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

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.

have you done your baby sleep homework?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

some babies wake up too earlyIt’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.

Night Weaning Isn’t Working

Precious Little Sleep Book CoverNight weaning is not always a simple, linear process. If it’s going smoothly – YAY! If not, there could be loads of reasons why things aren’t going well. This is pithy post will work for many but not all. If you’re struggling with issues not covered here and need help troubleshooting, or developing a plan that works for your specific situation, you’ll find those answers spelled out in the book. There is a whole chapter dedicated to night weaning as well as a substantial troubleshooting guide, so check it out.

What worked/didn’t work for you? Leave a comment below!

{photo credit: DonkeyHotey and Stephen Heron}