Nighttime feedings can be a challenging aspect of caring for a baby, as it often means being awake for extended periods of time. However, understanding why your baby may be awake and hungry at night, as well as when it is appropriate to stop feeding them overnight, can make this process a bit easier to manage. Here is all about nighttime feedings and the 3 most important things to know.
One of the most important things to understand is your baby is not good or bad because they sleep all night or are awake most of the night. They are not torturing you (yet) on purpose, or despite all of your efforts to get them to sleep. It is completely natural and necessary for your newborn to wake up to eat during the night. Let’s get to it!
Nighttime feedings: Why does your baby need them?
- Infants have tiny little tummies (a tablespoon size). They eat and digest liquid very quickly.
2. Breast milk is digested easier than formula, which could mean if you are nursing there might be a shorter window between feedings.
3. Growth and development. Babies are growing at a rapid speed and need calories to constantly have the energy to grow. Newborns need to be eating every 2-4 hours or sooner.
Nighttime feedings: When you can stop.
- Until your baby is at a healthy weight (usually over 12lbs) and your Pediatrician tells you that you can start to wean nighttime feedings, you must continue to feed your baby at night.
- Never ever stop nighttime feedings cold turkey. Your baby will be REALLY hungry. Just as we get hungry at certain times of the day, their metabolism is set to be hungry during the night because you have been feeding them.
- Weaning means gradually. If you are bottle feeding you can gradually decrease the ounces in the bottle by one ounce. If you are nursing, try timing how long your baby nurses and decrease by 1-minute at each feeding (or one feeding at a time).
- You could also try to increase the time span between feedings. This is easier said than done in the middle of the night. Always keep in mind none of this is permanent. For example; if your baby wakes up at 1am and 5am you can feed them at 1am and wake up for the day at 5am, and gradually push their feeding time by 15 minutes. The first day feeding would be at:
next day at 5:30am
3rd day at 5:45am
Do this until you reach the desired time you want them to wake up at. Remember when your wake up time changes you will have to adjust naps, and the designated bedtime. You must stay consistent!!! This will not happen in one night and it will not be easy. Stick with it.
A couple important things to understand as your baby gets older:
- Just as adults do not need to eat during the night neither does an older child.
- As long as they are at a healthy weight and getting the nutrients and calories they need during the day. They do not need to be eating at night.
- Night eating can actually affect their sleep. Because their body has to work hard to digest the milk it can affect how deep they sleep and their recovery.
- We train our bodies when to eat. If you eat a snack at midnight every night, your body will naturally get hungry at that time (just like we do for meal times). That’s why we always wean feedings gradually, not cold turkey. Even though your child does not need to eat, they will still feel hungry because they are in a habit of eating at that time. This is why a lot of babies wake up at the same time every night. Try the solutions above to slowly reduce their hunger, and help them get the rest they need.
Note: All babies are different and you could have a child that sleeps 8 hour stretches right off the bat (rare) or a child that still wakes up for feedings at 6-months to 1 year.
Nighttime feedings: How to get through them.
As I said above, keep in mind that this time isn’t permanent. Your newborn will soon be an infant, and before you know it, be a toddler. Soak up these moments with your baby. Will it be hard, yes!! Sleep deprivation is no joke!! Here is how to get through.
- Nap. Your baby sleeps 15-20 hours a day, it just isn’t on an adult sleeping schedule. MAKE time to nap somewhere within these sleep blocks.
2. Ask for help. If you have other children, have someone help you. If it is your first baby, come up with a plan with your partner and take shifts. If you are breastfeeding, pump so your partner can feed the baby with a bottle.
3. Put your baby down sleepy NOT asleep. This is a big one and will help you in the future. While you are feeding, try and keep your baby awake (this is hard). Tickle, talk to them gently, cuddle, you can also change their diaper after feeding (remember the fine line between stimulating, and gently keeping them awake). Laying them down drowsy and not asleep gives them the tools to learn how to fall asleep on their own. The sooner they learn the easier they will sleep through the night.
4. Start a daytime and bedtime routine right when you get home from the hospital. This will get your baby into a great rhythm, and is also beneficial for you to have some sort of plan for the day.
5. Get outside, rest, relax, see people on your terms and when you are ready, but definitely see people. Connection will get you through the toughest times.
6. Accept help!!! Seriously, now is not the time to be a superwoman. Let people help you.
The earlier you start the easier it is.
Most importantly know that your baby has needs when they are a newborn. Growing is important and trust me growth will happen VERY quickly! This information is not going to make any of the disrupted nights easier but it will give you an understanding to be able to make a plan and start teaching your child sleep skills. Trust the process and do what you can NOW by establishing a day, nap, and bedtime routine.
If you are having difficulty getting your baby to sleep, you are not alone. Whether you have just given birth or have a toddler who still wakes up at night, our team can help. By laying your baby down when they are drowsy but not yet asleep, you can encourage healthy sleep habits from the start. If you are interested in learning more about our sleep program, next session is in February 2023, please reach out to us for more information.
All the support you need.
Good sleep is crucial for both babies and adults, and it can be challenging to establish healthy sleep patterns, and know if you are doing the right thing. That’s where we come in. We are here to support you every step of the way, providing the guidance and resources you need to get the rest you deserve. It’s never too early or too late to start focusing on sleep, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
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