Ready for some truths? You may want to sit down for these.
- Most babies don’t actually need night feeds past 6 months of age.
- Keeping night feeds longer than truly needed can lead to additional night wakings.
- By night weaning, your baby may eat MORE in the daytime hours than they were cumulatively eating in the whole 24-hour period before. It’s wild, but I see it all the time.
- If your baby is reverse cycling (getting all those calories in at night instead of the day), limiting night feeds is the only way to break the cycle.
- Many babies won’t wean at night until you take an active role in it.
Wait, what? Am I talking about breastfed babies too? YES, even breastfed babies.
It’s important to remember there is no NEED to night wean if those feeds are working for you. Some babies will wake, eat, go back to sleep quickly, then sleep the rest of the night. This is AWESOME and if this works for your family, carry on. These methods described below are when night feeds are out of control and causing major sleep issues.
We always expect our babies to reduce their night feeds all on their own, however, for a lot of babies, that’s not what happens. Many parents find their 6 months + babies waking over and over throughout the night to eat…even more than when they were newborns, and it’s just not sustainable.
Why does this happen? Most likely, the baby is using the feed as a means to go to sleep. It’s not the actual milk or formula the baby wants or needs…it’s to go back to sleep. Remember, after the 4-month sleep regression, it is normal for everyone to wake 5-6 times per night as they naturally transition through sleep cycles. If your baby’s only way to go back to sleep is by eating, the cycle of an all-night buffet continues.
Keeping a night feed longer than needed can also be confusing for some babies. Why do they get fed upon some wakeups but have to go back to sleep on their own for others? That confusion causes excess crying because they don’t know what to expect upon waking. By eliminating the night feeds, all wakeups are treated the same and the babies will learn to quickly and easily go back to sleep because they know what’s expected of them.
Night weaning gets such a bad rap. It sounds harsh, it sounds mean, it sounds like we’re letting our babies go hungry…but that does not at all need to be the case. The 4 Methods described below will help you wean your baby or toddler (NOT NEWBORNS) from night feeds when you realize those feeds aren’t helping anymore.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. You should always check in with your pediatrician when deciding to night wean. Low-weight babies, those struggling to stay on their growth curve, or those with other health concerns may need to keep a night feed longer than others.
Method One: When you just want to test the waters
Step One: Move your baby’s bedtime feed to the first step of the bedtime routine. This will ensure a full tummy before bed, but also ensure your baby is not using the feed as a means to go to sleep. By doing this, there is a chance that your baby will wean themselves!
Step Two: When your baby wakes up at night, practice the pause by giving them 5-10 minutes. By pausing and seeing what they’ll do- this allows them to go back to sleep on their own. If they’re truly hungry, they’ll tell you and you can proceed with the feed.
Method Two: The Personal Best
Step One: Move your baby’s bedtime feed to the first step of the bedtime routine. This will ensure a full tummy before bed, but also ensure your baby is not using the feed as a means to go to sleep.
Step Two: When your baby wakes up at night, pause for 5-10 minutes, as described above. By pausing and seeing what they’ll do- this allows them to go back to sleep on their own.
Step Three: Hold your baby to their personal best. If your baby has gone (for example) 4 hours a couple of nights in a row, that is their new minimum. If your baby now wakes up before 4 hours have passed, you do not feed them. Instead, pause for 10-ish minutes to see if they can go back to sleep on their own, but if not, you can go in and give them some pats, rubs, etc. Once your baby has demonstrated for a couple of nights a new personal best, (5 or 6 hours for example), that is their new number to strive for.
Method Three: The Structured Wean Down
This method is perfect for when you want a more structured way of reducing (or eliminating) night feeds. It’s quick, but not too quick, and can help your baby’s tummy adjust to fewer calories at night.
Step One: Move your baby’s bedtime feed to the first step of the bedtime routine. This will ensure a full tummy before bed, but also ensure your baby is not using the feed to go to sleep.
Nights 1-3: allow for 2 feeding between the hours of 11 pm-5 am. The feeds can happen anytime within this window as long as they are 3 hours apart. (For example, if you feed your baby at 11:30 pm, the next feed wouldn’t be until at least 2:30 am). Still, practice the ‘pause’ described above before feeding your baby to ensure they actually need it.
Nights 4-6: Allow 1 feeding between the hours of 12 am-5 am. You can stay here if you are happy with 1 feeding, but if you are ready to eliminate all feeds, move on to the next step!
Nights 7+: No more feeds. If your baby needs some extra support to help go back to sleep, you can go in and give them some assurance.
Method 4: Cold Turkey
If your baby is over 6 months and is only eating 1-2 times per night, it is totally okay just to drop all night-feeds cold turkey! Yes, your baby will be a bit hungry overnight, but those night feeds will transfer to the daytime hours within 3 days. This method is a bit harder, but less confusing for your baby and a quicker transition.
For all of these methods described above-it’s important to remember not to replace those night feedings with another unsustainable habit- like bringing your baby to your bed, lying with them, rocking them, etc. If you do, you’ll be in their rooms just as much as before 🙂
A note to breastfeeding mothers:
If you want to maintain your supply, you will most likely need to pump during the night as going 11-12 hours without expressing your milk will lead to a diminished supply. Remember, milk production is all about supply and demand.
So tell me, what method is your favorite?