Research: Babies breastfeed overnight to prevent siblings

breastfeeding Research: Babies breastfeed overnight to prevent siblings

Sleep – or more accurately, lack of – would easily rate among the top concerns for parents of newborns.  But new research suggests babies wake at night out of more than just hunger. It is also a clever (and we’d say effective) way of preventing their parents from having more children, at least temporarily.

A Harvard University study suggests night-waking is a survival method for newborns – a ploy to stop their parents producing more offspring that would compete with them and ultimately reduce their chance of survival.

In the Troubled Sleep study, published in the Evolution, Medicine and Public Health Oxford Journals, researcher David Haig contends many babies who breastfeed overnight are trying to extend their mother’s postnatal infertility, or lactational amenorrhea.

The study says breastfeeding can act as a natural contraceptive, and historically it has been in the child’s best interests to delay the birth of a younger sibling that would share its parents’ resources and attention.

“Short delays until the birth of a younger (sibling) are associated with increased mortality of infants and toddlers, especially in environments of resource scarcity and rampant infectious disease,” the report says.

More frequent and intense suckling help prolong the onset of ovulation, the study says.

“Maternal fatigue can be seen as an integral part of an infant’s strategy to extend the (interbirth interval),” it says.

The study found night-time crying in breastfed babies increased in the second half of their first year before gradually improving. It also found weaned or bottle-fed infants woke less often than breastfed babies.

25 Comments

  1. Whst a load of rubbish! Oh my baby decides she doesn’t want a sibling yet so she keeps feeding at night. Yeah right! Evolutionary mumbo jumbo

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  2. Not at all true for me.
    Baby 1: breastfed every 4 hrs since birth, slept through the night until 4 months pregnant with next;
    Baby 2: Bottle feed from 3 weeks as I had no milk. Woke up a million times a night then settled at about 8 months. Stayed waking every night again 4 months into next pregnancy.

    All 3 are 15 months apart in age.
    No difference between breast and bottle to me.

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  3. Here’s something interesting. I am exclusively breast feeding. My baby has only had an ebm bottle about 1/2 dozen times. But at 9 weeks my period returned. And my baby stopped sleeping through the night!!

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  4. I do believe to this review because.I breast fed to my second siblings for four year and third child came when he was seven years without any use of contraceptives

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  5. my son is 17months and he is breast feed and he still wakes up 3 times a night what can I do to stop it I was thinking of weening him

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  6. I think this is reading to much into breastfeeding and babies. Like honesty how can a newborn even know it’s preventing other siblings? Not to mention babies feed at night because they are adjusting what day and night is and breast milk digests quicker so it doesn’t keep them very full for long.

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  7. Michelle – do you feed him at night when he wakes? If so, STOP. That is why he is waking – out of habit. You need to do some sleep training – it is short term pain for a lifetime of gain for everyone.

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  8. Sometimes children wake at night for reasons that are not merely “habit”. Having visited an ENT when my child was 2yo to find out that there were physiological reasons for the night waking I was extremely pleased to have followed my instinct not to ignore the cries and our decision not to control cry. So, Michelle, I don’t agree with Louise’s advice. Go with what is right for you and your baby. Everyone is different and every child’s needs are different. But if you need sleep (no doubt!) then investigate the options that will work for you.
    And, I suspect the research is not about the baby “knowing” but about more primal instincts. But no doubt there are other sides to that argument.

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  9. @Michelle: Let your 17 mo old cry it out. My doctor advised me to do this with my firstborn when she was 8 mo., and we went from waking 2-3 times a night to sleeping through the night after 2 times crying. It was very hard; the 1st night 15-20 min, the 2nd night 10 min… so worth it!

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  10. Hahaha it didn’t work too well for me. Pregnant 3months after having my first who was breastfeeding every 3hrs lol

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  11. Oh my god.. If ur child wakes up-there hungry.. I’m sure none of you’s could live of milk just ‘during the day’ and trying to stop feeding them at night just to get a better sleep isn’t the answer, that’s what being a mother is about. We don’t get much sleep we feed our children when there hungry we sacrifice a lot just to make them happier and healthier etc. if waking up at night to feed your child is to hard and finding ways to stop it, maybe u should of thought twice.

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  12. Thanks for your comment Jennifer, though I feel it’s personally a little harsh. Michelle’s child is seventeen months old so it’s likely he is mostly waking out of habit and not always hunger. Jennifer we had a similar situation with our little boy who used to wake from itching his eczema and I’d feed him and back to sleep. Eventually he was still waking, though out of habit because his skin was better – a couple of weeks of my husband getting up to him in the middle of the night soon sorted that habit! Good luck! ~LK

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  13. Makes complete sense! All 5 of my babies nursed through the night until around one year. My period did not return until they weaned. My twins are 8 mos old and still nurse at least every 4 hours at night… no period yet.

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  14. ”Ecological” breastfeeding is a term used to describe a style of breastfeeding that typically does space babies. The greater majority of women will go 9 to 20 months without cycles, yet there is a bell-curve. Many studies have been done; it can be read about in Sheila Kippley’s book: “The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding”. Frequent nursing may hormonally opposes ovulation, and night nursing is part of the ‘equation’. I personally went 12-14 months w/o cycles with all my babies. See nfpandmore

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  15. A friend of mine only offered water during the night after 15 months of age. Louise, did you stop to think that your baby may have been uncomfortable in a wet nappy or that his cot had become uncomfortable, his singlet had rolled up his back if he was wearing one, or check the room temperature???? Babies go through growth spurts and sometimes need more feeds at during that time. Toddlers often look for extra food too. Some baby’s teeth take some time to finally cut.

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  16. Lexi, if you were applying cream or something similar to your baby’s skin when you fed him at night, maybe he found it soothing and relaxing as well. Maybe he was missing that as much as a feed. A little one I know worked out that the cream they were using for nappy rash worked.
    When he got sore again he would ask for the cream at about 18 months.
    Some babies wake up more if they dirty their nappy as it sometimes “burns” baby’s skin

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  17. Oh! here is my experience, it must be correct for the entire world, and therefore the research is completely incorrect ;-/

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  18. Need this sooo bad!

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  19. Rubbish! how would an innocent baby know all this!

    breast feeding is a natural way of contraception for ease of both mother & for the baby to have all the nutrition from mothers milk!

    dont complicate it this much!

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  20. I am surprised at how unintelligent some of these responses are! Those who think that the research indicates that a child literally decides to do this maybe dont understand the whole concept of evolution and of natural instinct and how important it is in humans. Feeding through the night is common to most babies, as is the natural reflex to grip with the hands and to lift the legs when an object is placed in front of them. It is not a conscious thought process. Breast feeding on demand is one of the few contraceptive methods available to millions of women in the developing world, and is relatively successful at spacing children at manageable intervals. Of course not all women experience the same set of circumstances – thank goodness! Oh, and it wouldnt hurt the “how can a baby decide that!” brigade to do a bit of basic reading about child development.

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  21. Have you people got NO idea of how evolution works?? Do you think a stick insect deliberately looks like a twig? It looks that way because previous generations who camouflaged with their surroundings were less likely to get eaten and therefore the ones who looked like twigs got to pass on their genes. Of course a baby wouldn’t KNOW that preventing their mother becoming pregnant again was the reason why they were waking at night, but it’s certainly feasible that it may be genetically programmed from when infant mortality was much higher and being an only baby conferred a survival advantage. It’s a scientific theory based on evolutionary biological principals.. Unlike some people on here’s opinions which are based on pure ignorance!

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  22. `
    I agree with Tina (6th May 2014). Evolutionary mumbo-jumbo… AND a classic case of cart-before-the-horse. A REAL scientist would be able to differentiate between such obvious (i) cause and (ii) effect.

    He (and one or two of you other readers) might have evolved, but I was created by an infinite and complex GOD who knew what He was doing; knew the beginning from the end, and fortunately for me (and everyone else) DIDN’T confuse His causes with His effects.

    `

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  23. I would have to agree with the study, my daughters didnt want to be breastfed at all, So i bottle fed both my girls, my first girl slept for so long
    I was told i had to wake her up and feed her cause she was sleeping through the night at 1 month old, same with my second.

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  24. My baby is 17 month old and i am still breatfeeding like michelle 2-3 times at night but my period started immediately after her birth….2months after so I don’t agree with this study. But Michelle we are at the same boat I tried sleep routine foe a while and it worked. From 3-4 times it went to 2 times at night and she was sleeping in her cot as well. from few days…she is unwell and keeps crying and we are back to square one…co sleeping and breastfeeding whole night. I agree we need to train them …makes life lot easier but take one step at a time and might have to go back as in my case when required.
    Good luck to you and me.
    Doma

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  25. I must say, I am concerned to think someone got paid to research this and present such FALSE findings. Have breastfed ALL of my children for a minimum of 12mths and had 4 children under 4. My 6th child was also conceived whilst I was breastfeeding her older brother (our No. 5). It is my opinion that buns wake during the might for a no. of reasons: Newborns – to be close to mum and for feeding their security (Afterall, they did just leave the familiar surroundings of mums warm, dark uterus); In breastfed babies, there are periods where they need mum to make MORE milk (Its production is encouraged by feeding more regularly); And those babies who already have siblings, through the night is the best time to have Mum’s sole, undivided and uninterrupted attention…

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