“How can I stop night feedings?” This is a commonly-asked question by moms who want to wean their baby from night feeds but aren’t sure how to start the process slowly and gently.
Weaning from night feeding can encourage babies to start sleeping through the night without relying on external help (like milk from a breast or bottle) to continue their sleep cycles.
What does it mean to stop night feedings?
If your baby is above its birth weight and indicated as healthy by its pediatrician, there is no need to wake up your baby to feed.
Many young babies will continue to wake to feed at least one to three times throughout the night, which is entirely normal up to one year of age.
Breastfed babies: you can wean night feeds at one-year-old
Formula-fed babies: you can stop night feeds at six months old
Once your baby has reached the milestone age (depending on how they’re fed), you can begin to wean their night feeds. You can read more about the appropriate ages for weaning night feeds and how to stop/wean night feeds below.
When to consider stopping night feeds
- When both mom and baby are not enjoying the eat/sleep association
- Mom or dad is going through postpartum depression
- Mom or dad is sleep deprived and exhausted
- Baby is growing healthy and achieving all the milestones as expected
- Other personal or health concerns
Knowing this information still doesn’t answer your question because it is all readily available with a quick Google search. If that was all you needed to know, you’d know it already.
Chances are, what you’re really asking is, “why does my baby refuse to give up his night feeds?” Because if you stopped his night feeds and he just accepted it and started sleeping through the night, you wouldn’t be online looking for information about it. Right?
You’d be in bed, enjoying eight hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep, or you’d be at the playground, telling all the other moms how easily your little guy gave up night feeds and how this whole parenting thing is such a breeze. (Don’t do that, though. Us moms hate that.)
A closer look at night feeds and your baby
So, let’s discuss the real question. Why does your baby continue to wake up at night and demand food if they’re “supposedly” ready to give up nighttime feeds?
The reason is probably pretty simple: that’s how they get themselves to sleep, and this is developmentally normal.
My breastfeeding story when I was not a Sleep Consultant
When my daughter turned six months, my doctor suggested stopping night feeds as she crossed the weight chart and grew healthier.
I continued to night feed my little one for eight months, as I couldn’t see her standing in the crib and crying. Also, I was afraid of engorgement in my breast due to not feeding for long hours at night.
But then I started noticing she was waking up multiple times at night just to get comfort from feeding, not actual hunger. She was waking every two or three hours (some days, it was 1-1.5 hours only) at night, and it was very rare if I got a three-hour stretch of sleep.
This poor sleep pattern made me feel exhausted, frustrated, and overly tired due to sleepless nights. Sleep deprivation kicked in and began to affect my entire family.
My moody behavior was affecting my relationship with my husband and family. I was unable to provide loving and caring attention to my baby.
One day, I decided to wean her off from overnight feedings because I was a sleep-deprived mom who needed sleep very badly to function well physically, emotionally, and mentally.
What are the strategies for night weaning?
There are two different ways to wean your baby.
First, one that I prefer personally is gently weaning your baby from overnight feedings. It takes a bit longer, but worth to practice these steps that work in just a few nights (make sure you stay consistent with the process to get faster results)
The gentle night weaning process
Step 1: Fulfill their calorie intake during the day
You can focus on full feeds rather than “snacking” feeds (small frequent feeds with low volume). Do not feed your baby every time they wake up crying.
When waking up at night, instead of feeding immediately, wait for a few minutes and see if they settle down and transition to their next sleep cycle. If they do, then you are good.
If they still need assistance to fall back to sleep, then utilize the “sleep ladder” technique first. For example, using your calming voice, patting, rocking, bouncing, holding, pacifier, and so on to help the baby settle or delay the gratification of feeding.
Step 2: If needed, feed to soothe and slowly decrease
If nothing seems to be working, then go ahead and feed your little one to soothe. On the first night, slowly decrease the amount of milk your baby drinks. Every few nights. drop an ounce or two or, if breastfeeding, decrease the duration by a minute or two.
Once the baby has calmed down, put your baby back into the crib on its back.
Step 3: Ask someone else to step in
As you slowly decrease the milk volume at night feeds, the next step is to ask your partner or someone else to try consoling the baby.
During this time baby’s brain will start to signal that it’s not worth waking up for long periods of the night. By night four or five, if the baby still wakes up overnight, then start offering a little water only, and they will adjust in a few nights.
“Cold turkey” night weaning process
With the second night weaning method, you drop all feeds on night one and offer comfort only by utilizing a pacifier, rocking, noise machine, etc., to soothe the baby to fall back to sleep without relying on night feeds.
It sounds little rough, but it works as well. Give it a shot if you’re up to it and ready for this step.
Benefits of weaning night feeds
In an ideal world, the sooner your little one learns those skills, the sooner they’ll sleep through the night. That’s great news for you and your partner, but it’s even better news for the baby.
More uninterrupted sleep means the baby’s mind and body get more of those glorious restorative effects of sleep during the night, making for a happier, healthier tomorrow.
Likewise, mom and dad get peace of mind, freedom, time, and nights back to enjoy a glass of wine, watch movies, do some self-care or just lay down and relax. Plus, there is a strong correlation between sleep deprivation and mental health. The more sleep you have, the less likely you are to develop PMADs.
The feed-to-sleep association and what to do about it
Feeding or nursing to sleep is just about the most significant sleep association I see as a sleep consultant. People don’t usually think of it as a “sleep prop” because it is natural and necessary. They associate the term with pacifiers, mobiles, and crib aquariums.
But, the reality is a sleep association is anything external that your baby relies upon to get to sleep.
So 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’s a less common scenario, I see this fairly often. Mom is doing everything right at bedtime but is still feeding the baby to sleep when they wake up at night.
Some babies are just habitual nighttime eaters as every baby’s temperament is different than another. They need more support and assistance to adapt to this change, and in this case, a Certified Sleep Consultant will be the best resource to help you.
Final thoughts on breaking the feed/sleep association
Feeding babies earlier, before their nap and bedtime, will help to break the association. Having a solid schedule and staying consistent with the routine will also uphold the baby’s understanding of the daily pattern.
When you make new changes in the routine or environment, you notice a little protest from your baby, which is natural and normal.
The good news is once your baby has learned to sleep without external help at bedtime, the protesting should be over within a couple of nights.