Night feedings are essential for their growth for the first few months of your baby’s life, but you’ll eventually move to gentle night weaning. Today’s society portrays the image that babies should be sleeping through the night almost immediately. And eventually, your baby will sleep for more extended periods at night, but night feedings are necessary at the beginning. As your child ages, they no longer need to feed at night and will begin to sleep for longer stretches. This is a developmental milestone that leads to night weaning for every child.
Frequent night feedings and wakings can leave you feeling exhausted. This time can feel like a blur to tired parents. But when the time is right for your little one, gentle night weaning from feeds can begin. Night weaning does not have to be stressful for you or the baby. By introducing gentle interventions, you and your baby will get longer stretches of sleep before you know it.
Is My Baby Ready for Night Weaning?
Night feedings are normal in the early weeks of infancy and are necessary for both the baby and the nursing mother. Newborn babies must feed every 2-3 hours in the first weeks of life to support growth and development. For a breastfeeding mom, night feeds are crucial to helping establish her breast milk supply in the early weeks and maintaining it later. A mother’s milk supply is based on supply and demand, stressing the importance of milk expression even throughout the night.2,5
During the early infant months, babies have frequent sleep periods throughout the day and night. As they grow, their sleep periods become more consolidated. After about a year, sleep shifts toward the night hours, and feeding patterns will change. They will need less food at night as they take more in during the day.4
Your little one might tell you they are ready to night wean. Some signs your baby might be ready to night wean include:1
- Shorter feeding times
- Sucking just for comfort, not removing milk
- Showing less interest in the breast or bottle
Even as your baby grows, night feeding may be a comfort measure for your baby. It is common for babies to wake in the middle of the night and need to be comforted for the first year. And moms, if feeding your little one at night to comfort them back to sleep is doable for you, keep at it!6
It is your decision when to wean your baby at night. Contact your healthcare team for guidance if you are unsure the time is right.
Tips for Gentle Night Weaning
A gentle approach to night weaning might be the perfect method for you and your little one. By approaching this milestone carefully, you can decrease the stress on you and your baby. Here are some tips for gentle night weaning.
Increase Day Time Feedings
Encourage your baby to feed more during the day. Add in an extra nursing session or bottle throughout the day. For nursing mothers, you may even want to add a dream feed before heading to bed.
Slowly Decrease Night Feedings
Decreasing nighttime feedings will look slightly different for each mother and baby duo. For some, this might mean shortening the length of each nursing session first. For others, you might begin weaning by decreasing the number of feeding sessions each night. You must do what works best for you and your baby. The same guidelines go for bottle-fed babies. Start by slowly decreasing the amount given in the bottle or the amount of bottle-feeding sessions.3
Aim For Comfort
Significant transitions, such as nighttime weaning, are already challenging. Help eliminate any additional factors that could cause a problem with your weaning plan by ensuring your baby is as comfortable as possible. This can include making sure:1
- The room temperature is appropriate.
- The baby is not sick or experiencing pain/discomfort. Address any concerns, such as teething pain or discomfort from eczema.
Involve Your Partner
During night weaning, your little one will likely still have night wakings. This is an excellent opportunity to involve your partner and have them help calm your baby down.3,7
Establish a Bedtime Routine
Routines can bring about a sense of comfort. When your baby knows what to expect leading up to bed, it can set the stage for a smooth bedtime and night ahead.3
Talk to Your Toddler
If night weaning at an older age, it is best to talk to your toddler. Explain what the plan is and why you are doing it. They are still young, but communicating with an older child will help them understand what to expect.3,7
As the proud parents of a brand-new baby, sleep might feel like a thing of the past. The frequent night wakings and feedings might have you feeling more tired than ever. Fear not, mom and dad, the day will come when your little one will sleep longer stretches at a time. When the right time comes, your baby will start night weaning, so be patient. Don’t try to force it; follow your baby’s lead and approach the process gradually. If you are unsure if the time is right to wean your baby at night, reach out to your healthcare team for guidance.