How Do I Reduce My Baby’s Night Feedings?


We all know waking in the night to care for or feed your new baby is part of parenthood and those quiet snuggly feedings in the night can be some of the most peaceful and wonderful ones. Yet, the time will come when the importance of consolidated sleep (both yours and your baby’s!) will take priority over all those nighttime feedings. Reducing the number of feedings your child is having at night is sometimes also referred to as “night weaning.” With us, night weaning could be eliminating extra bottle feedings or breastfeedings at night. It’s important to note that it doesn’t actually mean weaning from breastfeeding (unless a parent wants it to); rather, it’s a reduction of nighttime calories. You CAN continue to breastfeed your baby successfully even though you may be ready to reduce the number of times you are doing it overnight.

The Science: Many babies will continue to wake for a feeding, or two or three, long past the age of needing it simply because their little bodies have become accustomed to those nighttime calories. Often these feedings hang around because a baby also has a sleep association where feeding is required to fall asleep. This means that your baby may wake at the end of every 60-90 minute sleep cycle and need to eat to go back to sleep, even if she no longer needs to eat. Sometimes this feeding can be brief comfort nursing and sometimes it can perpetuate calorie intake when it isn’t needed.

Real night feedings are typically associated with sucking, swallowing, and a transfer of milk and lasting more than 5 minutes of nursing or more than 2 ounces in a bottle. Comfort nursing or purely sleep association night feedings involve very little milk transfer. It’s important to determine whether your baby is taking in calories or not, because we would not recommend stopping a real night feeding cold turkey. This would basically amount to skipping a meal and could leave your baby feeling very uncomfortable.

 

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How many feedings does my baby really need at night?

Before taking steps to reduce feedings, you’ll want to make sure you are asking your baby to do something s/he can achieve! If your baby is healthy and gaining weight well, then determine how many feedings your baby likely needs at night based on the chart below. It shows common nighttime feeding patterns and reasonable expectations for babies in the first year. Always check with your pediatrician to make sure your baby is ready to eat less at night and always adjust your baby’s age based on her due date. If your baby is eating more than what is indicated on this chart, and you are rested and happy with your situation, you don’t have a problem. If your baby is eating less and your pediatrician is happy with weight gain and growth – lucky you! This blog is for those of you whose babies are feeding MORE than what is indicated on the chart below and who are feeling the effects of fragmented sleep!

Night Feeding Chart

Age of Baby How Many Feedings? (typical patterns, may vary for some babies)

0-3 months Feeds are “on demand”. Feed whenever baby is hungry

3-4 months First 4-5 hours without a feeding, then 2-3 feedings.

4-6 months First 5-8 hours without feeding, then 1-2 feedings

6-9 months First 7-9 hours without feeding, then 0-1 feedings

9+ months Usually parents choice, 1 early morning feeding may be helpful for extended breastfeeding

Which feedings should I reduce first?

If you are unsure what times your baby is eating (or for how long) you may want to spend 2-3 nights collecting data. Once you’ve determined your baby’s average feeding pattern, you can make a plan to reduce feedings.

Reduce the earliest feedings first. For example, if your baby is eating at 10:00 pm, 1:00 am, and 4:00 am, eliminate the 10:00 pm feeding first. If you’ve determined that your baby only needs one feeding at night, then you can work on reducing the 10:00 pm and 1:00 am feedings at the same time. This approach mimics the natural transition that happens when babies drop feedings. Since deep sleep dominates the first part of the night it will be easier for your baby to go back to sleep after a reduced feeding in the first part of the night. In the early morning hours sleep pressure is very low and lighter sleep dominates, so if you are keeping a night feeding that’s the time to offer it. It’s also important to note that sometimes the last feeding of the night moves a little earlier when it is the only feeding of the night. In the example above, it would be normal for the 4:00 am feeding to move to 3:00 am when the other feedings are gone.