Tired from your 6 month old suddenly waking at night for a feed again? No more crying multiple times a night—check out these tips to see how.
Ten-hour stretches. That was how long your baby would sleep at a time, even from as early as three months old. Other times, she’d sleep through the night, waking up only once for a feed (and always toward the early morning).
But these days… not so much.
Now she’s starting to wake more often during the night. The only thing that’ll get her back to sleep is breastfeeding or rocking her. At first, you figured this must be the 6 month sleep regression, a fussiness that would surely pass soon enough.
But while she has started to sleep better, it’s still not as good as her long stretches in the past. Instead, she wakes up consistently, crying and refusing to go back to sleep on her own. This also affects her naps the following day, throwing your sleep schedules off.
What to do with your 6 month old suddenly waking at night for a feed
No doubt, going back to frequent wake ups throughout the night is not easy for moms at any stage. Whereas your baby used to sleep through the night, she now wakes up constantly wanting to nurse, even as an older baby. You’ve tried hushing her back to sleep, but she screams and cries until you finally give in.
These sleep patterns are getting harder than ever. And even though something had worked so well in the past, that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to keep working forever.
So, what gives? Why now all of a sudden is she waking up for a snack? There are, of course, many reasons, from growth spurts to solid foods to a developmental milestone. But regardless of all the possible circumstances for your baby’s sleep pattern, one thing is clear:
The way your baby falls asleep at the start of bedtime is what she’ll need to fall back asleep if or when she wakes up in the middle of the night.
Let’s say you nurse her to sleep at bedtime and set her down for the night. All this time, you’ve been “lucky” in the sense that she hasn’t really woken herself up, at least before a good, long stretch.
But now, for a variety of reasons, your baby’s waking up every hour or two. The reason she can’t put herself back to sleep is because she has grown used to feeding to do so. Unless she learns a new way of putting herself back to sleep, she’ll keep relying on what has been working for her all this time.
Here’s the thing: it’s not at all uncommon to wake up multiple times a night between sleep cycles. In fact, you and I do it all the time, except that we know how to put ourselves to sleep. Hoping she’ll sleep 10-hour stretches every single night is an unfair expectation.
Regardless of the reason, she can still learn to put herself to sleep most of the time. So, what can you do so that you’re not feeding her to sleep when she wakes up at night?
1. Put your baby down awake
Whatever way you put your baby down in the crib is the only way she’ll know how to fall asleep. If she falls asleep at the breast, then she’ll need you to feed her each time she wakes up at night.
Instead, help her find different ways of falling asleep by putting her down awake. After all, she won’t be able to learn these new skills if she has no chance to do so on her own.
For instance, feed at the beginning of the bedtime routine. Many of us reserve the last feeding session after all the other rituals are done, from bathing to reading. But if you find that she falls asleep during feeding, move it closer to the start of the sleep routine.
And when you do feed her, make sure she stays alert the whole time, and is actually swallowing breastmilk or formula. Give her a burp, tickle her toes—anything to make sure she doesn’t fall asleep while nursing.
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2. Offer a security item
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Does your baby rely on nursing not because she’s hungry, but for comfort? Give her a security attachment. By establishing another way to soothe and calm herself, she won’t wake up needing to feed or suck.
A pacifier is another way for her to fall asleep, but because she can’t insert it into her mouth on her own, it may not work as well. In fact, she’ll wake up crying for you to help her find her pacifier, which defeats the purpose of sleeping through the night.
Other ways to help her feel safe and secure is through her environment, especially with white noise and dark curtains in the nursery. A white noise machine muffles sound that could startle her awake, while darkening curtains block out light that can make it difficult to sleep.
3. Aim for long stretches of sleep
Let’s say you still want to feed her at night, or feel like she still needs the calories at this time. Aim for a long stretch of sleep between when you initially put her down and the first wake up, around six or seven hours. After that feeding, aim for another three or four hours before she needs another feed.
For instance, if you put her down at 8pm, try to stretch the next feed to 2am or 3am. And let’s say you feed her at 3am, she should hopefully be able to sleep until 6am or 7am before needing another feed.
In other words, waking up every hour or two throughout the night shouldn’t be a regular schedule at this stage.
4. Feed more during the day
Worried that your baby truly is waking up at night out of hunger? Help him take in his calories during the day, like you and I do, so that he can reserve the nights for sleep.
Let’s say you’re feeding him at night once or twice. Gradually reduce the amount of the time you feed every night (for instance, by two minutes or half an ounce less each night).
Then, make up for it by increasing your daytime feedings. You might pour an extra half-ounce the following day, or feed him for two extra minutes. Repeat the following night, reducing the feeding once more by another half ounce or two minutes.
Eventually, you’ll be feeding him only during the day after having dwindled your nighttime feedings.
5. Offer comfort and cuddles when needed
You know your baby isn’t waking up out of hungry, and you know she can put herself to sleep on her own. What can you do when the reasons—like teething, an ear infection, or new fears—are causing her night waking?
Offer plenty of cuddles to help calm her down. These are for those moments when you know she truly does need you and isn’t just “complaining” about something. Instead, comfort her and help her calm down.
Once she’s calm, put her down awake (not asleep) so that she doesn’t regress to bad habits of needing to be held to fall asleep.
Feeling like you’re back in the newborn stage all of a sudden is not easy. Even if your 6 month old is suddenly waking at night to feed, you can help her get back on track.
Putting her down awake is key, as this will help her learn how to fall asleep on her own, even if she stirs throughout the night. Offer a security item that she can turn to for comfort. Even if you do feed her at night, aim for long stretches of sleep between wake ups—multiple wake ups shouldn’t be your norm.
Feed her more during the day to make up for the decreasing calories you’re weaning at night. And lastly, should she truly need you for comfort, make sure to provide it (while still putting her down awake).
Hopefully these tips will help not only get her back to her old sleep habits, but actually improve and lengthen them even more.
Get more tips:
- 6 Month Old Sleep Regression Signs to Watch Out For
- What to Do When Your 6 Month Old Baby Won’t Sleep Unless Held
- How to Get a Sick Baby to Sleep
- The Biggest Reason Your Baby Will Not Sleep (Even After All This Time)
- Why I Regret Rocking My Baby to Sleep
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