One of the biggest misconceptions when dropping night feeds is that baby is going to be dropping overall calories. Moms will tell me they need to check with their pediatrician first. Here’s why a call to the pediatrician is generally not necessary. When you’re dropping night feeds, you’re not dropping calories. You are simply transferring night calories to daytime. This can usually begin somewhere between 8 and 10 weeks. For some babies it’s a little earlier and for others a little later.
Most babies are capable of dropping a night feed once they have gained weight – with a total weight being around 10 pounds. This typically happens between 8 to 10 weeks. Up until this point, baby has been eating around the clock, hopefully stretching their sleep at the beginning of the night, and now they’ve put on enough weight that they’re able to begin dropping night feeds and taking in more of their calories during the day. This is a major milestone as this means you are on the path to a baby that will begin sleeping even longer stretches at night!
How to Drop Night Feeds
The easiest way to drop a night feed is to take the first feed of the night and start moving that feed back. So, as an example, if you have an 8 week old going to bed at 7:00 PM and they’re waking up at 11:00 PM for their first feed of the night, and 3 am for their second feed of the night, (because I know that an 8 week old should be able to sleep for at least a 6-hour stretch for that first part of the night), as long as they’re getting in 5 to 7 full feeds during the day, that tells me that they probably don’t need to be getting fed at 11:00 PM and that they likely have a learned hunger pattern.
So the easiest way to drop the night feed is to actually start moving that first feed of the night back later. Then what will happen, as the first feed of the night gets pushed later, the second feed of the night will get pushed back later as well or it will naturally drop off.
If we end up pushing the first feed of the night back to, let’s say to 12:00 AM/1:00 AM, baby will do a full feed at 12:00 AM/1:00 AM and the second wake up will likely occur at 4:00 AM/5:00 AM and you will feed again. You’ve now succeeded at lengthening your baby’s sleep by 1 to 2 hours. Sometimes the second feed drops off, but usually that doesn’t happen until you get baby’s first feed to 2:00 AM.
If they do wake again before morning you have two options. The first is to do a small feed (don’t unswaddle or change diaper) and get baby back down as quickly as possible, then wake at their normal wake up time for the morning. The reason we do a small feed is because it’s close to morning. We don’t want to do a full feed as that will cause baby to not be hungry for their first feed of the day. We’re trying to minimize night time calories so baby will naturally take in more calories during the day, and more daytime calories means longer stretches of sleep at night.
The second option is, if baby wakes up very close to morning, to simply use a pacifier or hold back to sleep just to get through the remainder of the night with no feed. I’ve sat in many dark nurseries, holding a baby back to sleep so we can get through the last hour or hour and a half of the night to avoid baby having to consume more night time calories. It requires some work, but getting a baby down to one feed at night is worth it IMO! It typically only takes 3 to 5 nights before baby will stop waking at that time and start sleeping through all on their own until morning.
How to Push a Night Feed Later
1. Pause and give your baby five minutes.
If your baby is just fussing, your best bet is to just wait and see what happens. Many times that baby will go back to sleep. If that doesn’t work, using a pacifier is going to be your next best bet.
2. Use a pacifier.
A pacifier for a baby that will take one is a great tool in helping them to go back to sleep. A baby that is not truly hungry will go back to sleep with a pacifier, but a baby that is truly hungry will not. They will let you know that they need to eat. So that’s one of the tools that I use to assess whether a baby is actually hungry, ready to eat, or whether they’re just going through a sleep cycle and will go back to sleep. Also, you will likely have to hold the pacifier in baby’s mouth. Most babies this age aren’t great at keeping the pacifier in.
3. Shush, pat, or hold.
If you can soothe your baby in the crib or the bassinet and help them to go back to sleep, then do that. If shushing or patting doesn’t work, you can pick your baby up and just hold them in the nursery. See if you can get them back to sleep by doing this. If you’re a nursing mom, you may have to utilize dad for this because your baby is going to want to eat. If you’re a nursing mom trying to hold a baby and not nurse them, you know that that will probably make them more upset! Bringing in dad or another caregiver can make this process significantly easier and keep baby’s resistance to a minimum.
Any of these three ways can be effective in getting that first feed of the night pushed back, even if you can only initially get it pushed back by an hour. You will see that as you continue to work on it, that feed will get pushed back more and more, and pretty soon, instead of an 11:00 PM or 12:00 AM wake up, you’re going to have a baby that’s waking up at 1:00 AM, 2:00 AM, or 3:00 AM, and then that second feed of the night will just naturally drop off.
Typically once baby can make it to 2:00 AM before they eat, they will then be able to make it in the morning (or close to it) before they need to eat again. Now you’re down to ONE night feed! YAY! That’s major progress! This whole process get’s baby’s body used to sleeping in longer stretches at night as they get used to going longer and longer without being fed.
Why Dropping Night Feeds Does Not Mean Dropping Calories
When that second feed of the night drops off, baby’s daytime calories are going to increase whether your baby is bottle feeding or breastfeeding. If your baby is bottle feeding, you want to make sure that you’re adding more breast milk or formula to the bottle to ensure that your baby is able to take all that they want.
Never limit the amount of milk you put in the bottle. This will only keep baby waking at night for those missed calories. If you’re breastfeeding, you want to make sure that your baby is getting in a full feed – they’re probably going to eat for a little bit longer while they’re nursing during the day. You can also add in a cluster feed after the catnap in the late afternoon, early evening.
As your baby grows and continues to put on weight, you should see that their night time sleep continues to increase in length and they take in more at their daytime feeds.
When You Can Drop Night Feeds Altogether
You can utilize this exact process to wean your baby off of their last remaining night feed or you can go ahead and simply wean your baby by slowly decreasing the amount they’re eating little by little every other night or so.
If bottle feeding, I typically recommend decreasing the bottle by ½ ounce every other night until they are down to 1 ounce for 2 to 3 nights. Then you are done feeding and you have the peace of mind of knowing that baby has increased daytime eating and that they are no longer waking due to hunger. Any fussing that ensues should be fairly minimal and easy to either let baby put themselves back to sleep or help baby soothe back to sleep with minimal intervention. Baby will have naturally started picking up those missed night calories during their daytime feeds.
If breastfeeding, use a timer and start decreasing the time you nurse by 1 minute every other night. I typically use this weaning method for babies that are 5 to 6 months old and are down to one feed that is happening at 4:00 AM or after. Dropping all night feeds can typically happen somewhere between 12 and 24 weeks. For some babies, it may take a little bit longer, and that’s okay. How long night feeds continue really is dependent on the family and what works for them, along with other factors such as mom going back to work, mom’s mental health, and the ability to cope with the current sleep situation.
Most babies are capable of sleeping through the night somewhere between 12 and 24 weeks. And remember some babies will sleep through the night on their own but many times they may need some gentle help in getting there. The methods above can guide you as you walk through this process with your little one.
If you’re still unsure or unclear about the process of dropping night feeds and transferring nighttime calories to daytime, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or book a consultation. I would love to help you as you start moving towards a baby that is sleeping through the night!