When can I stop offering feedings in the middle of the night? I get asked this question a lot, and I have two answers for you:
First, the clinical answer. If your child is six months or older, gaining weight as expected, and your doctor says it is okay to end nighttime feeds, then go ahead and give it a try. Many babies can go all night without feedings well before the six month mark, so chances are good that your baby can too!
But that doesn’t really answer your question, does it? You have likely already read statistics and averages of when most babies sleep through the night, and yet your baby is still waking in the middle of the night for feedings. Chances are, what you really want to know is: “Why does my baby refuse to give up his night feeds?”
So let’s discuss the real question: Why does your baby continue to wake up at night and demand food if he is supposedly ready to give up night time feeds?
The reason is probably pretty simple: That’s how he gets himself to sleep. Feeding and/or nursing to sleep is the most common sleep prop (or sleep association) I see as a sleep consultant. People don’t usually think of feeding as a “sleep prop” because of it is natural and necessary. They tend to associate the term “sleep prop” with pacifiers, mobiles and crib aquariums. But a sleep prop is really anything external that your baby relies on in order to get to sleep.
If you are still feeding your baby to sleep at bedtime, chances are, that’s where you need to make some changes.
“But, I’m not!” I can hear you saying. “I put him to bed while he’s still awake, and he falls asleep independently! No props, no nothing! But he still wakes up three times a night looking to eat!”
Although it is a less common scenario, I do see this fairly often. Mom is doing everything right at bedtime, but is still feeding baby to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night.
Some babies are just habitual nighttime eaters. It’s not necessarily because they are hungry, or in need of calories. They have simply managed to separate what happens at bedtime from what happens when they wake in the middle of the night. If your baby has learned that Mom is still willing to give up some breast milk in the night, well then, so much the better! He gets to see his favorite person in the middle of the night, plus he gets to ease back into sleep while getting a feeding, which is so much easier than finding his way back to sleep on his own.
The solution is to break the feeding/sleeping association by either giving up night feedings or not letting your baby fall asleep during night feedings. That’s going to mean some protesting, which won’t be fun at first, but it is important that you eliminate the gratification of falling asleep during a feeding to encourage your baby to put himself to sleep for every sleep scenario: bedtime, naps, and middle of the night.
For babies over 6 months of age, I find the best strategy to eliminate night feedings is cold turkey. Once your baby understands that he will only get fed in the morning, it is likely he will start sleeping longer stretches at night. If cold turkey seems a little too sudden or you aren’t sure if your baby is using feeding as a sleep prop rather than for hunger, then you can still offer a feeding in the middle of the night, but be absolutely sure your baby stays WIDE AWAKE for the entire feeding. You may have to work to keep him awake so he can find his own way to sleep once you lay him back in the crib. If your baby has learned to sleep without props at bedtime, then the good news is that he already has some strong sleep skills, and the protesting should be over within a couple of nights. Once you eliminate night feedings, don’t start offering them again to avoid reintroducing this known sleep prop and having sleep regressions.
The sooner your little one learns the skill of putting himself back to sleep in the middle of the night, the sooner he will be sleeping through the night. That’s great news for you and your partner, but it’s even better news for baby! More uninterrupted sleep means baby’s mind and body get more of those glorious restorative effects that take place during the night, making for a happier, healthier tomorrow!
If you would like one on one support to find the right method to help your baby learn independent sleep skills, please use the link below to book your FREE evaluation call with Dream Factory Sleep Solutions!