The Truth About Nighttime Feeds
One of the most common questions we hear from exhausted parents is when can they wean nighttime feeds. They are exhausting; we aren’t going to sugar coat it. Unfortunately, there are many conflicting perspectives, opinions and advice from pediatricians, family, friends, lactation consultants, etc. It can leave parents feeling conflicted and confused about what is best for their baby.
We would like to preface this whole article by stating that every baby is different. What is right and works for one child / family, isn’t necessarily going to work for another. It is important that you assess your little one as an individual and make a judgement based on what they are showing you through their behaviours and patterns vs what the books are stating based on their age.
Newborn babies have tiny tummies; this is why they need to eat so frequently. You might wonder what they are doing when they spend such a long time nursing in the early days and the easiest answer to that is practicing! You can expect to feed a newborn (0-3 months) on demand every 2-3 hours. There are no tricks to try and stretch the length of time between feeds overnight at this age because their bodies need the nutrition and their tummies will grow when they are ready. Babies are born with a natural instinct – they will eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. As adults, we train this natural awareness out of babies with our desire to “fill them up.” Trust in your little one – they know what they need!
Around three to four months you will start to see your baby naturally lengthen the amount of time in between feeds overnight to every three to six hours. This roughly breaks down to 2-3 feeds per night. We strongly recommend that you feed on demand during the day and that you respond to nighttime wakes with a feed if it has been coming up to 3+ hours since their last feed. Withholding feeds or attempting to encourage your little one to go for longer stretches of time between feeds overnight can actually cause future challenges around sleep and nutrition.
We feel that it is reasonable to expect to feed your baby every 4 or so hours around five to six months. This generally looks like 1-2 nighttime feeds. If your baby is waking up frequently to eat during the night then we would encourage you to look at how much eating opportunity they have during the day. Babies need to meet a daily caloric quota, and if they aren’t being given the chance to fulfil that need during the day, they are going to make up for it at night. The other cause for frequent nighttime nursing is if you are treating solids like a meal. Solid foods should be used to complement breast / formula feeds, not replace them. Continue to feed your baby before you offer solids. If your little one is primarily eating solids during the day instead of nursing / formula feeding they are going to need to make up for that missed nutrition somehow!
Most pediatricians will tell you that you can wean nighttime feeds at six months. They will generally advise that you use the Cry It Out approach in order to eliminate those nighttime feeds. This often backfires and this is when we hear from the majority of the families that we work with. Some babies still need a nighttime feed up until 12 months of age. We are not saying every baby – but some do. It is important to determine whether or not your little one still needs these nighttime feeds before you even contemplate creating a plan to “eliminate” them.
Stay tuned for next weeks article on how to determine whether your little one still needs those nighttime feeds, tips and tricks on how to make them work for you, and gentle ways to reduce unneeded night feeds!
The beautiful images in this article were provided by Rebecca Sehn Photography.