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Durham University

Durham Infancy & Sleep Centre

Sleeping Like a Baby?

One of the challenges that all new parents face is adjusting to a new baby who hasn’t developed the rhythms of day and night that the rest of the family are used to. We know that newborns have no daily rhythm for sleeping and waking, and that they sleep as much during the day as during the night.

Studies have shown that babies start to sleep for one longer, overnight period somewhere between 1 and 3 months of age. People believe that formula fed babies reach this point earlier than breastfed babies and that their mothers therefore get more sleep. However, so far scientific studies have not shown that this difference exists and parents in both groups report the same amount of sleep.

Between 2012 and 2104 mothers and babies took part in a study looking at how breastfed and formula fed babies’ sleep patterns develop. We hoped to find out whether one group of babies starts to sleep through the night at a younger age than the other and whether the sleep hormone melatonin is responsible for the difference.

We also wanted to know whether mums from the breastfeeding and formula feeding groups are affected by their babies’ sleep and get different amounts of sleep themselves.One night in each fortnight we dropped off wearable sleep monitors that track mother and baby’s sleep overnight, and we asked mums to write down their sleep patterns for the night.

Since we were interested in how mum and baby’s sleep is influenced by the sleep hormone melatonin, we also provided special diapers for the baby to wear overnight that we collected the next day for analysis and we asked mums for a day and night urine sample. Breastfeeding mums collected a sample of their breast milk as well.

The data collected with the help of mums and babies in the North-East is being analysed and published. We have two publications out so far (2017), and another under review. Several more will be published in due course.

Rudzik, Alanna EF & Ball, Helen L. (under review) Discrepancies in maternal reports of infant aleep vs. actigraphy by mode of feeding. Submitted to Sleep Medicine.

Rudzik, Alanna E.F. & Ball, Helen L. (2016). Baby-Lag: Methods for assessing parental tiredness and fatigue. In Biological measures of human experience across the lifespan: making visible the invisible. Seivert, Lynette Leidy & Brown, Daniel E. Cham: Springer. 29-46.

Rudzik, Alanna E. & Ball, Helen L. (2016). Exploring maternal perceptions of infant sleep and feeding method among mothers in the United Kingdom: A qualitative focus group study. Maternal and Child Health Journal 20(1): 33-40