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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 23:59 GMT
First week feeds 'set babies' sleep patterns'
Mother breastfeeding her baby
Feeding and sleeping patterns were monitored
Frequent feeding during the first week of a baby's life can stop them sleeping through the night months later, researchers have found.

If a baby is fed more than 11 times during a 24 hour period, it is three times less likely to sleep through at 12 weeks of age.

Researchers found that where mothers adhered to a behavioural programme where a clear difference was made between day and night, and where night-feeds and cuddles were avoided, babies were much more likely to sleep well.

Two thirds of babies can sleep through the night - at least five hours continuous sleep - by the age of 12 weeks.

But sleep problems can cause considerable distress for parents and babies.

Behaviour diaries

Researchers from the University of London studied 600 babies from one to 12 weeks of age to see what factors influenced whether or not they would sleep through the night.

Parents were either put on the behavioural programme, given an educational booklet and helpline access for sleeping problems or neither.

Many Western parents find infant and child night waking to be a source of substantial stress

University of London researchers
Under the programme, in addition to differentiating between day and night, parents were told to settle a sleepy baby in a cot and avoid cuddling or feeding the child to sleep at night.

At three weeks of age, if the baby was healthy and putting on weight, parents were told to delay feeding when it woke at night by handling it or changing its nappy first.

Mothers kept behaviour diaries for 72 hour periods when their babies were three, six, nine and 12 weeks of age.

By 12 weeks 82% of babies which had been most frequently fed at one week old, so-called "at risk" babies, on the behavioural programme slept through the night compared with 61% of "at risk" babies not on the programme.

Findings were similar for both breast and bottle-fed babies.

Cause and effect?

The research is published in the journal Archives of Diseases in Childhood.

The researchers, led by Dr Ian St James-Roberts, writing in the journal, said whether the behavioural programme should be routinely adopted involved balancing costs against benefits.

They said that a baby who did not sleep though the night was not ill, and parents' culture and values influenced feelings on sleeping patterns.

But they added: "Many Western parents find infant and child night waking to be a source of substantial stress, both for themselves and their relationships with their children.

"Where babies feed often at one week of age, and having their baby sleep through the night at 12 weeks of age is a parental priority, health services may wish to consider whether the behavioural programme can be recommended to help parents bring this about."

But Rosie Dodds, policy advisor for the National Childbirth Trust, told BBC News Online: "This study says frequent feeding in the first week is a significant factor in sleep patterns later on.

"But it doesn't say its cause and effect.

"A baby may simply be more needy. Their personality, or the way they were born may mean they demand feeds more frequently.

"Or it could be that the mother is happy to feed her baby 11 times or more in the first week."

See also:

03 Jan 03 | Health
02 Sep 02 | Health
29 Mar 02 | Health
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