Water is wet. The sky is blue. Babies eat at night. These are basic facts of life.
Except that last one isn’t quite so straight-forward, is it? I mean, yes, newborns eat at night (a lot), and even as they grow, babies need to eat at night for awhile – night feedings help to ensure proper growth and development.
But what about unnecessary night feedings? You know – those ‘feedings’ that are actually just nursing or bottle-drinking for comfort? Those ‘feedings’ that last 2.2 seconds before your baby is conked out again? Those feedings that happen 20 minutes after the last feeding ended? Yes, night feedings are necessary, but how can you tell when night feeds are necessary, and when they are not?
Read on and find out!
Baby Night Feedings Are Probably Necessary When…
- …your baby stays awake for long periods if you don’t feed. A baby who fusses or cries persistently if he’s not fed is likely hungry and needs food. This is a pretty reliable sign that your baby’s night feedings are necessary, if you’ve ruled out poor sleep habits.
- …your baby is not eating enough during the day. Some babies get in a bad pattern of eating little and sleeping lots during the day, and then waking often and feeding a lot at night. In this case, a baby technically does need the night feedings – but the larger goal should be to reverse the pattern, so that most feedings happen during the day! You can download our free guide, 5 Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, for more tips on how to reverse that kind of eating/sleeping pattern.
- …after feeding, your baby sleeps soundly in 3-4 hour stretches. A baby who wakes at night, takes a full feeding, and then goes back to sleep and sleeps well was probably a hungry baby who needed the feeding in the first place.
- …your baby is a good self-soother who can fall asleep independently and goes back to sleep without help after a feeding. This may be the best sign that your baby’s night feedings are necessary. If your baby has overcome all his sleep associations, is able to fall asleep without your help, and goes down awake in his crib after a feed (and is then able to put himself back to sleep), you can rest assured that the night feedings likely necessary.
Of course, age is a factor in night feedings, too. Newborns and young infants must feed at night in order to grow and develop properly. And it is perfectly normal for babies to feed once per night up until 12 months old (although we do recommend an attempt at night weaning at 9 months). So keep your baby’s age in mind when looking at the factors above. Not sure when your baby should be feeding at night? Check out our sample schedules by age for night feeding tips.
Baby Night Feedings May Not Be Necessary When…
…your baby is waking out of habit (not hunger) and is using night feeds to soothe back to sleep. Only one point necessary in this section, because unnecessary night feedings are pretty straightforward. (At least, they are straightforward to understand – actually fixing them may be more challenging! 😉 )
Unnecessary night feedings are unnecessary because your baby is using them for soothing and comfort and not for food. The scenario goes something like this: your baby wakes during the night and is unable to fall back to sleep without help. So she cries for you, and you offer a feeding (because you think she may be hungry). She feeds for a short time and then falls asleep mid-feed. You lay her back down to sleep carefully (so as not to wake her up). But then, just a short time later, she’s awake again and crying. So you repeat the process. You may do this 6, 7, 8 times each night (or maybe even more!)
THIS right here – this pattern – is the #1 sign that your baby’s night feedings are probably not necessary. There are exceptions to this, of course, but by and large, this pattern represents a sleep problem that will need to be fixed eventually.
How To Stop Unnecessary Baby Night Feedings
If, after reading this, you feel confident that your baby’s night feedings aren’t necessary, the question remains: what should you do about it? How can you solve this problem?
That’s up to you, of course; there are many ways to sleep train your baby and change her sleep associations so that she is able to fall asleep without help and stay asleep until she is truly hungry and ready to eat. But sleep training can be an overwhelming task. That’s why we created The Baby Sleep Site®, and it’s why we are here to help! If you want personalized help for your baby’s sleep from a trained sleep consultant, browse our list of consultation packages and and choose the one that looks best for your unique situation.
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If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to explore Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-tos” of good baby sleep. With over 45 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style.
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