Is hunger causing the night wakes?

by | Nov 7, 2018 | Sleep Consultant

Is hunger causing the night wakes?

If your baby is waking frequently during the night, could it be hunger causing the night wakes?

I’ve had a number of consultations recently where the mum and I have talked this through. It doesn’t matter if baby is 4 months, 7 months or 19 months old. As a Mum, we need to know that our children are getting enough sustenance. It’s a hard-wired Mum thing (like not wanting to hear our baby cry); we don’t want to let our children go hungry!

But when do you know if it’s hunger at night vs a bad habit? Honestly, there’s no easy way to always know (that’s why we talk it through on a case-by-case basis). But here are some things to think about if you’re trying to make that call.

How old is your baby?

The first thing to consider is your child’s age. Babies have little tummies, and, typically, the younger they are, the more frequently they need to feed throughout the full 24-hour day.

If you have a newborn, then yes they will likely need to feed regularly – including throughout the night. And if your baby is between 3-6 months of age, chances are they could still need at least one feed a night.

But what about the older baby or toddler? Well, that’s when you also want to take more into consideration.

How are they going down at night?

Think of bedtime as setting the scene. How a baby falls asleep at night really does set the stage for the rest of the night. How a child falls asleep at bedtime tells me a lot about how they make the journey into sleep. So, if you are feeding your baby to sleep then when baby has a naturally occurring wake throughout the night, they’re calling for you to come and recreate bedtime again.  If they’re feeding to sleep, and then being put down, they’re using that feed as the mechanism to help them get to sleep.

That’s when you have a feeding-to-sleep association, or in other words they’re relying on a sleep prop. Chances are your child isn’t hungry every 2 hours throughout the night, they have a sleep strategy issue.

Could it be habit?

Or maybe they are going down independently without any sleep props. But yet they still wake over night. Things that happen around sleep really are habit forming. And if you’ve been feeding at night, it could have now become a habit. Just because.

Let’s look at it a slightly different way. Consider what would happen if your partner came to you at midnight every night and handed you your favourite foods. Chances are you’d eat them, right? Let’s say that continues for a few weeks. Chances are you start waking for it, your tummy might even start growling in anticipation (especially if it’s a little late one night).

Case in point, it is very easy for our bodies to get use to something (even if we don’t truly need the calories).

So, it is quite possible that you have a child who routinely wakes up at midnight or 2am in the morning looking for some food, just because they’ve become accustomed to doing so.

But what happens if one night your midnight feast just stopped?

Would you still wake for it? Yes. Could you even be a bit hungry for it? Potentially, yes. But if you missed it for a few days, you’d then adjust to not having it again.

Change is scary

After reading this, does it make it any easier to stop night feeds? Possibly not. Because even if it is “just a habit”. It doesn’t make pulling feeds easy. If you decide that the night feeds are no longer necessary, and it’s time to break the habit, it can be scary. I mean really scary for a mum. It can be a hard call to make! There is a chance that those first few nights are going to be a bit tougher, because your little one could actually be a little bit hungry.

But the good news is that this will quickly resolve. If your older baby or toddler was indeed relying on the calories during the night, then his body will quickly make it up over the next day or so. Little bodies are good like that!

Then those hunger pangs won’t be there anymore. And the same is true of YOUR midnight feast. If you miss it for a couple of nights, your hunger will blow over – you know I’m right in your case. It’s the same for your older baby.

So, back to the originally question, is hunger the cause of your baby’s night wakes? Honestly, it really could be “yes” or “no”.

Would you like some help?

Would you like some help with sleep? I love solving sleep issues, and there’s nothing more satisfying than being able to help parents teach their child to sleep throughout the night. And by sleep through the night I mean sleep for 10-12 hours of consolidated sleep. But that doesn’t mean I recommend not feeding a hungry baby. Of course you need to feed a hungry baby; but you also need to consider your options when it gets past a certain point.

And if you’ve read this through and you’re not sure it’s true hunger, lets chat.  I can give you a personalised step by step plan to help your baby sleep through the night, and to take long restful naps during the day! And that means you and I can also talk through the question of hunger during our consultation. Book your free initial sleep evaluation with me via phone to learn more.

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