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What You Need to Know About Sleeping Through the Night Part 3

January 18, 2012 |  by  |  1 YO, 2 YO, 6-9 Months, 9-12 Months, featured, parenting
cute baby sleeping through the night

By 6-8 months your baby is fully ready and capable to be completely done with eating at night. Dr. Sears suggests that some parents really enjoy feeding their babies at night and will happily continue offering night feeding sessions until the child stops waking up on their own. If you are one of these mythical “I love waking up in the middle of the night” parents, best of luck to you. Personally I don’t know any people like this. And I think they’re really rare. Like unicorn rare.

But my point is that by this time your baby no longer needs to consume lots of food at night and is fully capable of getting all their calories in during daylight hours. And while a few babies will organically drop all their night feedings without any assistance from you, the vast majority of babies will continue to wake up routinely for a nursing session or bottle for years. So you can live with night feedings for the next 3 years, or you can take some simple and effective steps to gently wean your baby off their night feeding habit.

If you think you’re ready to stop night feedings you must have already read and done your homework from Sleeping Through the Night Part 1 and Sleeping Through the Night Part 2. Otherwise my no-fail night weaning strategy will fail miserably!

Start by choosing the feeding that is the least fun for you (typically this is the “dear God why are you awake it’s freeking 2:00 AM” feeding). Use the relevant process outlined below to completely wean off one feeding. Repeat.

Night Weaning for Breastfed Babies

  • Gradually reduce the amount of time baby gets on the breast by 1 minute every 1-2 days. For example if your baby nurses 10 minutes a side (for a total of 20 minutes), start popping him off at 9 minutes, 8 minutes, etc.
  • By the time your baby is only nursing for 2-3 minutes he may stop waking up all on his own. WHOOPIEE!
  • If your baby STILL wants to nurse then you have a few options on how to handle it:
  • A) Send daddy in for 1 minute of low-key soothing. Daddies are miraculously good at this. Also? They don’t smell like food. Babies are much more adaptive at getting the “no more food for you buddy” message from Dads.
  • B) Let him complain. This should NOT be a nightmare CIO scene. Most babies who have been gently decreasing their milk consumption are now USED to not eating at this time. Left to their own devices they typically complain for 5-10 minutes and then fall back to sleep.
  • When you are done feeding your baby at X time of night you are DONE. Don’t let teething/colds/travel get you back on the night feeding menu. If this happens you need to start over again. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

Night Weaning for Bottle-fed Babies

  • Offer 2 oz less of formula. So instead of an 8 oz bottle, offer a 6 oz bottle. Then a 4 oz bottle. Etc.
  • -OR- Dilute the formula by reducing the amount of formula in the bottle by 1 scoop but leave the amount of water the same. So instead of 8 oz of water with 4 scoops of formula you would offer 8 oz of water with 3 scoops of formula.
  • Continue decreasing the dilution of the formula until the bottle is 100% water. (Or continue offering less formula in the bottle – 6 oz, 4 oz, 2 oz). After 1-2 days of “only water” bottles, no more bottles.
  • At this point your baby will probably stop waking up for this feeding all on their own. If not read the tips above (for breastfed babies) on how to proceed.
  • When you are done with a given feeding you are DONE. No more bottles at that time of night. The kitchen is closed.

I’ve done this with many families over the years and it works shockingly well. Don’t believe me? Try it. Then come back next week and share your success story in the comment section!

There are a few small caveats to night weaning that I want to share….

The Dreaded Early Morning Feeding

It’s really common for babies to wake up to nurse in the early morning, say 5:00 AM, and then fall back to sleep for another 1-2 hours. When starting the night weaning process I suggest that this is the LAST feeding session you tackle.

Why?

Because babies often respond to giving up the 5:00 AM feeding by deciding instead to start the day. I think the problem is that a) it’s close enough to their normal wakeup time b) they’re used to waking up at that time already and c) they’ve gotten enough sleep that basic exhaustion won’t just whisk them back to dreamland.

I have no magic solution to this dilemma. Try weaning off the early morning feeding and see what happens. Your baby may continue to sleep happily until their normal wakeup time. Your baby may figure out how to fall back asleep at 5:00 am with a little gentle soothing encouragement from you or your partner. Or your baby may flatly refuse to go back to sleep without being fed.

If the latter then you can decide if you want to simply concede defeat and continue with the 5:00 AM feeding rather than wake up in the early dark of the morning. Personally I think an extra hour or two of sleep is worth dealing with the 5:00 AM feeding. If you’re nursing I would strongly encourage you to give your baby a bottle instead at this hour so you and your partner can take turns.

Baby is Too Young

You are welcome to try to gently night wean when your baby is younger than 6-8 months old. Sometimes it works. More often it doesn’t. But there is no harm in trying to drop a feeding or two in the 4-6 month time frame. If things go smoothly, great! If not your baby may simply be too young and may not be physically ready to go for longer stretches without eating. Wait a few weeks and then try again.

Using CIO to Stop Night Feedings

Cry it out is a lousy way to stop night feedings. For starters, a baby who is used to eating a lot at night will cry A LOT if asked to stop eating at night all at once. I guarantee you many of those CIO horror stories you can find on baby forums were caused by misguided parents who had a baby used to drinking 24 oz of formula at night and then was cut off cold turkey. I get cranky when I skip a meal. If I didn’t eat all day I’m almost ready to eat my own young. Don’t ask your babies to do this.

Cry it out is a useful technique and it has a very specific purpose. But it’s not useful for night weaning.

So if you’ve taught your baby how to fall asleep on their own, you are ready to get started on night weaning!

Share a comment below. What worked/didn’t work for you? Any advice for handling the dreaded 5:00 AM feeding/wakeup? If so drop me a line. We’ll write a bestselling baby sleep book and become billionaires!

{photo credit: DonkeyHotey and Stephen Heron}


939 Comments


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  1. I’m confused do I let my lil man CIO first then wean from night feeding or wean from feeding first then start CIO, he’s 9 months on the 5/29 just getting over his 3rd back to back double ear infections since he selfweaned from being EBF when I went back to work 2 months ago. I work twice a week 12 hour shifts Monday and Friday and occasionally fill in when needed, I’m exhausted when I go to work. His crib is in our room right next to my side of the bed, how’s the best way to start training I’ve read through all the steps 3 times and I’m still confused on where to start maybe it’s cause I’m tired I don’t know. I’m a nurse doing home health care with Peds patients on trachs, g-tubes etc I need to be alert. I’m a busy mom of 6 ages 16-almost 9 months I should know how to do this my youngest was a surprise there’s 5 years in between him and his only brother I guess I forgot everything in 5 years. Please Help

  2. Hi, my LO is 10 months old and just like your article stated, slept like a rock from 2 weeks old to 6 months in his crib. After 6 mo, on the mark, he started night waking and has every since and its only gotten much, much worse. He was breastfed and still nurses only for comfort as I am pregnant with child #2, and takes a bottle of donated breastmilk through the day. I continued to nurse him to sleep and when he awoke in the night. Now that he is waking 4-8 times a night I am trying hard not to let him comfort nurse every time, but he screams bloody murder for up to 30 minutes if I let him, if he doesn’t get the boob (my fault, I know). At 7 -8 months he cut 4 teeth at once, so I attributed his sleep problems to that and at 6 months, I attributed his sleep problems to the normal developmental leap stuff, but now at 10 months it’s only getting worse, and Im a zombie! So my biggest question is, since he only comfort nurses, what can I do to wean him from that? He still sleeps in his crib, so that is a plus. He also will wake up a lot when I place him in the crib and my process for getting him to sleep (nursing) has to start again. I don’t mind nursing, I just want him to sleep through the night. Thanks!

  3. I have tried slowly weaning my baby off his night time bottles. He is 6 months old. He eats a lot through the day. He is 18 lbs. He was having 2 lots of 4oz bottles a night. I slowly cut them by an ounce. But when I completely dropped the first bottle he s reamed for an hour. We soothed him at 10 min intervals and he still screamed and screamed. I finally caved in and gave him 2 oz. He wasn’t happy and cried for more, but after 2 mins of crying he went back to sleep. I don’t know what to do since I’ve done everything the literature tells me to do with gradual weaning. Do I have to go back now to feeding him twice a night, since he screams the house down for so long now his bottles have been taken away?

  4. Hi there! I have a 6 month old (23 pounds and 28 inches – big boy) who used to sleep well, but since the 4-month regression (where nursing only got him to sleep), he is sleeping horribly. He will usually sleep about 4 hours, then wakes up every hour. Sometimes its the other way around. I recently started work full time and he is only drink about 3 ounces per feed (every few hours) with some solids. Sometimes I feel like he is genuinely hungry, however I never know until he is done nursing. He currently naps about 1 hour four times a day. I have tried everything to get him to sleep longer. After he wakes from his last nap I nurse, feed solids then start bedtime routine – bath, diaper, pajamas, nurse again, book, put down awake. He will fall asleep great on his own but when he wakes up he can’t put himself BACK to sleep. Is this a nap issue? hunger issue? comfort/separation anxiety issue? Help!

  5. Great articles and I love your tone…super encouraging. My baby has been falling asleep on her own since she was 7 months. Now 14 months, she still does not sleep through the night but wakes frequently. We’re going to try CIO but I’ll still nurse and use the reduction method you describe. She naps like an angel, her bedtime routine has been the same (literally) since she was born. This has been really frustrating!! I feel like I’ve done most things right and it’s still going so wrong!!

  6. My 10 month old still gets up once at night to eat. It is never at the same time and sometimes(!) he will actually skip that feeding, so my doctor thinks he is actually hungry. What do you think?

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