Baby Night Feedings: How To Know When They Are Necessary [VIDEO]

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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!

How To Know When Baby Night Feedings Are Necessary

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

Feeding ScheduleIf, 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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69 thoughts on “Baby Night Feedings: How To Know When They Are Necessary [VIDEO]”

  1. My daughter just turned four months old. She is a good sleeper at night (she sleeps almost 12 hours straight without waking to feed). My question is, is it okay for her to be sleeping that long without eating so young? She eats about 30 oz of formula a day.

    Another question: I usually can’t get her to nap more than 30 minutes at a time. Many times she wakes up fussy because she’s still tired but won’t go back to sleep without me picking her up and rocking her. Other times, she is wide awake after this short nap and appears well-rested. Is this normal?

    • Hi Dorothy,
      Thank you for checking out The Baby Sleep Site! We’d be happy to help with your night feedings question. It sounds like your daughter is eating within the normal range for her age, but the best way to tell this young is still by weight. Check in with your pediatrician to make sure she’s gaining weight appropriately and is in the normal weight range for her age – that will mean she’s eating enough!

      For naps, it is pretty normal to see short naps at this age. There is a very gentle method we recommend to extend naps here:
      Or, you can try any sleep coaching method for naps, if she’s healthy and her pediatrician approves. Our Mastering Naps ebook is appropriate for her age and also helpful as she grows and naps change further:
      Hope this helps!

  2. I’d love some help! My daughter is 6.5 months old, 17 pounds, and is exclusively breastfed. She habitually wakes multiple times each night! Bedtime is typically around 6pm. (Bedtime and naps we have no problem. She’s able to fall asleep on her own. Naps are about an hour to 2 hours long) During the night she wakes at 9pm, 12am, 3am, and is ready to start the day around 6am (sometimes even at 5am ?). I do a routine of eat, play, sleep and she naps around 8:30am, 11:30am, and 3pm. I respond to her sleep cues and put her to sleep drowsy but awake in her crib. She sleeps in our room as we have 2 bedrooms and don’t want her to wake her 3 year old sister. So, I admit to picking her up in the night for months to get her to quiet quickly so as not to wake up her daddy. I’m completely exhausted! Please help!

  3. Hello, reading this was rather comforting to hear that night weaning or sleep training isn’t easy. My 8 1/2 month old girl has never slept well but has been waking every 2-3 hours since 6 months. I recently decided it was time to try sleep train. She uses a pacifier that is attached to her so she can find it at night. I am really struggling to know if I should feed her or not as she is still waking every 2-3 hours and cried for almost 2 hours (will reassurance) last night before I decided to finally feed her as she lost the plot. She woke 3 hours after that and was hard to get back down till about 6. I know 9 months is the age where night weaning is recommended but I am struggling to even cut it down to 1 feed. help!

    • Hi Claudia,
      Thank you for your comment! I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling so much with your baby’s night feedings – the situation sounds tough! There are tons of reasons why babies why at night, so without knowing more about your current schedule, it’s hard to make a judgment. I’d really encourage you to write into our wonderful client services folks at [email protected], with a brief description of your feeding and sleep schedule, and what method of sleep coaching you’re trying, as they can then give you more specific resources. In the meantime, I just want to reassure you that, although many babies can sleep through the night at 9 months, it is also still normal to see a night feeding, or even two, at this age. But if your baby does need a feeding, we expect her to eat and then go right back to sleep, and stay asleep for a good length of time.
      I hope this helps – hang in there!

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