Well Being

The Sleep Hormone

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Everyone warns new mothers about the sleep deprivation, yet it still comes as a shocker because you simply can't fathom what it means to get up every couple of hours with a newborn night after night. Luckily, breastfeeding provides a secret weapon for sleepy mothers: the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK).

Photo by Hector Landaeta

Photo by Hector Landaeta

When the baby suckles, the mother releases CCK. The hormone infusion relaxes her and readies her to drift off to sleep again. If mother and baby are co-sleeping, the mother might even drift off before the baby finishes the feed! What a peaceful experience compared to getting up to prepare a bottle, sitting up to feed, placing the baby back in a crib, and finally climbing back in bed to attempt to fall back asleep after that wide-awake period, without the benefit of sleep-inducing CCK! Even better news: the baby produces CCK as well, both from suckling and from the fatty hindmilk reaching the baby's stomach at the end of a feed. The Australian Breastfeeding Association explains:

There are actually two CCK peaks, one at the end of a feed, and the other higher peak between 30 and 60 minutes after the feed. The baby sucks, gets sleepy, dozes off for a while then wakes again for a top-up feed. That higher-fat feed causes the second peak and the baby goes into deeper sleep. Top-up feeds are also great for the mother's milk supply.

Some parents mistakenly believe that feeding a baby formula will help the baby sleep longer at night and that will translate into more sleep for the parents. Two things parents should know: (1) the reason formula-fed babies' tummies feel full for longer stretches is that formula is harder for babies immature systems to digest, and (2) formula-feeding results in less overall sleep for parents! A 2007 study published in the Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing concluded that parents of breastfed babies enjoy an average of 40 more minutes of sleep per night!

So, in honor of World Sleep Day today, celebrate how breastfeeding actually helps mothers and babies get more rest through the wonderful sleep hormone CCK, through the side-lying sleep position, and through co-sleeping!

It's 9:49 p.m. here, I just nursed the baby back to sleep *yawn* and I'm off to bed….

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