Whether you feed your baby two or five times overnight, one commonly asked question I get is, “When can I start dropping night feeds with my little one?” After all, one less night feed can allow you and your baby to get several additional hours of sleep per night.
It’s not always easy to determine how and when to do this, especially given that this process can look different for every family depending on your baby’s age, weight, and sleep goals. However, I’m going to share three common signs that indicate that your baby is ready for fewer overnight feeding sessions.
#1 Their weight gain is on track.
One sign that may indicate your baby is ready to drop night feeds is steady, consistent weight gain. Somewhere between the 7 to 10 week mark, most babies typically weigh in around 10 pounds. At this point, they’re old enough and have put on enough weight to be able to take in more daytime calories. Don’t forget their stomach is bigger now too, so it can hold more volume than it could during those first 6 weeks. The result is that this will allow them to stretch longer at night! But remember, overnight feedings are not always about need but want and habit as well. Learned hunger patterns are REAL; this can play a part in why your baby wakes for a feed even when they are developmentally capable of taking in those calories during the day.
#2 They feed at the same time overnight.
In some cases, you may find that your baby has consistently been waking up to feed at the same time each night. This is a sign that they may be “stuck.” In other words, they’ve developed a learned hunger pattern to feed at that same time at night and will need your help in moving things forward. Babies can stay stuck for many, many months, so knowing how to evaluate whether your baby actually needs the feed or is feeding out of habit is the first step towards better sleep. While this habit is common and normal, it can indicate that it may be time to learn how to change this pattern, and get your baby moving forward towards longer night stretches.
#3 Their eating frequency hasn’t changed.
If your baby is three months or older and they are eating just as frequently at night as they were when they were a newborn, this should flag you that your baby needs your gentle help in dropping night feeds. Similar to the previous sign, this indicates a standstill; it’s a habit that is entirely normal and common but is holding them back from reaching their maximum potential for night sleep.
How to Start Dropping Night Feeds
Once you’ve identified that your baby is ready to drop night feeds, the next step is to start doing it. Here are a couple ways to start:
Shift the first feed of the night later.
Dropping night feeds cold turkey can present some challenges, especially if your baby is young. Instead, you can shift the first feed of the night back a bit later; this is the easiest and most gentle way to help your baby move forward. The first sleep of the night is the stretch that elongates first and is the easiest part of the night for baby. Sleep drive is strong, and cortisol levels should be at their lowest. This is typically when the majority of deep sleep takes place, so it’s a great time to work on sleep! Using a pacifier if your baby takes one and/or getting your partner to hold or soothe your little one if you’re a breastfeeding mama, are a couple of ways to help stretch the time between feeds. The goal is to offer to soothe baby in another way to elongate the time between feeds. Even stretching ½ hour can help a baby begin to move forward. You’re trying to stretch baby until they cannot be stretched and truly need to eat. If your baby is young this may be ½ hour. If your baby is older, you may be able to stretch up to 2 hours. Either way, this is a win! You’re moving your baby in the right direction, and that will compound over time. Remember, as the first feed of the night gets pushed later, the subsequent feed(s) gets pushed later as well; the feed closest to morning will drop off. At this point, you’ve just succeeded in dropping a night feed! YAY!!! Now, your baby will naturally pick up those missed night calories during the day. Then, the extra daytime calories will naturally sustain longer nighttime stretches of sleep.
Offer full feeds during the day.
Once nighttime feeds start to decrease, daytime calories will naturally increase, because baby’s hunger will naturally increase. Keep baby well-fed throughout the day, and make sure you are getting in full feeds to ensure they are getting all the nourishment they need. This will mean you will need to add more milk to the bottle, add in an extra daytime feed, or offer some longer nursing sessions to ensure baby is able to replace the night calories during the day.
Need help dropping night feeds?
Dropping night feeds looks different for every family and can feel difficult at times. That’s okay! If you still find that your baby isn’t moving forward, or things just feel extra hard, there’s nothing wrong with seeking 1:1 support through this transition period. This allows me to develop a plan that fits your baby and your individual situation. Then, we can walk together as you implement the plan. Remember, there is no one size fits all approach! I’m here for you if you’re ready for some individual help! Get in touch with me, or book a consultation. Let’s get you and your family the sleep you deserve.