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Health & Pregnancy

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Study: Feeding Infants Less Helps Sleep

But Not Everyone Agrees, Say Stick to Standard Advice


But other experts sharply criticized the strategies outlined in the British study - and questioned the benefit they would offer the infants.

"The assumption put forth by the authors of this study absolutely, 100 percent, can contribute to the very problem that they claim to be solving," says James McKenna, PhD, director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, who has researched how breastfeeding relates to infant sleep for more than 20 years. "They start with a cultural set of assumptions that to a great degree pathologizes what is really normal, healthy human infant behavior. It's akin to blaming the victim for the crime."

"This is ideology masquerading as science," McKenna tells WebMD. "The human biological evidence suggests that babies at that age do not sleep the night - and they shouldn't. The behavioral program suggested by these researchers is in complete contradiction to what we now know is healthful for babies."

In his research, McKenna found that many breast-fed babies consume up to 15 feedings in a 24-hour period -- and typically gain weight and grow faster when sleeping in the same bed with their mother. "Their average breastfeed is not only more in frequency but greater in duration," he says. "And the notion of not cuddling babies at night is ludicrous. Babies not only depend on breast milk for growth, but also more importantly, they depend on contact, touching and affection. When the natural caregiving tendency of the mother is suspended by thinking that this is in the best interest of baby is extremely appalling."

Nancy Wight, MD, a lactation expert and AAP spokeswoman, also maintains that infants should not be sleeping through the night well past 12 weeks.

"Even at one year, a baby should be waking up if he's breastfed," she tells WebMD. "Breast milk is emptied from the stomach in about one-and-a-half hours, while formula takes about three hours. These researchers' definition of a sleep disorder - the baby waking up throughout the night - is in complete error. And not only that, it's against natural tendencies. Eleven feedings in a 24-hour period or even more is absolutely normal."

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