Do you think your baby is ready to drop their night feedings? Are you ready to stop comfort feeding at night? Learn how you can wean night feedings for bottle fed and breastfed babies so everyone can sleep better at night!
Night feedings have to be one of the most exhausting parts of being a parent. Some parents may think those night feedings are so precious and sweet—those tender moments in the night when the rest of the house is quiet and still and it’s just you and baby in your arms. It is one of the most endearing parts of motherhood!
But for parents who are up 3, 4, 5 or more times feeding their baby in the middle of the night or offering a dream feed, long after the fourth trimester, the tenderness is quickly stripped away and exhaustion takes over.
Some babies will automatically drop night feedings on their own, while others may need a little help. Here’s how you can gently wean night feedings with your baby so everyone can sleep longer stretches at night!
What is Night Weaning?
Night weaning is the process of your baby no longer needing feeds during the night. A feed is considered a night feed when it happens after you put your baby down for bed initially, usually between 7 and 8 PM.
When Should I Stop Night Feedings?
Most babies are not ready to wean from night feeds until they are at least four months old or twelve pounds.
If your baby is at least 4 months old or 12 pounds, then he might be ready to wean some of his night time feedings, but not all of them. Some babies still need one or two night feedings, especially up until 6 months old.
Check with your baby’s pediatrician to see if you can start to wean your baby from some or all of his night feedings. Once you get the okay from the doctor, you can use this as a guide!
How Do I Stop Night Feedings?
Some babies will drop night feedings cold turkey all on their own. If you’ve established healthy sleep habits, including an eat, play, sleep routine, independent sleep skills, and your baby is getting enough feeds throughout the day, then he may start sleeping through the night feeds on his own when he is ready!
This is how it happened with our daughter. She naturally dropped the night feeds one-by-one until she slept 11 or 12 hours one night! It was glorious and eventually became our norm!
First, you’ll need to make sure you have weaned all the feedings that are sleep props and sleep association feedings. Does your baby need the feeding because he is hungry, or does he need the feeding to go back to sleep, because that is what he is used to doing?
If you are sure your baby is nursing for comfort and not hunger, then skip to the next part that says How to Stop Comfort Feeding At Night.
If your baby doesn’t have sleep associations and is ready to wean from night feedings, then here is how we can do it!
How to Wean From Night Feeds That Aren’t Comfort Feeds
This is a gentle process that helps you slowly drop the night time feedings that are not sleep-prop related. This gives you a plan and confidence so you don’t just leave your baby to cry it out for night weaning!
First, you will start with the middle feeding in the middle of the night. For example, if your baby has a feeding at 10 PM, 1 AM, and 4 AM, you will start with the 1 AM feeding.
For that middle feeding (1 AM in our case), you will slowly reduce either the number of ounces your baby takes each night if he is bottle fed, or reduce the time you spend nursing if he is a breastfed baby.
- If breastfed, reduce the amount of time spent feeding by two minutes each night.
- If baby is bottle fed, reduce the amount of milk or formula by 1/2 an ounce every night.
Your baby will start to increase his milk intake / food during the day to make up for those lost calories in that middle of the night feeding.
Do this every night until that middle feeding is eliminated. Once that feeding is eliminated, you will start to reduce the ounces or timing of the first night time feed.
Once you start this process, babies will start to use their soothing skills and may eliminate the other feedings on his own.
If your baby has developed a sleep association with nursing, then you will need to work to break the habit in order to night wean.
Babies’ sleep cycles last approximately 45 to 60 minutes and they are constantly waking up and then putting themselves back to sleep (we adults do this as well!). When a baby is fed to sleep, he will usually wake up from one sleep cycle and need the breast or bottle to help him go back to sleep and into a new sleep cycle.
If you’re sure that your little one is comfort nursing throughout the night and you are ready to wean him, then here is how you can do it!
Keep a feeding log (grab our free one below!) for several days and see how often your baby is feeding. Make sure to offer full feeds and not just snack feeds. If you see that your baby can go for three hours during the day in between feeds, then we know he can do that at night as well.
Now that you know your baby’s necessary feedings, it will help us establish new feeding time goals in the night and allow us to start the night weaning process.
Put your baby to bed while they are still awake, meaning don’t rock or feed him to sleep. Choose your preferred sleep training method and start at bedtime. You will feed your baby, put him down for bed while he is still awake, and then use your sleep training method to help him get to sleep.
For example, if you’re using the Gentle Three-Minute Drill, you will nurse your baby, put him down awake and then leave the room. If he starts crying, implement the three-minute drill and stick with it for up to 90 minutes to allow him to self soothe and fall asleep.
If you’ve established that your baby can go three hours in between feeds, then determine the next time that you will feed your baby at night. If his last feeding was at 7 PM, you’ll aim for 10 PM.
If your baby wakes up before 10 PM, you will use your sleep training technique again. You know this night waking is to comfort nurse, since your baby has established that he can go three hours in between feeds during the day.
If your baby wakes up at or after 10 PM, go in and nurse your baby. Feed him as long as he needs. After the feeding, burp your baby and put him back down to bed.
If he cries after you put him down, you will reinstate your sleep training technique. Continue this process throughout the night using your new goal times of when to feed him.
You will continue this for your next feeding time of 1 AM and follow the same process. Once a baby sleeps through a feeding, that feeding is gone. If he happens to sleep through the 10 PM feeding it’s gone! If he wakes up the next night at 10 PM, you will use your sleep training technique instead of feeding him.
As your baby learns to self soothe, he may eliminate feedings on his own. His sleep cycles will change, especially in the beginning and his sleep may start to look even more scattered, but that is him resetting his sleep cycles.
When you stick with your established feeding times and allow your baby to learn independent sleep, it will help you to know the times he wakes up in the middle of the night for hunger.
Many babies correct on their own once they learn to go to sleep without being breast or bottle fed.
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