Learn how to start dropping night feeds with these 6 steps! You CAN help your baby stop waking up in the middle of the night and eat during the day instead.
Night times were the worst. Even though I was sleep deprived both day and night, something about waking up when I was supposed to be asleep made those evenings hard.
Those were the times when I’d wake up delirious from the little sleep I managed to get. On good nights, I’d find movies and shows on my phone to watch while I nursed. On not-so-good ones, I’d vent to my husband or start hating my predicament.
Waking up many times a night, with feeding as the only way to soothe your baby back to sleep, takes a toll on any parent.
Your baby may already be putting himself to sleep, but still wakes up to eat every few hours throughout the night time. You wonder whether it’s even hunger that’s keeping him awake, especially when he doesn’t seem to eat much during daytime feedings.
Other times, the frequent wake-ups happen more out of habit, like when he’s already consuming all the calories he should getting during the day. You know he can sleep through the night without needing to eat, but he still relies on the comfort of drinking to fall back asleep.
When should you start dropping night feeds?
Every baby is different, but take a look at a few signs that yours might be ready to drop night feeds:
- Your baby doesn’t eat much during the day. If he’s not eating much during the day, it may be because he’s still eating at nights. He can likely transfer his caloric intake from nighttime to daytime.
- He doesn’t really drink at night. Have you noticed that when you offer a feed at night, he either plays or conks right back to sleep? He may be using feeding time to play or to soothe himself back to sleep, not as a chance to satisfy hunger.
- Check with your pediatrician. The number one way to make sure it’s okay to start weaning night feedings is to ask his pediatrician. She can let you know, depending on his growth and stage, whether he can drop those feedings and sleep through the night.
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“I just want to say thank you. You have given us our sleep back!! I followed your guide exactly and I’m so delighted to tell you that he now self settles and even more delighted to say that he sleeps through the night until 7am. He has done it the last 5 nights! Your guide gave me the tools and confidence, and I can’t thank you enough. My husband is extremely grateful too!!” -Carla B.
How to start the night weaning process
Thankfully, it’s possible for your baby to sleep through the night and start taking in all his calories during the day, like you and I do. But going cold turkey could make him hungry, especially if he’s actually drinking (as opposed to comfort nursing).
By following the steps below, you can gently transition him from nighttime feedings. This will help him consume his calories during the day and rely less on feeding to fall asleep at night:
Step 1: Record the typical times your baby wakes up and cries for milk
Many babies wake up at roughly the same times every night. For several nights, write the times your baby wakes up, and see if you can find a pattern. Even with a wide variety of wake-up times, take an average of the typical times she wakes up.
What if her wake-ups are inconsistent? If you find that she wakes up for the first feed between 10:30pm and midnight, and for the second between 2:30am and 4am, go with the earliest time. In this example, you’ll say she wakes up at 10:30pm and 2:30am.
Get more tips on what to do when your baby wakes up crying hysterically.
Step 2: Set your alarm to wake your baby to feed
That’s right—you’ll be waking yourself and your baby up when you start weaning night feedings. The idea is to beat him to the punch and get to him first before he has a chance to cry for milk. You want to break the association that crying means he’ll get milk.
In our example, you’ll wake yourself up at 10pm and 2am on the first night.
If he cries any other time for milk, hold off on feeding him until those designated times. Reassure him instead that you’re doing things differently now and that he’ll get his milk soon.
At those designated times—in our example, 10pm and 2am—wake and feed him the usual amount he eats. If you breast feed, nurse however long you usually do. If you’re bottle feeding, give the same amount of formula or expressed breast milk like normal.
Step 3: Reduce the amount of milk you offer
Let’s say you started weaning on Sunday night. On the second night—Monday night—you’ll reduce the amount of milk you offer.
If you’re breastfeeding, reduce each feeding session by two minutes. If you’re formula feeding, reduce by half an ounce. You’re reducing the amount of milk your baby is consuming at night, while still keeping the same wake-up times.
Step 4: Give extra milk the next day
The previous night (in our example, Monday night), your baby either reduced the amount of time he nursed or the ounces he drank from a bottle. Now you’ll add those extra minutes or ounces to his feedings the next day. Whatever amount or time you reduced at night, you’ll make up for it the following day.
In other words, on Monday night, you reduced his total nighttime feeding by one ounce (half an ounce each session).
On Tuesday, during the day, add an extra ounce throughout the day, such as adding a half-ounce to the morning bottle and another half-ounce to his midday one. You could also add a whole ounce to the evening bottle.
You’re helping him take in less at night and more during the day. You and I eat during the day and none at all at night—soon he will be able to do the same.
Step 5: Reduce the amount even more the next night
The following night (in our example, Tuesday night), repeat the same process of waking yourself up 30 minutes before your baby does. But now, reduce the amount you offer even more. If you’re breastfeeding, reduce each night-time feed by two more minutes. If you’re bottle feeding, reduce by another half-ounce.
You’re reducing the amount of milk he’s consuming at night, while still keeping the same wake-up times.
Step 6: Repeat every night until you have weaned all feedings
On the third and subsequent nights, reduce the amount you feed even more. Let’s say you started off at 20 minutes on Sunday night and 18 on Monday night. Come Tuesday night, you’ll nurse for 16 minutes, 14 on Wednesday night, and so forth.
Throughout this time, you’ll also be adding all that milk the following day. For instance, by Wednesday, he should be nursing for an extra 6 minutes sometime during the day.
You’ll keep reducing the nighttime feedings until you’re down to the last few minutes or ounces. You can decide when it doesn’t seem to make sense to wake your baby up any longer.
For instance, I stopped getting my baby up from the crib when I was down to four minutes. I didn’t see the point of waking him up the following night for two minutes when it seemed he could sleep through the night.
Learn how to get your baby to sleep through the night.
Common questions about dropping night feeds
Over time, you’ll reduce your baby’s nighttime feedings and transfer those ounces of milk to the daytime instead. And of course, as with any process, you can be flexible with what works for you.
Still, you might have a few questions about the process in general. Take a look at a few common questions about night weaning:
1. “What if my baby wakes up at different times than the designated wake-up times?”
Let’s say you figured your baby wakes up at 10:30pm and 2:30am, but for the last several days, his wake-up times are all over the place. If it seems like he doesn’t have a clear pattern of when he wakes up, take an average of the times he does wake up and stick to one.
If he does seem to have a new routine that doesn’t line up with your old designated times, adjust your alarm to accommodate that new time. Let’s say he’s now waking up at 10pm the last several days instead of 10:30pm. Adjust your weaning so that you wake him up at 9:30pm moving forward.
2. “Do I keep reducing the same amount for each session, or is it okay to combine the sessions into one?”
Your baby might hardly eat anything for each session, so you’re considering combining the two (or however many sessions you have) into one.
Let’s say you’re down to feeding him for 6 minutes two times a night, and now you want to feed for 12 minutes once a night.
If he doesn’t seem to cry at those designated times, you’ll likely be okay waking him up once instead of twice, and combining the two. But if he’s still crying at those designated times, you’ll have better luck sticking to the same number of sessions instead of combining them.
3. “What if my baby isn’t interested in extra milk the next day?”
Even with the reduced amount at night, you may notice your baby isn’t interested in drinking extra milk the next day. He might not finish bottles, or pull away from nursing, even though he didn’t drink those ounces the previous night.
If that’s the case, don’t force it. He might…
- Not even have been hungry when he was waking in the middle of the night and was only feeding as a habit.
- Not need as many calories in general now that his body isn’t growing as it once did as a young infant.
- Be in that developmental stage where he’s more interested in exploring and practicing his skills than he is with eating.
If you’re concerned, check with your pediatrician about his weight gain and eating patterns. She’ll let you know whether there is an issue at hand.
You can also feed him either in a “boring” room with little distraction, or in a new environment where he doesn’t notice he’s finishing his bottle.
Read more about what to do when your baby goes on a bottle strike.
4. “Can I be flexible with how much I reduce each night?”
Yes! Two minutes and half an ounce each night is a guideline, not a rule. If you feel like your baby could use more or less calories, or you don’t want to wean so soon, feel free to reduce even less.
I felt like my twins could use a longer stretch of nighttime feedings, so I reduced their feedings by a minute.
5. “Can I stick to the same number of minutes (or ounces) for a few nights in a row?”
Yes, you can stick to the same number of minutes or ounces for a few nights before reducing. In other words, you don’t have to reduce the milk each night.
For instance, if you reduced nursing from 20 minutes to 18 on Monday night, you can stick to 18 minutes on Tuesday night. You can stick with 18 for however long you feel your baby needs the milk before decreasing the time to 16 minutes.
You know your baby best and can decide how quickly or slowly you want to wean.
Waking up multiple times a night is like a rite of passage for many parents. The discomfort of sleep deprivation ties us all together in one common experience, one we can relate with all too well.
But at some point, you can wean your baby from nighttime feedings and hit that new milestone. Maybe he’s not even hungry, but is feeding out of habit. Or he is hungry, but can consume his calories during the day with your help.
When you do, a glorious thing happens: you and your baby get a full night of sleep. No wake-ups, no inconsolable crying. You’re gradually tapering off your milk supply to match his needs (no engorgement!). You can put him to sleep knowing you’ll also sleep well at bedtime.
And you’ll stop dreading the evenings once and for all.
Get more tips:
- 5 Reasons Your Baby Wakes Up Crying Hysterically
- Why Dads Should Wake Up for Night Feeds
- How to Wean a Baby from Breastfeeding
- How to Solve 11 Month Old Sleep Problems
- 4 Effective Tricks to Handle a Baby Not Drinking Milk
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