Dropping Night Feeds: When, Why, and How
Does this sound familiar? You put your baby down to sleep, they go down pretty well with a full tummy, but they wake up 90 minutes-2 hours later… You go in and nurse/bottle feed them, they eat sleepily, fall back asleep, and then the whole routine begins again.
How about this? You follow a popular sleep program that says your child should not, under any circumstances, be feeding overnight after 12 weeks of age… Cue the parent shame/guilt/peer pressure to cut all feeds, but should I really do that?
And what about this one? Your child is consistently waking at 11pm and 3am… You go in at 10pm to give your child a dream feed in hopes they will sleep through the rest of the night… They are still up at 11pm and 3 am like clock work and you don’t know what to do.
These are all situations I have been in… Literally. I nursed my twins at least once per night until they were 11 months old until my supply tanked because of my pregnancy with my third. I also dabbled with dream feeds, and played the nurse every time they made a sound game too- it can be maddening!
So what’s the truth about Night feeds, and specifically dropping night feeds:
When: There are A LOT of recommendations out there for dropping all night feeds by the time your child is 12 weeks/4 months old, especially if you’re sleep training them. However, I will shout it from the rooftops: YOUR CHILD CAN SLEEP TRAIN AND STILL FEED AT NIGHT. It is 100% normal to still need a feed at 6, 7, 8, 9 months old overnight. This is allowed, and it does not mean your child will be a ‘bad sleeper’
So when will you know your child is ready to drop their night feeds? Well, that can be answered when we think about WHY we want to drop them.
Why: Here are some reasons why we would want to drop a night feed.
The feed in question is not a full feed. Baby either falls asleep at the bottle or breast. Baby does not eat much, but is using the bottle or breast as a pacifier to fall asleep
The feed in question is before midnight… As we learned in our blog post last week, the hours of sleep between bedtime and midnight are most crucial to development. We want any feeding to happen AFTER this non-REM, restorative sleep has occurred.
Baby is feeding more than 2x per night. I can tell you that by the age of 4 months, your baby should be able to get through the night with 1-2 feeds. If there are more, I can pretty much guarantee the extraneous ones are for comfort and not for nutrition.
YOU are ready to be done feeding overnight. If you as a parent are ready to be done feeding overnight, then that’s a legitimate reason to consider dropping night feeds. Things to take into consideration are breast milk supply, your child’s age/weight, and which sleep training method you would like to use.
Tip: Weaning off of night feeds takes time. Especially if you are breast feeding, you will want to do this gradually.
How: So once we figure out which feeds need to be dropped and why we need to drop them, HOW do we do that?
Place a HUGE focus on getting full feeds during the day. If we know baby is taking in a great amount of nutrition during the day then we feel confident in their ability to make it through the night.
Choose feeding windows. If you are on multiple feeds per night, I like to suggest one feed anytime after midnight and one feed no less than 3 hours after the first feed and no later than 5am.
Choose a sleep training method. When you are ready to cut one or both night feeds, you will need to choose a preferred sleep training method and train your way through this waking.
Be ready to be consistent. The only way this will work is with consistency over a period of time. You might find that your child skips the feed easily, you may not, but you must pick a plan and stick to it to reduce any confusion in your child.
So that’s the When, Why, and How of dropping night feeds. It’s a lot, right? That’s where I come in. As your sleep consultant, I work with you to figure out exactly what your child needs and when. I will then help you pick the sleep training method that works for you and your family, and we will work through it together.
I hope this blog helped give you some guidance on your next steps, if you need more assistance, you know where to find me!