Feeding your baby, whether it’s breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, is a beautiful and amazing bonding experience, but at some point, it’s time to be done with this bonding in the middle of the night so your baby can get the solid sleep they need. At what point should you wean at night?
Quick Answer – If your child’s six months or older, gaining weight as expected, and your doctor says you’re okay to end nighttime feeds, then go ahead and give it a shot.
Sounds easy, right?
Chances are you’ve tried and what you’re really asking is, “Why does my baby refuse to give up his night feeds?”.
Because if you’d pulled his night feeds and he just accepted it and started sleeping through the night, you wouldn’t be online looking for information about it. You’d either be in bed, enjoying eight hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep, or you’d be at the playground, telling all the other moms how easily your little guy gave up night feeds, and how this whole parenting thing is such a breeze! (Don’t do that though. Moms hate that.)
The Real Question
The real question is “Why does your baby continue to wake up at night and demand food if according to the doctor, he is ready to wean at night?”
The real answer is simple. Nighttime feedings are how your little one has learned how to get himself to sleep, making it what is called a sleep “prop”.
Nighttime Feedings are a Sleep Prop
Feeding and/or nursing to sleep is one of the biggest sleep props I see as a sleep coach. It seems like such a natural, necessary process that it can be easy to overlook as a sleep prop. Usually, when we picture a sleep prop, we picture a pacifier, some sort of motion (like extensive rocking), or having to hold a baby for all of their sleep.
But, the definition of a sleep prop is anything external that your baby relies on in order to get to sleep.
Your first step to weaning during the night is to teach your child to fall asleep on their own and not while they are feeding.
Quick tips to keep your child awake while breastfeeding or bottle-feeding:
- Observe your child’s natural rhythms and feed your child while they are most awake.
- Keep a light on while feeding.
- Talk or make noises.
- Put your child in their bed while they still awake but drowsy.
How to Wean an Independent Sleeper?
I can hear you… “I put him to bed while he’s still awake, and he falls asleep independently! No props, no nothing! But he still wakes up three times a night looking to eat!”
Some babies are just habitual nighttime eaters. It’s not that he is hungry, or in need of calories, he managed to disassociate bedtime sleep with waking in the night, and if Mom’s still willing to give up some breast milk in the night, well then, so be it!
Unfortunately, the only way to break this middle of the night association and food is to go cold-turkey. It’ll mean some protesting and adjustment time.
But, since your baby is already an independent sleeper and has learned to sleep without props, he’ll adjust quickly. It might take a few nights, but his sleep skills will help him through this transition.
So what’s the strategy for this? Stop tonight and don’t start again. The sooner your little one learns that food isn’t available in the middle of the night, the sooner he’ll be sleeping through the night.
And a full night of uninterrupted sleep is life-changing. Your baby’s mind and body are getting more of those glorious restorative effects that take place during the night, making for a happier, healthier tomorrow!
Not sure where to start? How to teach your child the sleep skills necessary to sleep without props? We’d love to work with you and your family, take our quick get acquainted survey at the link below, and schedule your free call.