What are the guidelines for feeding your baby overnight? If you have a frequent overnight feeder, you might be surprised to know there are some common signs to look for to know if it’s time to reduce feeds.
Like many parenting choices, night weaning is a very personal decision which should be made by the primary caregiver of the child and no-one else.
Much of the confusion surrounding night weaning can be attributed to simply not knowing what your little one may need overnight and a feed might be the quicker and simpler option at the time.
Understanding age-appropriate guidelines for your baby is a great place to start and the good news is you’ll find that right here.
Let’s kick things off with a surprising statistic- Did you know that research shows only 16% of babies sleep through the night at 6 months of age (huge relief to parents everywhere when society often stipulates different).
If your baby is over 3 months of age and waking less than 4 hourly overnight i.e, within 1-3 hours each time they go off to sleep, you may assume that this is due to hunger. I want to give you the confidence that hunger is rarely EVER the reason for frequent night waking. To support this statement, take a look at the guidelines below.
Overnight feeding guidelines for newborn to toddlers:
- Newborn to 3 months – feed on demand
- 4-6 months – 1-2 feeds (aim for a minimum of 4 hours between feeds)
- 7-12 months – single feed/night wean (aim for a single feed in the second half of the night)
- 12 months + – night wean as the less confusing way to resettle given we can be confident your little one isn’t waking hungry and it may be confusing why they are fed on one wake up but not another
More times than not, habitual night waking is linked to an external sleep prop (this may include feeding to fall asleep initially). When they wake from a sleep cycle, your baby will look to recreate how they initially fell asleep. This naturally makes your little one believe they need to feed again to reinstate sleep between overnight sleep cycles rather than waking from genuine hunger as they did in the newborn days. You can read more about the role of External Sleep Associations Here.
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So what are the signs it’s time to drop night feeds?
The following behaviours can be considered cues it’s time to initiate reducing or potentially eliminating milk feeds overnight:
Your baby isn’t interested in their first milk feed of the day.
These signs are for both breast and bottle fed babies. Look for either milk refusal, or taking more than 30 minutes after waking to want their first milk feed of the day.
This is a great indication that your baby may be having too much milk overnight.It should be noted our digestive system’s role overnight is to “rest and digest”. It can’t do this when it is processing calories from frequent night feeds.
In the morning your baby takes a feed but it’s short, distracted or only a minimal amount is taken.
At the breast this may be less than 5 minutes or frequently popping on and off. For a bottle-fed baby the bottle may be significantly less than their regular bottles throughout the day. Both are an indicator of too much milk throughout the night and they’re not hungry.
Your baby is frequently waking overnight and the feed is short or less volume
i.e. comfort sucking at the breast or for bottle fed babies – less than 100ml consumed. This behaviour is most likely comfort seeking and evidence of external sleep reliance for inducing sleep.
You notice night time feeding is negatively impacting day time hunger levels.
This may mean your baby is disinterested in their daytime milk feeds or finding it harder to establish solids. This pattern is called “reverse cycling” where they start to take their primary nutrition at night when there are less distractions and it impacts greatly on their daytime hunger levels.
Expert insight: Babies can drop feeds overnight anywhere between 6-12 months of age.
Whilst the listed behaviours are seen as cues remember, “it’s not a problem unless it is a problem for you” so if you are comfortable with continuing night feeds then do so for as long as you feel content.
Check out the blog on the 4 most common reasons why your baby isn’t sleeping for more hints and tips on what might be contributing to frequent waking.