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Do Formula Fed Babies Sleep Longer at Night?

New mothers know that the moment that baby comes home, there will be many nights of interrupted sleep.  It is just a way of life.  After a few months, the fatigue and wear on mothers is even more noticeable.  There are many old wives' tales about how to get baby to sleep longer through the night.  One strategy involves switching breastfed babies to formula.

Breast Milk Versus Baby Formula

Breast Milk:

  • Available on demand
  • Does not take time to prepare or put in bottle at proper feeding temperature
  • Contains sleep-promoting hormones including melatonin, tryptophan, and prolactin

Baby Formula:

  • Available for anyone to feed baby
  • Takes longer to digest than breastmilk
  • Contains the vitamins and minerals that babies need just like breastmilk

Newborn Sleep Schedule

A typical newborn will sleep almost 16 hours a day, and it is certainly not consecutive hours.  During those first few weeks outside of the womb, a baby's sleep can last between two to four hours.  This is especially true during the night.  For the first three months, parents can expect to attend to their baby for nighttime feedings regardless if they breastfeed or formula feed.  Since your baby's stomach is smaller, these feedings do not take a lot of time.

Infant Sleep Schedule

In a 2003 study on breastfeeding and infant sleep in the publication Birth:  Issues in Perinatal Care, it found that most babies, about 79% of 3-month olds who were observed, were formula-fed and slept through the night.  This is compared to 15% of breastfed babies of the same age. 

Baby Sleep Schedule

Between the ages of four months and twelve months, your little one needs less sleep, about 12-16 hours a day.  As babies get older, researchers found that breastfed babies were still more likely to wake in the middle of the night, even if they are not feeding.  A 2015 study published in Breastfeed Medicine, the results found that babies had fewer night wakings and night feedings by the time they were six months old.  Even though both breastfed and formula-fed babies were on solid foods, it did not matter how much they ate during the day as they were still likely to wake at night.  This did not mean that they woke in order to eat.


The decision to breastfeed or formula-feed your baby is a personal choice.  While some research shows that breastfed babies tend to wake more often even when they are older, it does not mean that all formula-fed babies sleep through the night.  The difference may be a matter of a few hours.  If you did your own survey of friends and colleagues about their babies and their sleep patterns, you may find that the formula-fed will sleep longer.  It does not mean that they will sleep between 10pm and 8am, but more like midnight to 5am.  If you find that your baby's sleep pattern is affecting your sleep to the point that you are hostile, stressed, and depressed, talk with your partner and your doctor.  If you breastfeed, consider expressing nighttime bottles so that your partner can take a feeding or two.  The advice to nap when your baby naps can help your sanity regardless of what you feed your baby.  Sleepless nights are not forever and neither are nighttime feedings.

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