How Weaning from Breastfeeding May Affect Your Baby’s Sleep

If you’re considering weaning your baby from breastfeeding to a bottle or cup, you’re probably thinking about which weaning method you’ll use. Or, you might be considering which bottle or cup will make the transition easiest. And, if you’re reading The Baby Sleep Site, you are probably also thinking about how this may impact your baby’s sleep. This article will discuss ways, both good and bad, that weaning from breastfeeding may impact your baby’s sleep.

Weaning from breastfeeding can cause an otherwise great sleeper to wake and fuss more often, and if your baby already struggles with sleep, weaning can make your nights even more sleepless. On the other hand, if your baby is breastfeeding to sleep, weaning can improve sleep, in some cases.

A Word of Warning: A Reason Not to Wean from Breastfeeding!

Breastmilk digests faster than formula. For this reason, formula-fed babies do tend to sleep for longer stretches at night than breastfed babies, sometimes, depending on the baby. That said, if you’re considering weaning to formula in an effort to get your baby to sleep through the night, please reconsider. This isn’t a strategy we recommend here at The Baby Sleep Site, simply because we’ve found that it is possible to breastfeed your baby AND have him sleep well at night and for naps. Changing your baby’s food source probably won’t change his sleeping habits; instead, you’re better off working on the sleeping habits themselves. We work with many families who don’t breastfeed that have just as many baby sleep problems and babies who do not sleep through the night.

Why Will Weaning Impact My Baby’s Sleep?

The reason weaning can have a major impact on sleep is because weaning is about more than simply exchanging one food source for another. For our babies, the end of breastfeeding can be an emotional, difficult experience.

How Will Weaning Impact My Baby’s Sleep?

For starters, weaning means the end of prolonged skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby. Remember that breastfeeding is more than just feeding time; it has comforting associations for baby. Some babies even end up using mom as a “human pacifier”! For these reasons, weaning can make your baby much fussier than normal, which can lead to interrupted naps and lots of nighttime waking.

Weaning can also disturb your baby’s sleep if you’ve made a habit of nursing your little one to sleep each night. If that’s the case, then nursing has likely become a sleep association for your baby. Therefore, when you change that feeding, you’re changing the thing he needs to fall asleep. This can make bedtime an exhausting battle each night.

If your baby is no longer feeding at night, then her nighttime sleep may or may not be affected. Her naps, however, could be. If you’re weaning and find that your baby’s naps are disrupted because of it, consider downloading our FREE napping guide, 7 Common Baby Nap and Sleep Schedule Mistakes.

Weaning can also impact your baby’s sleep when the weaning is “mom-initiated” instead of “baby-initiated.” Generally, at some point between 1 and 2 years of age, a baby will show signs of self-weaning. Baby-initiated weaning like this is usually easier and takes less time. Of course, baby-initiated weaning isn’t always possible; sometimes weaning has to happen earlier! If you’re weaning your baby before the one-year mark, however, it’s important to remember that the process may take longer, and your baby’s sleep may be disrupted.

Once you begin to wean, you may notice that it takes a little time for your baby’s appetite to adjust. This can be another reason for sudden nighttime waking and sleeplessness — your baby’s appetite is adjusting to this new method of feeding. This adjustment can take 1-2 weeks. You can help your baby during this time by making sure you’re offering enough nourishment during the day. But, remember that breast milk and formula should be your baby’s primary nutrition during the first year, so do not overcompensate with solids, if it’s not time. Check with your doctor on adequate amounts of formula for your baby’s age.

Finally, it isn’t just baby’s sleep that may be disrupted during the weaning process — mom’s may be, too! Weaning can lead to engorgement and possible infection, called mastitis. This is especially true for moms who try to wean their babies quickly, cutting out multiple feedings at once.

How Can I Help My Baby Sleep Well During the Weaning Process?

Avoid a “cold turkey” approach (in which you abruptly stop nursing). This can be very upsetting for your baby, and, as mentioned earlier, it’s likely to cause complications for you. Instead, opt for a gentler, “slow and steady” approach; it’ll be far less disruptive to your baby’s sleep. A “slow and steady” approach would look something like this:

  • At feeding time, nurse your baby as you normally would. Then, offer your baby a bottle of formula or cup of milk.
  • When your baby has gotten used to the bottle/cup, then reverse these steps: offer the bottle/cup first, followed by a nursing.

Consider using the “Don’t Offer, Don’t Refuse” method. This is the gentlest way to wean. With this method, you don’t offer your baby the breast, but if your baby is clamoring to nurse, you don’t refuse her, either. This method is slower, but if you have the time to put in, it’ll mean more restful nights and restful naps for your baby!

Don’t wean too fast! Nicole remembers that while weaning one of her sons, he’d start biting her shoulder when she’d hold him. That’s a classic sign of weaning too fast, and she had to slow down. Experts recommend that you eliminate no more than one nursing at a time; then, wait about a week to let your baby’s appetite adjust.

Like so many other things in life, weaning goes best if there’s a plan in place. Try to plan weaning during times when life is most normal — in other words, don’t wean around a holiday or a vacation, during a move, right before the birth of a new baby, etc.

That said, remember that you work the plan — don’t let the plan work you! Life happens, and unexpected things like teething, illness, a work-related trip, new medication for mom, etc. can sometimes destroy a mom’s best-laid plans. What’s more, you might find that your baby simply refuses to cooperate! You didn’t exactly consult him when you made your plan, after all. If this is the case for you, remember that like sleep training, weaning is not a battle to be won. Consider taking a break and trying again later if your baby is showing major signs of resistance.

What about you? Did you find that weaning affected your baby’s sleep? Do you have any weaning tips to offer moms who are struggling?

If you’d like help getting your little one to sleep soundly during the weaning process, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

Schedules for Breastfeeding and Formula-Fed Babies

breastfeeding baby sleepIsn’t it confusing sometimes whether you should feed your baby on demand or put her on a schedule? As many things with parenting, everyone has their two cents and opinion and your mind spins with the possibilities. This article will talk about schedules for breastfeeding and formula-feeding babies.

Rigid schedules for breastfeeding babies? What about formula-feeding babies?

The main thing about schedules for breastfeeding or formula-feeding babies is that I want to tell you today that a schedule is only as rigid as you make it. Just because you set your alarm for 6:30 a.m. does not mean you don’t hit snooze 2 3 a few times does it? Just because you tell your friend you want to meet for lunch at 12 doesn’t mean you can’t call her and tell her you’re starving and ask if you can meet at 11:45, instead, right? So, the first thing about schedules for any baby, not just breastfeeding babies, is that you do not have to be married to the clock to the point you are running a boot camp.

How rigid you make your schedule generally depends on your particular personality. I am, personally, a Type-A personality (INTJ for you Myers Briggs people, except I am sometimes an “E” oddly enough). A Type-A personality is generally much more conscious of the time on the clock and, being an INTJ, I generally need to know what time it is at all times (generally you would wear a watch, but my cell phone now does the job just fine, now). Basically, I am a planner. I like to know roughly what I am doing every day and this includes on vacation (I’m sure, on vacation, my mother-in-law thought it was crazy to think about dinner when we just had lunch LOL). I honestly can’t help it.

So, when I birthed a highly unpredictable, inconsistent baby, this essentially drove me a little crazy. BUT, he was also unable to get on a schedule until he was older (past 7 months, in fact!). I just had to deal and like many things you imagine go differently in your head before you actually have a baby, I had to adjust my thinking.

Nope, he didn’t get hungry at the same times every day.
Nope, he didn’t wake up at the same times every day. EVER.
Nope, he couldn’t go 3 hours between breastfeeding sessions at a young age, like the books told me he could, and he NEVER got to 4 hours. EVER. (He can barely do it now and I suspect it’s a blood sugar thing.)

Yet, I still had a “schedule” which I now call a “routine” of feeding him every X hours based on his age and abilities as well as sleep after Y hours, based on his behavior / sleepy cues, age, and sensitivity to over-tiredness (which got better as he got older). That doesn’t mean that if he was hungry sooner I would make him wait, or force-feed him if he wasn’t hungry until later (he rarely refused breastfeeding anyway!).

As your baby grows older, he will generally become more predictable (if he didn’t start out that way) as his brain and nervous system mature and sleep organizes, even if it’s never identical to the day before. We, eventually, did get to a true by-the-clock schedule. Keep in mind that I did have to modify my own natural tendency and do what worked best for my baby. And, some babies actually function a lot better on a more predictable routine and schedule, even if your natural tendency is to “go with the flow.” Some babies are SO easy-going that they won’t cry when they get hungry! And, if you don’t have a rough schedule, you could actually be skipping feedings, when you shouldn’t. Rare, but true. Slow to adapt babies generally enjoy more predictability and many will thrive on the sometimes elusive eat-play-sleep routine from a very young age.

Feed on demand or on a schedule?

There is not just one answer here to the question of whether you breastfeed / formula-feed on demand or feed on schedule. I fed on demand for quite awhile, because it was what worked best for my son and made the most sense to me, at the time. It’s not like he could go into the pantry and get a snack anytime he wanted. To this day, he eats more frequent, smaller meals. He has a very fast metabolism and he is very high energy.

HOWEVER, breastfeeding a baby every two hours during the day past the newborn phase is not always a good idea. I have had clients with babies who have not gained enough weight, because if you feed more frequently, your baby may not be getting the richer, higher calorie, and fattier hindmilk. For those parents, the answer was to start spacing out feedings so their baby would take a fuller feeding and get that hindmilk. This brings me to my next point:

Just because your baby hasn’t gotten on a schedule on his own, does not mean he can’t.

When it comes to sleep, just like waiting too long to put your baby down can lead to short naps when she’s younger, putting her down too soon when she’s younger can result in short naps, too! Confusing, I know.

The bottom line is that all babies and families have different needs and it’s okay if you don’t know THE answer for you, yet. Take some time to experiment with your baby’s routine and schedule. There is a lot related to parenting that is “learn as you go” and I don’t think schedules for your breastfeeding or formula-feeding baby are any different. Oh, and just when you figure it out, they change anyway! :D

Because I was a breastfeeding mom, all of our sample sleep and feeding schedules are appropriate for both breastfeeding and formula-feeding parents (and combination). These are just guidelines and designed to give you ideas to make your own schedule, so please review them and post your own for the thousands of visitors that frequent this site.

If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to download our FREE guide, 7 Common Napping Mistakes, or explore Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-tos” of good baby sleep. With over 40 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about!

Did you have a schedule for your breast-fed baby?