M.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC
Andie is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Lactation Consultant, and Certified Personal Trainer who thinks of nutrition counseling as equal parts science and sensitivity. She specializes in lactation, sports nutrition, exercise fitness, and weight loss programs.
Every baby is different, and sleeping through the night is a
perfect example. This milestone happens
early for some babies while others continue to wake a few times per night even
up to their first birthday and beyond.
Before you assume that your baby’s nighttime habits are ‘wrong’, think
about what works best for you and your infant. If waking up a few times per
night to feed works for you, then continue. If you feel lack-of-sleep is
affecting you or your child adversely, you may consider weaning some or all of
the nighttime feeds. Do what works best
for you and your little one.
Should you decide that nighttime weaning is your goal, the
first thing to ensure is that your baby is gaining weight appropriately. Next, think about why your baby is waking at
night. Hunger, teething, developmental advances, illness, introduction of
solids, sleep regressions, reflux, and habit are all reasons it may be
happening. Some of these are short-lived
and your baby may go back to, or begin to drop, nighttime wake-ups as they are
resolved. Others, such as reflux, may
take changes to diet, sleep position, or medication to help correct. If you think your baby has reflux or another
medical concern, be sure to talk with his health care provider for support.
Once you identify and possibly eliminate any discomfort that
may be waking your baby, you now want to ensure that he is well fed before bed:
Next, look at the sleeping environment and routine to
determine if modifications are needed to encourage better sleep:
*Please see “How to help your baby sleep well at night” and “How to teach your baby to sleep in the crib” for more information.
Finally, when he wakes during the feed you’d like to drop:
What about engorgement?
If you are breastfeeding, it typically takes some time for
your body to adjust to the new schedule.
Try to avoid pumping during the feed you are trying to drop as your body
will continue to make milk in response.
Waiting until the next feed is optimal, but if you are very
uncomfortable try expressing a bit of milk to relieve the pressure. It will take a few days, but your breasts
will stop overfilling at that time. It
may be important to wear breast pads to avoid leakage during this time.
Stopping the one feed should not affect milk production at other feeding times.
If your goal is to drop all nighttime feeds, start with just
one feed and progress to the next once your baby is well adapted. Working on
one at a time will lessen stress for both you and your baby, as well as provide
a gradual and methodical weaning period.
Many previous generations have told their daughters to give
formula, or feed cereal in a bottle, before bed to help baby sleep longer.
However, there is no evidence that either of these help. In fact, there is some
data suggesting that these methods may make some babies sleep more poorly,
especially if baby is younger than six months.
Try the techniques listed in this article to help your baby
drop a feeding and in turn sleep longer.
Some babies will respond within a few days and be sleeping through that
feed without much intervention while others may take a bit longer to adjust.
Try to stay the course and not give in to your baby’s habitual desire to eat as
doing so may send mixed signals and make the feed harder to eliminate.
Babies older than two months may get fairly distracted while
feeding; pulling off to look at other sights and sounds. This may lead to them
eating less at each feed, causing additional hunger later in the day or night.
Try feeding in a quiet place with minimal distractions to help baby eat his
fill at every session.
Allowing baby to self-soothe and learn to fall back asleep
on his own is ideal. Give yourself a specific amount of time that you’ll allow
baby to fuss before going in to help. This way you will be providing structure
and routine while phasing out the night time wake up. Many people will wait five minutes, unless
baby’s cries are more serious.
When you do go in, try to avoid picking baby up and/or
rocking him back to sleep, unless baby is truly crying. This might create a new
sleep-disrupting habit that will need to be broken as well. Keep the light off,
try not to speak, and rub his tummy, back, or head until he is calmed or
asleep. If you like, set a time limit on the soothing if you find you’re in
there for long periods.
If you must pick him up, try to put him back in the crib
still awake so that he does not depend on you to fall back asleep.
“Sleeping through the night”. Kellymom. <https://kellymom.com/parenting/nighttime/sleep/>, accessed 1 August 2018
“Sleeping through the night”. Healthychildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics.<https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Sleeping-Through-the-Night.aspx>, accessed 1 August 2018