Babies need a lot of milk. New parents should expect to wake up at all hours of the night to feed their babies. While the number of times will vary from baby to baby and will depend on how much the baby drinks each time, most parents can expect to feed their babies 11 to 12 times every 24 hours. That usually means waking up in the middle of the night to breastfeed or bottle-feed.
Thankfully, over time, parents can start to transition their babies away from feeding at night and to only feeding during the day. This is known as night weaning and is an important milestone in development.
Once a baby has successfully transitioned away from feeding at night, they will take their last bottle or feeding right before they go to bed. Afterward, their next feeding should be in the morning when they wake up. They’ll sleep through the night without any difficulties, and so will you. It’s honestly a win-win solution, as both parties will be getting a lot more sleep from here on out.
- When Can You Start Night Weaning
- How Long Does Night Weaning Take?
- Cold-Turkey vs. Gradual Night Weaning
- Tips for Successful Night Weaning
- Night Weaning Takes Time!
When Can You Start Night Weaning
Once your baby is about 4 to 6 months old, they usually no longer need nighttime feedings (metabolically) and can sleep through the entire night. So this is typically a good age range to start the weaning process.
Some other signs that your baby is ready for night weaning include:
- Their night feedings are starting to disrupt their sleep. These babies will usually fuss after feeding and may even wake up more frequently afterward, despite not needing to be fed again.
- The baby is feeding more at night than during the day. It’s important for parents to nip this in the bud and to set a strict schedule and routine. Before starting on night weaning, make sure that your baby has a strict daytime feeding schedule.
- They are able to sleep by themselves at night. Your baby should have learned certain self-soothing techniques before you attempt night weaning at all. A baby struggling with sleep problems will have a significantly more difficult time with night weaning.
- They sleep for longer during the night. This means that the babies feel more satiated and are able to get away with drinking less milk at night. You don’t have to wake up your baby for a night feeding.
Parents should always discuss whether they should start night weaning their babies with a pediatrician first. Your pediatrician can determine whether your baby is physically and mentally ready, and they’ll also be able to give you some additional cues to look for. Notably, in addition to the signs above, most pediatricians will recommend that babies be at least 14 pounds before parents attempt night weaning.
For further information on when exactly you should start weaning, you can check out this guide.
How Long Does Night Weaning Take?
A successful night weaning is a welcome relief for many parents. After all, it’s likely that you’ve been getting barely any sleep during the last couple of months while catering to your little bundle of joy.
The length of time that it takes to wean your baby off of night feedings will depend on whether you take a cold-turkey approach or a gradual approach. With a cold-turkey approach, the entire process usually takes about 3 days. Gradual weaning can take several weeks.
Cold-Turkey vs. Gradual Night Weaning
In general, there are two different approaches that you can take: cold-turkey and gradual. Cold-turkey approaches are quicker to complete; however, most experts recommend gradual weaning as it places less stress on the baby. This is our favored approach too, and what we’ll focus on throughout the rest of this section.
Before we do, here’s one final note. If you do opt for the cold-turkey approach, make sure that your baby is getting all of the food they need during the day. Don’t forget to track how much they’re consuming! Then, eliminate all night feeds altogether. Let your baby cry until they settle themselves.
Gradual Night Weaning
Most parents don’t feel as comfortable with the cold-turkey approach and often prefer a gentler approach to night weaning. The way that you gradually night wean will depend on whether your baby is bottle-fed or breastfed. Here’s what you need to know in both cases.
Gradual Weaning for Breastfed Babies
When it comes to babies who breastfeed, it can be difficult to determine just how much milk the babies are consuming. Due to this reason, the best way to gradually wean the babies off night feeding is by shortening their feeding time. Here’s how:
- Time how long you breastfeed your baby over several nights to get an average
- Reduce the feeding time by 2 to 5 minutes every other night or every three nights
- Settle your baby afterward
- Stop feeding your baby altogether once the feeding time is less than five minutes
Mothers who breastfeed should highly consider the gradual wean method. If they go cold-turkey, their breasts can become uncomfortably engorged with milk. This can also lead to mastitis. Gradual weaning can be a lot more comfortable for the mothers as well, as their bodies start to adjust to producing less milk.
Gradual Weaning for Bottle Fed Babies
When it comes to bottle-fed babies, it’s a lot easier to calculate the amount to feed your baby. Here’s how:
- Reduce the amount of milk that you feed your baby by 20 mL every other night or every three nights
- Settle your baby after feeding them
- Stop feeding altogether once your baby drinks less than 60 mL of milk
Mothers who are pumping milk from the bottle instead of using formula should continue to pump for comfort, although they may want to gradually pump less and less in order to get their bodies to produce less milk. Pumping can relieve pressure on the breasts.
Tips for Successful Night Weaning
Night weaning can come easy to some babies and be a nightmare for others. It’s difficult to get a good gauge on how your baby will respond until you actually try it. In fact, your baby might surprise you.
Below are some tips and tricks that you can implement to increase your chances of successfully weaning your baby off at night without facing many obstacles along the way. Try to implement as many as possible in order to smoothly transition from one developmental milestone to another.
Track Your Baby’s Intake During the Day and Night
Make sure that your baby is getting enough calories during the day and night. To do this, track how much they are consuming. If you breastfeed, track the length of time that they breastfeed. If you bottle-feed, you can track the volume of milk that your baby drinks throughout the day and night.
Before you start night weaning, you should make sure that your baby is not drinking as much milk during nighttime anymore. During the day, you’ll want to make sure that your baby still gets their recommended caloric intake by either feeding them more frequently during the day or feeding them larger meals. When feeding your baby, get rid of as many distractions as possible, so they can focus on feeding.
A baby who is not getting enough milk will be more prone to waking up at night. They’ll physically feel hungry and will cry until you feed them.
Get Your Partner to Soothe the Baby
New mothers are exhausted for the first couple of months, as they have to wake up at all hours of the night to feed their baby. You can finally rest up now and ask your partner to go soothe the baby. After some time, your baby will finally understand that crying in the middle of the night won’t get them any milk, and they’ll use other types of self-soothing techniques to go back to sleep.
Avoid Feeding Solid Foods at Night
Many parents notice that their babies will begin to wake up more often after introducing solid foods into their diet. This is most likely attributed to difficulties digesting. A lot of these foods are foreign to your baby’s body, so it’ll need to work overtime to digest everything.
Once your baby wakes up because of digestive issues, they may want to feed. The best way to get around this issue is to avoid solids in the evening altogether. If you want to feed your baby solid foods, feel them solid food during the day only.
Some people believe that solid foods are more nutrient-rich and can help a baby get through night weaning more successfully. However, some studies have shown that adding solid foods to a baby’s diet will not help them get better sleep or sleep more at night.
Try a Dream Feed
If you’ve noticed that your baby doesn’t drink enough milk during the day, you can consider a dream feeding as a last resort. This is when you rouse your baby without actually waking them up in order to feed them one more time. Essentially, it’s like feeding them while they sleep.
To dream feed, you’ll want to gently pick up your baby and place your breast or the bottle on their lips. Most babies will begin to feed even if they aren’t fully awake. Once your baby is done, gently burp them and put them back to sleep.
It’s important to note that most dream feeds are relatively quick. They shouldn’t take more than 5 to 10 minutes. To prevent disturbing your baby, perform a dream feed as quietly as possible and without turning any lights on in the room.
Keep Night Feedings Quick
If your baby does wake up at night and demands to be fed because they’re hungry, you should feed them; however, keep these night feeds as quick as possible. Don’t try to soothe them by cuddling them or playing with them afterward. Keep the lights off during the feeding time as well and avoid conversation or any interaction, as any additional interaction will only encourage them to wake up more frequently during the night.
Once you’ve fed your baby, put them back down to sleep. Don’t try to soothe them. Let them soothe themselves back to sleep. Sometimes, this will involve a lot of crying!
Consistency Is Key
Most importantly, you’ll need to be consistent. Night weaning can be very taxing on parents at first; however, it does get significantly easier with time. The more consistent you are, the quicker your baby will pick up on what you’re trying to do. If you’re inconsistent, you’ll confuse your baby and cause them to struggle more.
Even if the night weaning doesn’t seem to be working in the beginning, try to power through it. Let your baby cry until they soothe themselves back to sleep. Make sure that your baby is well fed by keeping track of their caloric intake. If you notice any odd responses to the night weaning, make sure to consult with a pediatrician before proceeding.
Night Weaning Takes Time!
Night weaning takes time and persistence. It’s a much more difficult process for some babies than others, and these babies may be fussier and moodier or may have difficulties falling asleep. But the more consistent you are, the more likely that you will succeed.
If you notice that your baby is having an incredibly difficult time adjusting, you can always take the night weaning even more slowly by lengthening the time between each reduction. You should also feel free to pause the weaning at any time and keep things at the same pace for a while.
If you have any questions or concerns, make sure that you consult with a pediatrician. It’s also a good idea to bring up your baby’s progress during appointments and visits just to make sure that you’re on the right track!