Dropping Night Feeds For Babies 6-12 Months Old

Sarah Ong Blog Leave a Comment

Here’s another common question:

Question on night weaning! I’m starting to think about when/best way to drop night feeds. My 6 month old has just started solids and eats very well. He’s a big boy (90th percentile for height+weight).

Pediatrician says he doesn’t need night feeds for nutrition. Currently he sleeps 630pm – 630am and wakes twice most nights. When he wakes up nothing will settle him apart from milk (although he is equally happy with daddy + bottle). I don’t think it’s always hunger as sometimes he will just latch for 5 mins and fall asleep whereas other times he has a long feed.

I’m interested to know if this many feeds sounds about right? How do you know when they are ready to start dropping night feeds and what’s the best way to do it? I actually don’t mind waking up at the moment- but I want to balance giving him the comfort and food he needs with helping him to become a good sleeper (Oh and when he wakes- cuddles/comforting never works and he won’t take a pacifier).

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge how confident and well informed this mom is about considering to cut down the night feeds. She has also seek her pediatrician’s input on whether he still needs the night feeds for nutrition since her baby is on the 90th percentile for height and weight.

Her reasons for cutting down are also clear – she doesn’t mind waking to feed him if that’s what he needs for nutrition but she wants to balance giving him the reassurance at night when he wakes and feeds that he needs so that he is not left hungry overnight.

When I help clients, I would want to understand first the reasons of mom wanting to night wean, the age and weight of baby, and also getting the green light from the pediatrician to discontinue night feeding for nutritional purposes. I would also want to know if the baby is being breastfed or formula fed. If breastfeeding, I would also want to know mom’s goals with breastfeeding.

In this case, the baby is 6 months old, has started solids, eats well and has a healthy weight. Mom also mentioned that when baby wakes, cuddles/comforting never works and he only falls asleep by latching for 5 minutes. It sounds like there is a control pattern going on. Baby is using breastfeeding to be comforted and to fall asleep.

Now, I’d like to put it out there that I have nothing against moms who use nursing to put their baby to sleep or to use it as a comfort item. There really is no “should” or “shouldn’t”. We all have our own ways with child upbringing.

I am merely explaining what is happening so that you can make your own decision to choose how you start the night weaning process.

Here it goes…

The first thing to cure this is stop nursing your baby for “comfort” in an effort to get your baby to sleep. Instead, hold him without distracting (distracting can be rocking, shushing, using toy) and allow him to cry if he needs to.

If baby MUST HAVE bottle to fall asleep and demands for it to go back to sleep each time he wakes at night, then bottles are his control pattern. The cure for this is the same as the cure for breastfed babies: stop giving a bottle at bedtime and during the night, and allow your baby to cry if he needs to, while giving him loving attention and reassurance.

If you feel doubtful and have thoughts like, “maybe he IS truly hungry and this could be growth spurt” or “maybe he’s just thirsty“, then offer him milk or water in a bottle for a breastfed baby, or milk/water in a sippy cup for bottle fed babies or toddlers.

If he accepts the drink and goes peacefully back to sleep, then you know that he was simply thirsty or hungry and you have addressed his needs.

However, if he rejects it and cries or rages, then you know that he probably needs to release and heal from pent-up feelings (assuming your baby is not ill or in pain).

See this post on how to do crying-in-arms to help your baby sleep without comfort item.

I don’t recommend going cold turkey to stop the night feeds either. Especially if baby has been fed 2-6 times every night.

For a baby who wakes 6 times to comfort feed, I suggest stretching out about 4 hours in between the last feed for 3 days, then 5 hours stretch for next 3 days, then 6 hours of stretch for next 3 days, and so on. Or you could take it as gradual as you would like, depending on your resources in terms of time and attention and your readiness to night wean.

If you would like to keep one night feed (for keeping up the milk supply) until your baby is 12 months old, you can have a choice to offer the night feed sometime between 2-5am if your baby wakes up.

See this post on how to maintain your milk supply if your baby starts sleeping through the night.

There is no guarantee that by giving up night feeds that your baby starts sleeping through the night. Things like developmental milestones, illness and times of increased stress will cause your baby to have occasional wakeful nights.

By helping your baby go off his control pattern to sleep and relax after having a good cry in your arms and loving presence, you will not only help him sleep better, you will also be helping him become an emotionally healthy person.