Nighttime bottles

Will giving a bottle at bedtime make my breastfeeding baby sleep longer?

Some babies sleep longer after getting extra milk at bedtime, but others do not. If the baby does sleep longer after a bedtime bottle, the mother’s breasts may become overfull and painful, and the pain may wake them before the baby does. Mothers may have to express in the middle of the night because the baby is unwilling to breastfeed after having the bottle. And if the baby wakes soon after expressing, mothers may not have enough milk available in the breast, so the baby will have to bottle-feed after breastfeeding, creating more work. Getting out of rhythm with the baby results in more expressing and bottling, and possibly a decreasing milk supply over time and a baby who is reluctant to continue breastfeeding. Overfull breasts can also lead to sore nipples, plugged ducts, and breast infections. In short, bedtime bottles may create problems and not give mothers any more sleep.

A) Describing bed-time bottles

Some breastfeeding mothers will give the baby bottled expressed milk or infant formula before bed to help the baby sleep longer. Other mothers will give extra milk during the evening fussies. After bottling, some babies will sleep longer but others do not.

B) Bed-time bottles appear to have limited effectiveness

Studies suggest that mothers who breastfeed get the same amount of sleep or more sleep than mothers who feed their babies infant formula or a mix of expressed breast milk and infant formula (Doan 2004; Doan 2014; Dørheim 2009; Kendall-Tackett 2011; Montgomery-Downs 2010).

C) Problems created by evening bottles and longer nighttime sleeps

If the baby does respond to a bedtime bottle of milk and sleeps longer than five hours, this can create problems for both mother and baby including nipple and breast pain in the mother and slow weight gain in the baby.

The mother may have to express in the middle of the night to relieve her breast fullness because the baby, having taken in a large amount of bottled milk, is unwilling to breastfeed. 

If the baby wakes soon after the mother has expressed, there may not be enough milk available in the breast. The baby will then have to be bottle-fed with milk after breastfeeding, which takes even more time and effort in the middle of the night.

Mothers may soon be out of rhythm with the baby, resulting in more expressing and bottling. Frequent expressing instead of breastfeeding may result in a reduced milk supply, the baby being reluctant to continue breastfeeding, and other problems.

It takes extra work to express the milk, store and warm it, and wash the bottles and pump parts.

If the baby’s evening bottles contain infant formula, it must be bought and prepared safely. Formula can increase the baby’s risk of getting sick and then being up more at night.

In short, nighttime bottle-feeding often doesn’t have the intended of effect of giving the mother extra sleep and can result in more work, pain, and illness.

References

Doan T, Gardiner A, Gay CL, et al. Breast-feeding increases sleep duration of new parents. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2007 Jul-Sep;21(3):200-6
 
Doan T, Gay CL, Kennedy HP, et al. Nighttime breastfeeding behavior is associated with more nocturnal sleep among first-time mothers at one month postpartum. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014 Mar 15;10(3):313-9
 
Dørheim SK, Bondevik GT, Eberhard-Gran M, et al. Sleep and depression in postpartum women: a population-based study. Sleep. 2009 Jul;32(7):847-55
 
Kendall-Tackett K, Cong Z, Hale TW. The Effect of Feeding Method on Sleep Duration, Maternal Well-being, and Postpartum Depression. Clinical Lactation 2011; 2(2):22-26
 
Montgomery-Downs HE, Clawges HM, Santy EE. Infant feeding methods and maternal sleep and daytime functioning. Pediatrics. 2010 Dec;126(6):e1562-8