It may be only a myth that breastfeeding moms get less sleep than other new mothers, according to a study that detected few differences in total sleep time and sleep quality between mothers who were exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively formula feeding, or using a combination of the two. Published in the December 2010 issue of the AAP journal Pediatrics, the study involved 80 mothers with newborns. Women kept daily sleep diaries and wore devices that measured nighttime sleeping. While researchers did note that breastfed babies appeared to wake up more during the night (though results were inconclusive), nighttime feedings appeared to have less of an impact on a mother's sleep than if they were drinking formula.
For breastfeeding moms, "there may be some kind of compensation," says lead author, Dr. Hawley Montgomery-Downs of West Virginia University, in an interview with Reuters Health. As Dr. Montgomery-Down sees it, in order to prepare a bottle, women often have to get up, turn on the lights, and move around quite a bit, all of which may make it harder for them to go back to sleep. But when breastfeeding, women may be awake for shorter intervals, and be less active, which makes it easier for them to go back to sleep.
Women who breastfeed also have higher levels of the hormone prolactin, which facilitates sleep. And if the babies are sleeping next to the mothers, they may feed while the mother is sleeping.
Whether you're breastfeeding or bottle feeding, new mom exhaustion is all too common. Feeling sleep-deprived? Try to rearrange your schedule to "nap when the baby naps" during the day as a way to make up for missed hours at night. When you do have to get up for those 2 AM feedings or changes, make it easier—for both of you—to fall back asleep by keeping the lights low and noises to a minimum.