If day feeds are insufficient during the daytime, your baby is essentially making up for lost calories at night, meaning consolidated night sleep will be much harder to come by.
When to Keep Night Feeds
If you're a mom feeding on demand, dropping a night feed or weaning your child off of night feeds seems to always trigger mom guilt. I get it, I've been there too. We get into a cycle of feeling like feeding is our way of helping baby get back to sleep. It often starts off as the quickest solution to night wakings, with the least amount of crying and time.
The only problem is that, as our babies grow, feeding to sleep often loses its effectiveness. So what happens, is the quick fix becomes no longer quick. We find ourselves up feeding the baby every hour because baby just won't settle to deep sleep.
The truth is, after a certain age, night wakings at night are no longer exclusively about hunger. The best way to find out when your baby's night feeds should be dropped or weaned is to consult your doctor or pediatrician.
Both your baby's age and weight help to determine when it is appropriate to reduce night feeds. Newborn babies require milk every 2-3 hours throughout the day and night. That is medical, that is biology and that is reason enough. So it is during this phase of baby's first few months, where night feeds should definitely be expected.
Why Drop Night Feeds
If your child 4-6 months old, healthy and a good weight (consult your pediatrician) most of your child's feeds can now actually take place during the day. This is a huge milestone for mom and baby as it means your child is biologically capable of sleeping through most of the night without eating.
(There are exceptions to this especially for babies diagnosed with colic, born premature or where weight is a concern, then your pediatrician may determine it necessary to still keep a night feed.)
To hopefully alleviate feelings of mom guilt when those feed reductions are warranted, let us for a moment think of it this way: if milk is food for your baby's body, sleep is food for your baby's brain. At the core of it, dropping night feeds is encouraging consolidated, deep, health-benefiting sleep which means you are giving your baby's brain nourishment.
If you want to dive into details about why (night) sleep is food for the brain just as milk is food for the body, check out my post here.
Do Night Feed Cause Night Wakings?
Breastfeeding or bottle feeding at night when your child doesn't need the calories can actually be a key factor in what is waking your child and keeping them from sleeping through the night. Chances are, if you're reading this, you've tried feeding throughout the night and it seems the more you feed, the more your baby demands.
Indications that night feeds can be reduced or eliminated when:
Baby is 5-6 months old and at least 15 pounds
Frequent night feeds interfere with daytime calorie intake.
Baby settles poorly even after a night feed - baby may be overfed.
Feed-to-sleep association lingers (even if baby can self-soothe at naps).
Night wakings appear at the same time every night like clockwork.
For babies who do not take good feeds during the day, your baby will essentially want to make up for lost calories at night. This means consolidated night sleep will be much harder to come by. In these instances, if dropping night feeds is still recommended by your doctor, during the day, try giving baby an extra feed or increasing the time baby spends nursing. In essence, your baby is not losing that feed, but rather the feed is being moved to a more appropriate time of the day.
When to Cut Night Feeds
Night feeds can continue, but first always ask yourself if you're feeding your baby due to true hunger or because it's the quickest and easiest solution in the middle of the night. If your baby is nursing 3-5 times a night (consult with your pediatrician), in more cases than not, feeding is interfering with your child who's in the process of learning self-soothing skills to develop a normal sleep rhythm at night. Hourly feeds promote a snack and snooze pattern that severely fragments sleep and often leads to very exhausted and frustrated moms.
Every baby will need a different answer for night feeds, precisely because every baby is unique. What I can say is, when babies are no longer newborn (say starting at 4 months old), they no longer need the excessively frequent night feeds as their earlier days. As always, your doctor should give you the green light as to when night feeds can be dropped.
Difficulties Cutting Night Feeds
But here's the thing, parents always find that reducing night feeds is the hardest uphill battle. A baby who cries for three minutes in the middle of the night seems like eternity. Parents will usually resort to the method that they know how to do best on autopilot - feeding.
To ease you into tackling those night feeds, perhaps answering these questions first will help you understand where the challenge stems from. Will you stop yourself from going into an autopilot feed session? Will you remember to implement the same sleep training strategies you used at bedtime? Will you be strong and not feed your baby out of desperation to go sleep?
No one said parenthood was going to be easy, that's for sure.
How Do You Cut Night Feeds
Breastfeeding: reduce the amount of time spent nursing
Bottle feeding: reduce the volume of milk offered
Stay consistent and stick to the plan. Results don't come in just one night. It takes practice and a clear signal to your baby to teach them that this is the new norm. Start by focusing on weaning the first feed of the night. For example, if baby nurses at 10:00pm, 1:00am and 4:00am you would focus on weaning the 10:00pm first.
After 5-7 nights of this, no longer offer milk at this 10:00pm feeding and replace it with another form of comfort such as patting/rocking etc.
What If I'm still Confused About Dropping Night Feeds?
The logistics of reducing night feedings can get a little complicated. If feeling of overwhelm is causing anxiety and worry, I hope you will consider reaching out for my 1-1 sleep consulting support! My goal is to help you simplify the process and get you on the right track without all that overwhelm. Let's schedule a free call assessment to learn how you can get started working with me.