It’s perhaps the single biggest reason why your little one wakes up in the middle of the night, and the reason why you find yourself being a full-fledged member of the 3am Club. Yep, it’s the late-night feed (or early morning, depending on how you look at it), and by the time your baby reaches 5 to 6 months old, she may be ready for night weaning.
At this stage, after 5 to 6 months of age, most babies are capable of consuming enough calories during the day to sustain them up to 12 hours overnight. Of course, every baby is different, and it’s always good to check with your doctor before you start weaning your little one off night feedings. And as is the case with all parenting decisions, weaning your baby off her night feedings should be a decision that benefits the whole family. Natalie Willes from Baby Sleep Trainer says, “One important thing to keep in mind is a majority of babies will not stop feeds overnight on their own. Generally, parents find it necessary to withhold feedings overnight, which in turn causes infants to consume more calories during the day to make up for what they did not eat the night before. It’s generally not advisable to try to get baby to take in more calories during the day in order for them to drop feeds overnight on their own, so be sure to discuss withholding night feeds with your pediatrician first before you proceed.”
If you think you and your baby are ready, here are a few ideas to help make night weaning easier and more successful for everyone.
Start slowly and gradually
Dropping the night feeds can feel like a big change for some babies (and parents). So rather than going cold turkey, start by reducing the amount of time your little one is nursing on each breast or give her less milk in her bottle. If you’re breastfeeding, try reducing each feeding by 1 minute every 1 to 2 days. And if you’re bottle feeding, offer 1/2 ounce to one ounce less each feed overnight. You can also try to extend the time before giving her a reduced feeding by soothing her back to sleep in other ways. If you are nursing and decide to gradually wean all night feeds for 12 hours, be sure to pump each night before you go to bed and continue this pumping session until you are ready to stop breastfeeding all together. This will help you maintain a strong milk supply.
Don’t do it during times of transition
Weaning your little one off her nighttime feed is a transition in and of itself, so it makes sense to avoid it while you and your baby are going through other transitions. If you’re about to take a family vacation or your baby is just getting over an illness, for example, you may find better success if you wait until it’s over.
Ensure your baby is getting enough to eat during the day
“As you wean your baby off night feeds, be especially mindful of making sure they are offered milk and solids (if they are taking them) regularly throughout the day,” says Natalie. “If you are bottle feeding, ensure your baby is making up their lost ounces overnight in their daytime bottles. And, if you are breastfeeding, see if you can coax a few extra minutes off of each nursing session during the day. Be conscious not to introduce feeds right before naps and instead focus on keeping feedings and sleep separate from other another if possible.”
Let your partner soothe baby if she cries at night
Your little one has an intimate connection with you and recognizes your pheromones without even needing to see you, as well as the scent of your breast milk. So, if she cries out at night and you go to her, the chances of her wanting to feed could be high. Having your partner soothe your baby back to sleep helps take the temptation to feed out of the equation.
Like a lot of things during the first year, it’s important to be patient and comforting to your baby when attempting night weaning. And if it doesn’t work out the first time, don’t sweat it. It just means your little one isn’t ready to give up her special late-night bonding time with you yet! Just go back to your normal routine and try again in a week or so. And in the meantime, if you need help getting back to sleep after the 3am feed, check out one of our sleep meditations or adult bedtime stories from our partners at the Breethe Meditation App.