Five signs your baby is ready to give up the night time feed
I think there is a common misconception out there about when a baby is ready to sleep through the night without a feed, so I’d like to give you my perspective on it, and give you some idea on when your child could be ready to do this.
And by sleep through the night, I mean 10 hours plus. Yes, seriously! In fact for most babies and young children I aim for 12 hours a night – consolidated sleep IS that important.
I also feel like I need to clarify this – I am well aware that babies under a certain age NEED to feed during the night. That’s a given. NO you cannot expect your newborn to “sleep through the night”. The longest stretch between feeds you’re likely to get from an older newborn is around five to six hours, and that in itself is child dependent.
But when your child has passed the three month, six month, or nine month mark how do you know when they no longer need a night time feed?
There is a big difference between feeding out of necessity and feeding out of habit. And it’s not always easy to know when sleep and feeding needs change. By the six month mark many babies have learnt that nursing is part of the process of falling asleep. To them it can be one of the steps that help them fall asleep, and without it they have a hard time drifting off, so they keep it up.
After six months of age, chances are your baby IS ready to start sleeping through the night without that feed. However it’s important to realise that age isn’t the only factor to consider.
Here are a few things to watch out for when deciding if it’s time to drop that night time feed:
- Eating solid foods
Breast milk metabolises quickly, and so does formula to a slightly lesser extent. So it stands to reason that the quick turnaround can leave your baby feeling hungry after a few hours. This can lead to night time wakings so she can quiet her rumbling belly.
On the other hand, solid food digests more slowly, and generally leaves your baby feeling satisfied for longer. So if she’s eating well, chances are she can make it through.
Oh, and have you heard that formula-fed babies sleep better? That isn’t always the case, and you’ll generally only get an extra hour at the most if you switch. Formula alone will not help a baby sleep better!
- Gaining weight
It’s important that your child is gaining weight, so I’d never recommend dropping a night feed if he or she isn’t keeping up with what’s expected.
Having said that, if she is growing well and putting on weight, it could be the perfect time for you to both start getting some serious night time sleep.
- Eating less during the day
If your baby’s appetite has started waning during the day, or he has started mucking around during feeds (and is still putting on weight), it’s a good sign he’s getting the calories he needs. This is good time to adjust the feeding schedule a little.
If you can encourage him to eat more during the day, you’ll have an easier time dropping the night feeds.
However, sometimes you might need to drop the night feed first, to help him pick up more calories during the day. Once the night time feed is gone, you’ll quickly notice an improvement in daytime appetite again.
- Waking sporadically
You know those wake ups – the random unpredictable ones, like an hour after she’s fallen asleep. This is in contrast to your baby waking up at predictable, evenly spaced times every night.
If the wakings are consistently predictable, chances are she’s doing it because she’s hungry. But if she’s waking up erratically at unpredictable times, it’s probably because she wants, or needs, some help getting back to sleep.
If this is happening to you, it can be a great time to start teaching healthy sleep habits. Chances are your baby is receiving enough nourishment to get her through the night, but she’s waking at the end of her sleep cycle looking for the familiar routine, which involves nursing and cuddles. Teaching her how to fall asleep without needing to use YOU to fall asleep, will provide her, and you, with all the benefits of a solid night’s sleep.
- Only snacking at night
By snacking, I mean not eating much. This is one of the most common signs I see, and it means that she really is ready to sleep through without a feed.
This is a confusing one for a lot of parents, who can’t understand why baby makes a fuss, only to nurse a little and then get worked up. The most likely explanation is that your baby wasn’t hungry in the first place, she’s just used to the routine of feeding to sleep, and then can get frustrated when it doesn’t always work.
And if it use to work, but no longer is – it means he’s ready to start finding another way to try sleeping through the night; which is a great sign. He just needs some gentle guidance to learn how.
Night weaning IS a big step. A lot of mums miss the experience, and that’s totally understandable. During the night it’s often just the two of you, sharing an intimate moment. This can be a beautiful thing! But so is eight hours of uninterrupted sleep – and that goes for both of you. There’s a whole lot of restorative, regenerative things happening during those sleep hours, and it comes with a bunch of emotional and physical benefits for you and your baby.
If you’re considering dropping the night feed, make sure you’re ready to go through with it. You don’t want to stop it, only to start again a week later, because that’s when it becomes confusing for your little one and will probably make the process tougher when you finally do decide to let her sleep through the night.
And if you’re still breastfeeding, you may want to take steps to lessen that full feeling and keep up your milk supply after you stop nursing at night.
If you’d like some help figuring out how to make the transition to sleeping through the night easier for you and your child, book in a free initial call with me.
Because everyone needs a good nights sleep!
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