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Do Formula-Fed Babies Sometimes Act Like Breastfed Babies?

By Katie Allison Granju |

Baby G, dreaming of her next bottle…

Suddenly, at 5 months old, G no longer sleeps at night. Instead, she prefers to eat…and eat…and eat… AND EAT.

Until about a week or two ago, G was a wonderful sleeper. We co-sleep, and once the two of us hit the sack together for the night, she would snuggle right up and head off to the Land of Nod, waking only to have the occasional 4 oz bottle, which I would give her lying down, just as if we were breastfeeding.

But all of a sudden, G has decided that the overnight hours are her favorite time to guzzle all the milk she apparently forgot to consume during the day; last night my tiny baby girl sucked down 16 ozs between 10 pm and 5am! This desire to eat all night is something I’ve experienced before – when I was separated all day from my breastfed baby, C (who is now 3), she would make up for having to take bottles while I was at work by remaining attached to my boob all night long.  This is called “reverse cycle” nursing, and it’s something that breastfeeding moms who work full time know very well.

But I am not breastfeeding Baby G at all (backstory on this issue HERE), and she takes her bottles quite happily during the day, so this sudden desire she has to eat more than her own weight in infant formula between sundown and sun-up wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with wanting me to be the one to feed her – or does it?

My husband Jon who – along with his mom –   is with G all day while I am at work,  has noticed that around the time each late afternoon/early evening when G expects to be reunited with me, she begins to root around and fuss, clearly wanting something he doesn’t have, even though he offers her a bottle.  This is a change from the rest of the day, when she’s a mellow, easy baby who rarely fusses. But when she’s ready for mama after the workday, she lets her father know it.  If I am late getting home, she sometimes becomes inconsolable until I get there – the only time she cries like that.  Once I arrive and take her in my arms, she settles immediately and is happy as a clam for the rest of the evening.

So I am wondering whether even though she doesn’t associate feeding with me exclusively – since her father and grandmother give her her bottles as often as I do – whether she is doing some kind of bottle-fed baby’s version of reverse cycle feeding, just because she wants more feeding time with me. I don’t know. Have any of you who have both breast and bottle fed your babies experienced anything like this?

Or maybe I’m just flattering myself and she’s actually just having a good, old-fashioned growth spurt that has nothing whatsoever to do with me !

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About Katie Allison Granju

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Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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13 thoughts on “Do Formula-Fed Babies Sometimes Act Like Breastfed Babies?

  1. Chrissy says:

    Mine, who was bottle fed, did the same thing. I asked the family doctor and he said it was a growth spurt reaction (both the rooting and the eating at night). But I also think sometimes babies just want their mamas, and that has nothing to do with the avenue in which a baby is fed. They just KNOW who mama is and they need to be near that lady! xoxo

  2. Danielle says:

    I’m about to find out! My 3.5 year old daughter is exclusively bottle-fed at this point, and spends most weekends with her grandma. She takes bottles from everyone in my family so far. Though she seems to prefer me, she’s not fussy about being fed by others. We started a new babysitter yesterday, in anticipation of me going back to work, and she even took a bottle from her without too much protesting. And yet, I’m terrified that she will be up multiple times at night once I go back to work, on her 4 month birthday. :(

  3. Danielle says:

    Whoops! I meant 3.5 month old, not 3.5 year old.

  4. Elissa says:

    My almost 4 month old has recently started doing this – eating more at night where previously she slept through most nights (she is bottle fed). But, I think this has more to do with growth and just needing more food as the first person commented. However, something I have noticed is that even though my daughter is bottle fed (she was breastfed for one week only and bottle fed pumped milk after that – now gets formula that I’m back at work), she will STILL root around looking for the breast – I think it’s just instinct. So, maybe even bottle fed babies still have those basic breastfeeding instincts.

  5. PlumbLucky says:

    There’s a name for that? Cool. Both my children have done that reverse cycle feeding thing. Still happens with Babe the Younger after a long weekend/Monday back.

  6. Clisby says:

    I breastfed my first for about a week and gave up – I pumped for a couple of months, then switched to formula. I breastfed my 2nd for 2.5 years. Their eating patterns were essentially the same.

  7. Claire R says:

    My daughter was adopted at 9 weeks. Bottle fed exclusively from birth. Still did that rooting and nighttime feeding thing at about 5 months. I guess it’s just a thing they do.

  8. Shannon says:

    Sounds like the four-month sleep regression setting in a bit late due to Baby G’s prematurity. I think in many cases babies use eating (nursing or bottles) to help get themselves back to sleep during a time when they they experience a lot of sleep disturbances as they “wake up” to the world. If you Google “four-moth sleep regression” you’ll find lots of company — obviously there are a lot of differing opinions about what you can do about this, but considering she’s your fifth baby I’m sure you can handle all kinds of well-meaning advice!

  9. Kata says:

    I breastfed for 4.5 months, and bottle fed from then. I didn’t notice any change, the switch was smooth, he ate as happily as before, if not happier (as I really hated breastfeeding, he must have felt I’m more relaxed with the bottle so he was calmer too). He followed the same routine, and didn’t care if bottle or breast, mommy or daddy. He did have though a period when he wanted to eat at night (in fact several periods, well into the age when he verbally asked for FOOD), we tried not to feed him during the night, as he was a brilliant eater during the day, grew properly, gained weight properly, I didn’t think it healthy to give him extra feeds during night hours. (Now I’m speaking of a child 1 years, and way over, not a 5 months old, who still does need the night feeds.) Instead he got water and cuddles – maybe that was all he wanted anyway. He was 9 mths when I went back to work, and even now at 2.5 he wakes up for a bit of attention sometimes – like last night: he called me to his room, wanted to get out of his bed, settled on my chest on the little sofa, then asked for a sip of water, and closed his eyes peacefully, and only nodded, when I asked him, if he is ready to go back to his bed for a sleep. Sometimes he is awake for an hour, lying quietly on my chest (or on daddy’s , but generally he is quicker to go back to sleep with me), or asks for a song, or something like that. I suppose he might be just missing us? He never showed signs of wanting “just mommy” – but he does pick his dad over me always for his bedtime feed and story-sing-chat time, if we ask him. :) Daddy’s boy he is. :)

  10. Stacie Keller says:

    I am going to agree with the first responder….my now 6-month old has just come out of what I would consider a growth spurt, she too only had one 4 oz bottle in the night for the first 5 months of her life and then all of the sudden we were up together every three hours on the dot to consume 412 – 16 oz throughout the night. She will be 7 months on Christmas day and just this past week we are back to once a night and up to about 6 oz….I think they just go through spurts that set thier “routine” out of whack for a little while, which is one reason why I could never understand when my friends would talk about the strict eating routine their children where on, it has been my experience with my two girls that it changes several times throughout the first year of thier life.

  11. Caroline says:

    I think it’s teething. In my experience (with 2 co-sleeping breastfed babies), something shifted around 4 months for us where suddenly they started nursing all night, and would continue to do so during bouts of teething pain (whether or not any teeth actually appeared). I think it soothes them. It would make sense if that applies to bottle-fed babies, too. Good for you for co-sleeping and being so tuned in to her needs.

  12. Lisa says:

    I agree with the 1st responder as well. My son does this and he is bottle fed, because I couldn’t produce enough for him. He wakes up every 1 to 2 hours all night and if he naps, its for only 1 or 2 as well. Once he had a 4 hour sleep at night, but that is the most so far. People constantly tell me that it gets better and that is so frustrating to hear, because all the babies his age around him seem to have 8 hour sleeps at night. Ive decided that it doesn’t get ‘better’, its always good to begin with, we just get used to their personalities. He was born 9 lbs 3oz and at 2 months he is now 14 lbs 8 oz. Our initial pediatrician from the hospital had us feeding him whenever he wanted, because he had low blood sugar when he was born and we didn’t want it to drop again. We’ve adapted that way and he seems to like it, he even pushes the bottle away or turns his head when he has had enough, and his spit up is very minimum, so I know he isn’t over eating. Our current pediatrician says that he is a big baby, it could be growth spurts, and he is a grazer (like his dad is, always munching on something all day). On top of that, he loves getting the attention of whoever is in the room, so he can coo or smile at them. And I’ve also used holding him and feeding him as a way of coaxing him back into sleep (he wakes, I change the diaper and feed right after to cut down on the amount of times I’m woken up. I cant imagine being woken up for a diaper then later for a feeding with only 1 to 2 hours at at time.), and now he is accustomed to that. So if he wakes in the night, he is conditioned to need mom to go back to sleep. I’m just hoping that he will grow out of it, because I’m not one to let him cio, and I would really like him to get longer periods of rest. I did find that if he just wasn’t wanting to take any naps during the day without me holding him, that putting on a radio or tv interview of a woman talking helped. I’m guessing he assumed it was me talking, thought I was just right near him, and felt relaxed enough to doze off. And I was hoping that this would help him to learn that longer naps were normal. I, as well, see him getting fussy when my husband comes home and wants to spend time with him. He feeds him too, but the baby just seems to give him a harder time. Maybe because I spend the bulk amount of time with him during the day and all night. I’m sorry for my scattered train of thoughts here. But basically, what I’m trying to do is keep him calm on his own during the day to try to get him to understand that longer naps are good, thereby getting him to change his eating habits. But… if its a growth spurt, I don’t think this will work. If its attachment and attention, it should. Though in the end, every baby is different, and as long as we love and care for them the way they want, then they will grow to their best. : ) …again sorry for the scatteredness of this reply. Good luck and love to us all.

  13. Stephanie says:

    I just went back to work Monday. So Sunday night into Monday morning I asked my hubby to take care of the late night feeding (hoping I could sleep a solid 7 hours). I typically pump at night while hubby gives her the bottle during that feeding. My LO woke up, daddy got her bottle and brought her into the livingroom (all the things he normally does). He put the bottle to her lips and she wailed. This went on for 30 mins, he would settle her then try again. Finally I came out of the room, picked her up, she fussed then took her bottle. This happened 2 nights in a row.. I definitely think babies can start to prefer one parent over another (breastfed or not) for feedings.

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