to get more sleep should be encouraged to breastfeed so they will get an extra 30-45 minutes of sleep per night.
Yes, of course everyone knows this. But it’s true for successful breastfeeding too. According to one study (Clinical Pediatrics, Vol. 33, No. 4, 214-219 (1994)):
Strong approval of breastfeeding by the father was associated with a high incidence of breastfeeding (98.1 %), compared to only 26.9% breastfeeding when the father was indifferent to feeding choice
Fathers’ strong approval tripled breastfeeding rates. Wow.
Here are the opening paragraphs from a 1998 article in the Harvard Gazette:
America’s “let them cry” attitude toward children may lead to more fears and tears among adults, according to two Harvard Medical School researchers.
Instead of letting infants cry, American parents should keep their babies close, console them when they cry, and bring them to bed with them, where they’ll feel safe, according to Michael L. Commons and Patrice M. Miller, researchers at the Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry.
The pair examined childrearing practices here and in other cultures and say the widespread American practice of putting babies in separate beds — even separate rooms — and not responding quickly to their cries may lead to incidents of post-traumatic stress and panic disorders when these children reach adulthood.
Breastfeeding advocates have known for a long time that responding to babies’ cries supports successful breastfeeding. Because babies do the work in breastfeeding (mothers just create access and a supportive environment), breastfeeding relies on responsiveness to what babies communicate.
I was happy to see that there is research on this topic relating to mental health (not just feeding choices). I’m sad that the research is over a decade old and still not widely publicized. Maybe it’s just hard to go against cultural beliefs.
I still need to track down the actual studies that this article is based on. I’m looking forward to reading them. I’m hoping that they are good quality research — and I hope even more that there have been follow-up studies in the last 11 years.
I confess I’m a fan of the Harry Potter books. So I enjoyed seeing the title of a working paper published by Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health: ‘Voldemort’ and Health Professional Knowledge of Breastfeeding — Do Journal Titles and Abstracts Accurately Convey Findings on Differential Health Outcomes for Formula Fed Infants?
For a long time advocates and health care providers have felt a lot of pressure to be carefully neutral in their language about formula. They are told that they shouldn’t “make mothers feel guilty” if they don’t breastfeed. (I’m not going to get into the nuances of the guilt discussion now except to say that feeding choices don’t make “good” or “bad” mothers. See my post Wheel Chairs and Formula for more discussion.)
According to a study led by Dr. Julie Smith, this language choice has extended to published studies about hazards associated with formula feeding. She said
[T]he vast majority of these studies did not mention formula feeding in the places that matter most for lasting impressions: headlines and abstracts. Rather than naming formula feeding as a significant risk factor, researchers seem to be treating this subject like Voldemort in the Harry Potter novels, as “He Who Shall Not Be Named.” For example, a study showing a higher incidence of a serious condition in formula fed infants was misleadingly named ‘Breastfeeding and necrotising enterocolitis,”