Study looking at whether infant feeding type plays a role in babies sleep

La Trobe University researchers are looking for mothers, who have had babies in the past six months, to take part in an online survey to better understand the relationship between feeding type and babies’ sleep, in the hope it will shed light on the important issue.

Through the national survey, researchers would like to hear from mothers who breastfeed, use formula, express and pump milk or a combination. In particular, researchers want to hear from working mothers, to look at whether the timing of a mother expressing breast milk, and when it is fed to the baby, has any impact on baby’s sleep.

Research has shown that breast milk provides more than just nutritional benefits to a baby.  It also provides melatonin, a hormone long associated with the promoting the sleep-wake cycles.  Melatonin fluctuates with a mother’s natural body clock.  It is theorized that these hormones might transfer from breastmilk to the baby and help them distinguish between day and night.

“There’s very little published data on this – which is surprising given how challenging it is for babies and parents to get enough sleep.

“Due to the increase in working mothers and convenience of expressing and pumping breastmilk, we believe the role of mis-timed breastmilk consumption on a baby’s sleep pattern needs critical attention.  However, to date, not much is known about the timing of expressing/pumping and the consumption of breastmilk by infants - and whether there is any link between mis-timed breastmilk consumption on a baby’s sleep pattern.

“To our knowledge, there is currently no published data on the prevalence and timing of expressing/pumping breastmilk and the impact of feeding type of babies sleep. This project is the first step to explore these concepts.”

Dr Booker has been researching sleep-related projects for over 10 years. Her own experience as a mother and knowledge in circadian rhythm development intrigued her to pursue the study.

“Many mothers who breastfeed work or have other commitments that make expressing and bottle feeding both convenient and necessary.

“Outcomes from this study would help guide changes in education and recommendations around labelling of expressed pumped breastmilk for both the mother, as well as hospitals and breastmilk donor banks to match expressed time with consumption - ultimately changing policies and practices.  Furthermore, findings could help direct future research on the long-term consequences of mistimed breast milk consumption” Dr Booker said.

Dr Booker said while her study is only looking at the effects on sleep, there are other considerations for parents when it comes to feeding babies.

“Sleep is not the only consideration.  We know that breastmilk has a lot of health and protective benefits – and, of course, formula feeding can have many benefits too, particularly for mothers who can’t produce enough milk.

“Understanding the role feeding plays on baby’s sleep, could be important when parents are making decisions about what is right for them.”

Parents can access the survey at this link;

(Ethics number: HEC21091)