Written by Harbor Council Member, Shira Page

You may have heard that all babies do is eat, poop, and sleep. This is pretty accurate early on, and what it means for new parents is that their lives are often consumed by navigating the ups, downs, and interactions between these three things. 

Getting an infant to sleep well is challenging enough, but when babies struggle with feeding issues, tummy troubles, and gastrointestinal (GI) concerns, navigating sleep can be even more difficult. What makes it harder is that these topics are full of myths and misconceptions and tend to elicit unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family. 

Read on as we break down these common misconceptions about infant bellies and sleep. 

Myth #1: You Have to Use Formula to Have a “Good Sleeper.”

There is a longstanding misconception that formula-fed babies sleep “better” than breastfed babies. If you are breastfeeding and have a baby who isn’t sleeping well, this can easily make you question your feeding decision. 

Unfortunately, the research in this area is extremely conflicting, making it hard to make blanket statements about the impact of feeding sources on sleep. In some studies, breastfed babies wake more frequently than formula-fed babies. However, these are not necessarily wake-ups that require parental intervention. Breastmilk is more quickly metabolized than formula, meaning breastfed babies may get hungry quicker and require more frequent feeds than formula-fed babies. However, breastfed babies have also been shown to fall asleep more quickly as breastmilk contains the sleep hormone melatonin, which infants do not produce on their own.

This research is not validated across all the literature as some studies found breastfed babies to have more sleep difficulty, and other studies have found no difference between the two groups. Ultimately, parents should choose how they feed their babies based on what works best for their baby and family as one method or the other is not going to dictate their baby’s sleep. 

Myth #2: Fill Baby Up as Much as Possible to Get Them to Sleep Through the Night

Sometimes bottle feeding parents feel they need to squeeze in the biggest bottle possible before bed. There is a misconception that this will prevent night waking as baby will have calories to last them through the night. While we absolutely want babies to be adequately fed, overfeeding or encouraging a baby to take a greater volume of milk than they would on their own, can have the opposite effect. 

Overfeeding may result in GI distress or reflux (spitting up) in an infant and, therefore, end up disrupting sleep. Parents feeding their baby at night should focus on following their baby’s feeding cues, paced bottle feeding, and frequent feeds throughout the day. Keep in mind that for the first few months of life, babies will often just need to eat at night and can not squeeze all their calorie needs (breastmilk or formula) into the daytime hours. 

Myth #3: If a Baby is Fussy at Night, You Need to Change Their Feeding Plan

When your baby is fussy, gassy, or spitting up, it is completely understandable to want to do something ASAP to fix it. Remember that some level of waking and fussiness is normal with an infant, and nighttime waking is normal, especially in the first few months. Gas and fussiness are part of an infant's digestive tract maturing and for some babies, spit-up is also normal. But just because something is normal, doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging. Talk to your care team about your pediatrician about potential interventions. 

Expert tip: Don’t let a few tough days send you into a spiral where you may feel you need to make multiple changes! Take a breath, and focus on one change at a time.

Recommendations For the Most Common Feeding and GI Concerns

Keep a Log: If you notice something that you want to talk to your pediatrician or lactation professional about, I always recommend keeping a log for about a week. As tired parents, it can be easy to lose track of what is happening when or see an association between two things when there might not be. I recommend keeping a feeding, symptom, and sleep log (temporarily) to identify if there are patterns your healthcare team can help you analyze.

Find a Routine and Be Consistent: We are talking about three topics that can be a moving target for babies. Rapid development causes things to change weekly with infants, and if you constantly change your routine in reaction to your baby, not only will you feel like it’s a game of whack-a-mole, but your baby won’t have time to establish a routine. Try to stick to any routine for a week or more, and don’t change something just because of one bad night. 

Download our sleep guide here.

Get support: If something is worrying you, before you try to troubleshoot all alone, reach out for support. If you have GI concerns, your pediatrician is the best source of information. For feeding concerns, consider working with a lactation professional. Even if you are mostly formula feeding, a lactation professional is an expert on bottle feeding and can help you navigate bottle feeding techniques to avoid GI discomfort. If you are simply feeling overwhelmed as a parent, try to find a way to take some time for yourself to reset. Remember that so much of a baby’s behavior is outside of our control but we can control how we take care of ourselves. 

Meet Shira!

Shira Page

Shira Page, RN, NP, CLC is a Nurse Practitioner and Certified Lactation Counselor, leveraging over a decade of clinical expertise to improve clinician and patient education. Her career foundation is a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics, followed by a Masters in Nursing from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Her clinical experience has been focused on endocrinology, women’s health, infant feeding, and holistic, patient-centered care. She currently leads the medical team at Bobbie and serves as a trusted medical advisor to several startups championing the expansion of clinician outreach and the development of medically accurate content. As a mom of two daughters, Shira has a passion for improving the experience of what it means to be healthy, both through healthcare professional education and patient empowerment.

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