Does Your Baby NEED a Nighttime Feed?
It is our goal to attempt to normalize nighttime feeds. They mean that your little one is healthy, growing and thriving, however we understand that not every nighttime wake needs a feed. One of the biggest questions that we hear from parent’s is, “How do I know if they are actually hungry or not?!” That is the question that we are here to answer.
Before we dive into today’s topic we want to explain the difference between anighttime feedand a nighttime wake. Nighttime feeds are often considered (incorrectly!) a “sleep problem” or addressed using a sleep training approach. A nighttime feed is simply your baby waking for needed nutrition during the night. Depending on the age of your little one, it is entirely appropriate for them to be waking for these feeds. We cannot stress this enough – we 100% support you feeding your hungry baby during the night, regardless of age!
We consider a nighttime waking your little one waking for no apparent reason during the night and requiring support in order to return to sleep. Many families use nursing in order to get their little one back to sleep during a nighttime wake. If this is working for your family and you are happy with the arrangement then there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, however unless these feeds are for nutritional purposes, we would still consider it a nighttime waking.
So lets jump into today’s topic – how to determine if those nighttime feeds are needed!
If you haven’t read the first article in this series that explains why nighttime feeds happen and how many you can expect based on the age of your baby, that is a good place to start! Click here to check it out. Having realistic expectations for your little one’s eating and sleeping habits is key to establishing appropriate nighttime goals for your baby.
Newborn - 3 months – Feed on demand every 2-3 hours around the clock
3-4 months – 2-3 feeds per night or on demand every 3-6 hours
5-6 months - 1-2 nighttime feeds
7-9 months - 1 feeding with the potential for 2
10-12 months - Sometimes 1 feed
12+ months: Generally no feeds
So how do you know if your little one actually needs the feeds they are waking up for? There are a few different things you can look for:
1. Is your baby actively nursing? Or comfort feeding? Look for the “Suck, suck, swallow,” pattern in order to determine whether they are actively feeding. If you are seeing the “flutter suck” then it is likely that they are nursing for comfort; this indicates that this specific feed (not every wake they have over night) is likely not needed.
2. Does your baby take in a full feed during these night wakings? If your little one is only nursing for a few minutes and then falling back to sleep, its likely that hunger wasn’t the cause of the waking. It is common for babies to wake for one full feed a night and a few small feeds
3. Is your little one over six months and waking up more than three times per night to eat? If you are dealing with numerous nighttime wakes and are responding to each of them with nursing, then it is unlikely that they need nutrition at each of these wakes.
Newborn to three months – If your little one wakes during the night, offer a feed. At this age they need the round the clock nutrition in order to gain weight and continue to grow appropriately. If you are breastfeeding, around 6-8 weeks your milk goes from being hormonally driven to adjusting to supply and demand. If your little one suddenly starts nursing more frequently, it is likely that they are actually helping you establish your milk supply! As frustrating as it may be, they are setting you up for a successful breastfeeding experience!
Three to Four Months: Your little one will start to lengthen their stretches of nighttime sleep; this results in you getting a longer stretch of uninterrupted sleep early in the evening and more frequent (every 3 hours or so) wakings around midnight until morning. If you are finding that your baby is waking an hour after you have fed them, rather than immediately assuming they are still hungry, spend a few minutes exploring other ways to soothe your baby. It is entirely possible that they are still hungry and if that is the case, then we encourage you to provide a feed, however spending a few minutes seeing if they just need a cuddle, if you can rock them, bounce them or soothe them without providing a feed, then you are supporting them back to sleep, but not reinforcing it by immediately providing food. We want your little one to understand that if they are hungry, they will always be fed, but if they wake frequently, their needs (which might not always be hunger) will be met.
Five to Six Months: This is usually where longer stretches of sleep can start to be expected. We would consider it reasonable to provide feeds every 3-4 hours at this age. If your little one is waking more frequently, as we explained above, respond with comfort and soothing rather than immediately responding with a feed. We don’t want your baby to learn that every time they wake, they will be fed. This reinforces more wakings, than encourages less. If you are currently stuck in a cycle of providing numerous, unneeded feeds throughout the night, check out next weeks article that provides gentle strategies to reduce those feeds when appropriate.
Seven to Nine Months: It is realistic to expect one to two (at the most) overnight feeds at this age. This age group will be moving toward enjoying the nighttime feeds rather than needing them. Make sure that you check back in and assess each feed to determine if it is truly needed. If it is then that is 100% normal – again, every baby is different and every child has different needs. It can be very difficult not to get wrapped up in what other peoples children are doing and are capable of, but if you continue to check in with your little one and ensure they are getting everything they need, then you are setting them up for life long success!
Ten to Twelve months: It is normal for there still to be one nighttime feed. Most children no longer need nighttime nutrition, however there are some out there who still do. As we mentioned above, check in with your little one regularly and determine if you still need that feed in there! If you discover that this feed is simply there for comfort, then stay tuned for next weeks article on gentle ways to reduce nighttime nursing.
Twelve + Months: It is unlikely that your baby still needs a nighttime feed at this age however many children are still experiencing nighttime wakings and parent’s choose to respond using a feed. If you are looking for some gentle ways to wean the feeds from these nighttime wakings, stay tuned for next weeks article!