Baby feeding often at night
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If you have a new baby who spends the entire evening or night attached to your breasts, never seeming satisfied no matter how many times you feed them, you’re probably wondering what’s going on. It's likely your baby is going through a period of cluster feeding...and it’s completely normal.
Cluster feeding is most common in younger babies and often presents itself in the evening and night hours. Here we’ll discuss more about what cluster feeding is, why your young infant requires so many feeds during a short time, and how to manage this exhausting time period with your hungry, little babe.What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your breastfed baby nurses several times during a short window of time. With these back-to-back nursing sessions, it can feel like your baby is feeding non-stop. Formula-fed babies can cluster feed, too, but it is more common in breastfed babies.
There isn’t one reason that babies cluster feed, but it often signals the mother’s body to make more milk. If a baby isn’t getting as much breast milk as they need to get full, they will continue to nurse until they are able to get the nutrition that they need.
Growth spurts, as we write about here, are a time when a baby may be more apt to cluster feed. Typical ages during the infant stage that you may see these occur are 2-3 weeks, 6 weeks and 3-4 months. Older babies don’t generally cluster feed even when they are going through a growth spurt.
Are you looking for a better swaddle for your baby? Check out our weighted sleep swaddle as seen on Shark Tank.Why do babies cluster feed so much at night?
Cluster feeding can happen at any time, but it’s much more common in the evening and through the night. Probably not what you want to hear, right?! You can have a perfect day with your baby, where everything is following the “schedule” to a T, and all of a sudden 5 o’clock hits and your baby wants nothing else but to nurse.
Though it’s likely that your baby is cluster feeding due to a growth spurt or just requiring more milk from you to get full, it’s not always about nutrition. Babies also can be really tired in the evenings and nursing gives them comfort.
Though this isn’t true for all pairings, a baby may need to nurse from her mom more in the evening because she isn’t getting a full feeding from one session like she does at other times of days when the breasts are fuller. According to Lactiful, “A mother’s body typically produces more milk in the morning, and less as the day goes on. This is normal. Therefore, as evening nears it’s normal for baby to ask for more frequent feedings.”
Your baby’s need to cluster feed shouldn’t be a sign that you have a low milk supply. Instead nurse them as they need, and your body should respond by producing more milk over the course of the next several days.Benefits of Nightly Cluster Feeding
When you just fed your baby 30 minutes ago and they seem to be asking for the breast again, you may mistakenly think that hunger isn’t the issue. If your baby is upset and nursing calms them, then that’s your sign that they need to feed again. We know these back-to-back nursing sessions can be exhausting, but it’s important that you let them happen.
(If your baby still cries when you offer the breast, you may have a situation where your baby has colic. We recommend reading, “Helping a Baby With Colic: Identifying Symptoms and 10 Soothing Tips.”)
Encouraging cluster feeding when they need it will ensure your baby has enough milk. It will also allow your body to start producing the milk required to keep up with your baby’s nutritional needs going forward. Cluster feeding is temporary, so managing it in a way that keeps you both as relaxed through it as possible, the better.7 Tips to Manage the Nightly Cluster Feedings
Cluster feeding can run you ragged if you let it. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by it, you’re not alone.
When you’re stuck in the phase where your baby is constantly latched to you it’s difficult to imagine a life beyond that where you have your body and more time back. But it is temporary - usually only lasting on and off for a month or two. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is accept that your baby will need to cluster feed and then focus on managing it in a way that allows you to stay relaxed through it as much as you can.
We’re not going to sit here and tell you to enjoy every moment, but we will tell you that setting realistic expectations for this time will set it up to be a much more positive experience.
1.) Expect It and Plan Ahead
Crossing your fingers and hoping this is the night that your baby decides to stop cluster feeding is only going to serve to let you down. It’s much better to go into your day expecting your baby to cluster feed as they have been and this will help you prepare for when that hour comes.
It’s much better to set realistic expectations for the situation so you don’t end up overwhelmed and frustrated. That way, instead of eyeing the clock and anxiously holding your breath, you can instead plan that time according to your baby’s needs. For example, if you know that your baby typically cluster feeds between 6 and 8, plan to set up shop on the couch during that time. Reframe this time as when you’re not able to get anything accomplished to a time you can just relax and provide comfort to your baby.
2.) Vary Your Breastfeeding Positions
Because your baby latches on so many times during a cluster feed, your nipples can take a beating. Not only do you want to be taking care of your breasts by using lanolin and nursing pads, but changing up the position you feed your baby in can help, too.
Changing nursing positions switches up the angle that your baby is taking your breast, meaning there’s less likelihood of a lot of irritation building in one spot. If you do find the pain to be unbearable, however, it’s important to reach out to a lactation consultant.
Side-lying breastfeeding is a great option. This allows you to lay in your bed to nurse, helping you to relax during these times when your baby won’t let you do anything else but nurse them.
3.) Keep Up with Baby's Bedtime Routine
The last thing we want is for you to feel guilty if you miss any steps of your bedtime routine. But it is important to do as much as you can between your baby’s feeds. This will continue to signal to your baby that nighttime is for sleeping, ensuring that when your baby’s cluster feeding period is over they’ll move right back into their old routine.
On top of that, your baby has come to expect their bedtime routine and it’s calming for them. Sticking with your baby’s bedtime routine is a great way to get them relaxed and ready for bed as you give them those last feeds of the day...which can extend the time before they’ll wake up to feed again.
To calm your baby at night we recommend:
- Swaddling in a Dreamland Baby Weighted Swaddle (or a Weighted Sack if your baby is already rolling over) - the all-over quilted weight of this unique sleep sack will induce feelings of calm for a baby as they top off their milk for the night and prepare for sleep
- Turning out the lights - the stimulation of light may keep your baby up and feeding, which is why we recommend doing later evening cluster feeds in your baby’s dark room
- Singing or using white noise - Utilizing music is a great way to calm your baby as we discuss in this article
Use a Dreamland Baby Weighted Swaddle or Sack to calm your baby during cluster feeds so they'll fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
4.) Try Baby Wearing
Your baby’s need to cluster feed isn’t always about getting more calories. Sometimes they just want to be close to you or have become overstimulated from the day. (It may even be that they need to be laid down for a catnap.)
If you’ve attempted cluster feeding but your baby still seems unhappy, you may want to try wearing your baby through the evening hours. If you utilize a carrier that positions your baby in a way that they can still breastfeed (the Baby K’Tan is great for this), this allows them to cluster feed at their leisure or pull off when they’re no longer hungry. Wearing your baby can get you through some tough evenings - it keeps your baby happy and you’re able to accomplish what you need to get done.
5.) Prep Dinner in the Morning
Your baby may be one of the many who insists on being at the breast starting in the early evening all the way until bedtime. This can make getting dinner ready difficult if that task falls on you. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to have dinner ready ahead of time.
Making Crock-pot meals in the morning that are ready to spoon out will make this time of day much less stressful - especially if you have other little mouths in the house to feed. At the very least, having everything chopped and ready to go will cut down your dinner making time, meaning you’ll have more time to be with your baby. This will help ensure you get fed, too - because if you’re not taking care of you first, it’s very hard to give the best care you can to your little one.
6.) Utilize a Dream Feed
If you have a baby who is frequently waking up at night to feed, utilizing cluster feeding sessions in the evening alongside a dream feed before you head to bed is a great way to help your baby sleep longer stretches at night.
Essentially, you'll feed your baby one last time right before you go to bed. This will likely mean getting them out of their crib and getting them to stir just enough that they'll take a full feed. That's the gist, but we have an entire post about how to dream feed here.
A dream feed will help top your baby off one last time before bed and will reduce the number of times they'll need to feed in the middle of the night.
7.) Take a Break
Even for the most flexible, easygoing moms, cluster feeding can be a lot. It's exhausting feeling like you're doing everything you can to satisfy your baby and they're still hungry. Remind yourself that it's temporary helps, but in the moment it feels like it will never end.
It's important that you give yourself a break, even if it's short. Pass your little one off to your partner and take a bath or go for a walk. You'll want to avoid giving a bottle simply because in order for your milk supply to increase as your baby requires, you'll need that breast stimulation from the cluster feeds. But try to utilize any spare time between feeds to let chores go and give yourself a little "me time" or take a little nap. This will go along way with staying positive even when your baby needs to feed multiple times in the evening or overnight.
How long does cluster feeding last?
Cluster feeding is normal behavior for newborns and typically happens during growth spurts. So while your baby used to feel satisfied in a more predictable pattern (around every 2-3 hours throughout the day), expect more back to back feedings at around 3 weeks old, 6 weeks old, 3 months and 6 months. Keep in mind that every baby is different, so these dates are not one size fits all. But as growth spurts occur, it means that their little brains and bodies are developing, and that extra feeding helps.
In terms of how long a cluster feed might last, well… you may start to feel like a feeding machine. It could be as much as every half hour and/or for longer periods of time, more frequently. But the more your baby eats, the more your milk supply will increase and eventually, things will feel more “normal” again.
What ages do babies cluster feed?
Babies usually cluster feed when they are experiencing a growth spurt. While every baby is different and reaches milestones in their own time, it’s likely that growth spurts happen at around 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months. Growth spurts really can happen at any time and will usually last a few days each time.
How often do newborns cluster feed?
In those early days and weeks of parenting, it may seem like all you’re doing with your newborn is watching her sleep, poop, and eat… and that may actually be the case. A newborn eats at least every 2 hours or so, and spends a good 10-15 on each breast. This averages out to around 20-30 minutes per meal (this includes if you’re bottle feeding). So while not necessarily considered a cluster feed, your newborn will eat a LOT in the beginning as they grow, develop, and get used to life outside of the womb.
Why do babies cluster feed at night?
Some babies cluster feed at night not because they’re hungry, but because it’s comforting. Since feeding is also frequently a part of the nighttime routine, the combination of skin-on-skin contact, eating, and snuggling can be soothing to them which can help them fall asleep for a longer period of time.
Some parents feel that their milk isn’t coming in during evening hours as much as it did during the day, so babies may take longer to nurse. Don’t let this worry you! The more you nurse, the more your milk supply will increase so baby will get the extra milk they need.
Do babies sleep longer after cluster feeding?
Some babies may sleep longer after cluster feeding because they’re going through a growth spurt. This can feel exhausting – to both mom and baby! So a little extra zzz’s due to cluster feeding is a good thing.
When do you stop cluster feeding?
By the time your little one reaches the 6-month mark, chances are they’re done with cluster feeding. Remember, every baby is different and develops at their own pace, so don’t worry if she wants to keep cluster feeding for a few more weeks. Of course, if you’re concerned at all about how much, how little or how frequent she’s eating, please discuss with your pediatrician.
How do you break cluster feeding?
It’s important to remember that there’s a reason your baby is cluster feeding in the first place. It’s because the growth spurt they’re experiencing requires more food to help baby develop and grow. This can be stressful as you may start to feel like a feeding machine. Remember to give yourself a break, rely on your partner or friends/family for support, and practice self-care when you can. Cluster feeding typically doesn’t last past 6-months as older babies don’t generally cluster feed when they are going through a growth spurt.See our other favorite posts for further reading:
- Weighted Sleep Sack Safety and How It Will Help Your Baby Sleep
- How To Stop Startle & Moro Reflex Without Swaddling
- The Best Wearable Blankets
- How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Nursing
- Best Swaddle for Newborns
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- Are Sleep Sacks Safe for Babies Who Can Roll Over?
- How to Get an Overtired Baby to Sleep
- How to Wash & Clean Your Dreamland Baby Sleep Sack
- How to Stop the 45-Minute Intruder During Your Baby's Naps
- How To Swaddle Your Dreamland Baby
- Baby Napping Close to Bedtime and How to Do It Right
- Know the Facts: What's Safe and What's Not for Baby's Tummy Sleep
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Breastfeeding at night - La Leche League GB
Breastfeeding at night is one of the most discussed topics at La Leche League meetings, both in person and online. This is often because breastfeeding at night, especially in the early days, can be so important to establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship. It is also because of its inextricable link with the topic of sleep, which can be one of the biggest changes many mothers and families experience when they have a new child.
There is no doubt that caring for a new baby can be exhausting, especially if you feel you are not getting enough sleep. Understanding why breastfeeding at night is so important can help. There is a huge amount of both reliable and rather less reliable information on the internet and in countless parenting books about what infant sleep ‘ought’ to be like, and therefore what infant night-time feeding ‘ought’ to be like. This article is designed to give mothers and parents the information and reassurance they need to inform their own night-time breastfeeding approach, including some helpful tips on how to get more rest when you can.
Breastfeeding at night in the early weeks and months is normal and important
Babies wake to feed at night in the early weeks and months (and often beyond) for a number of important reasons. Breastfeeding at night is a vital part of establishing and maintaining a good milk supply and ensuring that newborn babies get all the milk they need to grow and thrive. Breastmilk works on a supply and demand basis: the more milk that is removed, the more milk your breasts make. For the majority of mothers, this means milk needs to be removed roughly every 2-3 hours in the early weeks. Although some babies may sleep for slightly longer periods overnight, perhaps 3-4 hour stretches, newborn babies will typically wake several times a night to feed. This also helps to ensure that you don’t get engorged breasts, which may lead to blocked ducts or mastitis.
Newborn babies often wake to feed because their bodies have signalled that they are hungry. However, newborns (and babies and children of all ages) also wake at night for many other reasons, including being scared or uncomfortable, being hot or cold, feeling the need for comfort and connection, and so on. As adults, we have developed ways of meeting these needs ourselves – adjusting a pillow, having a sip of water, cuddling our partner. As babies have no way of independently meeting these needs, they rely on their mother or parent to meet them. Breastfeeding at night offers mothers a way of easily and conveniently meeting the vast majority of these needs in one go.
Lots of research shows that night waking is the biological norm for babies.i You can read more about it here as well as in Sweet Sleep, La Leche League International’s exhaustive publication on nights and naps for breastfeeding families. Research also shows that, overall, breastfeeding mothers get more sleep than mixed- and formula-feeding mothers. This is for a number of reasons, including the impact of natural hormones and chemicals released for baby and mother when breastfeeding at night. There is also a perception that babies who have formula milk sleep longer than breastfed babies. Evidence shows this is not the case.ii “Despite the common perception that supplementing an infant’s diet with formula milk or solid food will promote sleep, a recent study found that there was no difference in the frequency of night waking between breastfeeding and formula feeding infants aged 6-12 months old. Infants who received more milk or solid feeds during the day were less likely to feed at night but not less likely to wake.”iii
Breastmilk at night
Research shows that breastmilk changes all the time, in response to all sorts of things, like the needs and health of your baby, temperature, and the time of day. For most mothers, breastmilk will gradually increase in fat content throughout the day. During the evening, young babies often cluster feed, taking in frequent feeds of this fattier milk, which tends to satisfy them enough to have their longest stretch of sleep. This cluster feeding in the early months may go on late into the evening when you were hoping you would be asleep, which can naturally feel exhausting.
Overnight, your prolactin levels – the hormone designed to support milk production – are at their highest. So, when your baby feeds frequently at night, the message to your body to boost milk supply is even stronger. Breastmilk at night is also high in the amino acid tryptophan, which in turn helps your baby to make melatonin, which is used by the body to develop its circadian rhythm (our internal system for recognising the difference between day and night) and to sleep better. Hormones produced while breastfeeding also help you to relax and fall more quickly back to sleep, which may be why you find yourself nodding off so easily while breastfeeding.
Given the fact that the hormones in night-time breastmilk help you and your baby to get back to sleep quickly, feeding babies to sleep is completely natural. A mother and baby’s bodies are designed to work in tandem this way. Breastfeeding your baby to sleep helps baby feel calm, safe and secure. Over time, babies stop falling asleep at the breast so easily, and eventually all babies or children stop needing the breast to fall asleep. Sleep is not a taught development, and all children get there in their own time. So, while breastfeeding to sleep continues to work, many mothers find it a wonderful, loving and responsive way to help their children doze off.
Breast-sleeping / Co-sleeping
Safely sharing a bed with your baby, or having your baby sleep very close to you in a sidecar cot or similar, is one way of getting more sleep and rest. The majority of other mammals sleep with their young, and our own infants are hard-wired to expect this too. For many breastfeeding mothers, learning to feed lying down and being able to fall back asleep safely with baby is when things start to feel a lot more manageable at night. Some mothers may start out nursing their babies at night sat up in bed, but many soon find that mastering breastfeeding lying on their side can really help everyone to get more sleep, especially as baby gets a bit older and can latch on by themselves. Mums can feed from both breasts when lying on one side by simply tilting their body forwards more. The same principles for getting a comfortable, deep latch apply when side-lying as when feeding upright. It may take a little practice, but overall it’s easier and less disruptive for both mother and baby at night. Research shows that breastfeeding tends to be more successful overall for mothers that co-sleep than those that keep their baby separated from them at night. You can read more about how to co-sleep or breast-sleep safely with your baby here
Breastfeeding at night after the early months
Many mothers go through patches where their baby may wish to breastfeed more or less at night, especially within the first year. This will be related to a whole host of reasons, including growth spurts, teething, illness, and learning new skills such as sitting, crawling and walking. Like so much else with babies and children, the frequency of breastfeeds at night is not a linear progression. Phases of increased night feedings are usually relatively short-lived and you may find that co-sleeping is a really valuable tool for managing those phases. Increased periods of waking and breastfeeding around four-six months are very common and are not a sign that your baby is hungry and needs formula and/or solids. You can read more about this in our article ‘What happens at four months’
As your baby gets older and bigger, you may find that night feeding becomes much easier. While in the early days you may feel the need to switch on a light or sit up in bed in order to latch your baby comfortably onto your breast, as your baby gets stronger and learns to self-latch, feeding at night can be a simple matter of rolling over and putting the breast near your baby, who will manage the rest. Night feeds often become quicker too. Some mothers use breast compressions as a way of speeding up feeds. Being able to help their older baby back to sleep quickly with a breastfeed helps many mothers get the most sleep.
Coping with the challenges
Knowing that waking at night to breastfeed is positive for our supply and our baby, and that it is the biological norm, can often be reassuring for mothers and parents. Nevertheless, sleep deprivation can be really challenging for many families. It can feel especially hard if your baby is waking more than your friends’ babies, or if they are an older baby still waking up more than you had expected.
New parents often get asked about their babies’ sleep and their approach to feeding at night. These conversations can sometimes lead to (unwanted) comments about what is normal, what you ‘should’ be doing, and how to ‘fix’ things. And if you are feeling really tired or at a low point, you may be thinking that you do need to find a ‘solution’ and try some of those suggestions. The many unhelpful sources out there setting unrealistic expectations may be undermining your self-confidence as a mother. Perhaps you’re wondering what a loving and respectful approach that suits both you and your baby would be?
First, it’s important to say that you are not alone. At any point in time there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of mothers up and breastfeeding their babies – of varying ages – at night. A turning point for some of them is when they are able to relax their expectations of themselves and their babies a little. Some mothers also find that being constantly reminded of when they have been woken up is actually part of the problem, and they decide to ignore the clock and not to use their phones at night.
Being responsible for all the night-feeds can feel exhausting, or even unfair. Sometimes well-intentioned comments may suggest that a partner or other care-giver could feed the baby at night with a bottle. It can be useful to remember that the hormones in night-time milk make it easier for both you and your baby to get back to sleep quickly. And since the hormones in night-time milk are made at night-time, there is some evidence that giving your baby breastmilk expressed at other times does not always have quite the same effect. It is also sometimes easy to overlook the practicalities of another care-giver taking care of night-feeds. Mothers will often wake up when their baby does anyway, and may struggle to get back to sleep if they can hear their baby being upset while waiting for a bottle to be warmed up. Most mothers will also need to pump or hand express milk during the night to protect their supply and avoid engorgement, so they are often awake anyway during the time their baby is being fed by their partner.
Even though breastfeeding at night may be the responsibility of the mother alone, there are lots of ways to get supported so that things feel easier. For example, sometimes dads and partners get up with the baby first thing in the morning to give mums some extra time in bed, which can make a big difference to how tired they feel. Good communication is really helpful – ask for help with other things where you can and be clear about the kind of support you need. It’s OK not to enjoy breastfeeding every second, and it’s OK to complain about being tired: that doesn’t mean you don’t want to do it, so you can explain that asking ‘Why don’t you just stop?’ is not helpful and that you’d rather be asked ‘How can I help you find time to rest today?’
If you are really struggling with tiredness, you may want to think of ways to adapt your own routines for a short while to help you get more rest – perhaps sleeping more during the day, or going to bed earlier when your baby has her first ‘longer’ stretch of sleep. It can also be a great time to join an LLL group meeting with other breastfeeding mothers, as hearing that they are experiencing the same challenges can be really reassuring. Mothers often get bombarded with unrealistic expectations of infant sleep, and it’s precisely this misalignment of expectation and reality that can cause stress.
Another challenge that mothers may experience (usually once their baby is a bit older) is a feeling of nursing aversion or irritability, particularly during night-time feeds. These feelings can be very normal and are often linked to tiredness or feeling ‘touched out’. You may experience them more when your baby is waking or feeding a lot more frequently, for example when teething or feeling ill. You may also experience these feelings when there is a change in your own hormones, for example, during ovulation or your period. There is some anecdotal evidence that taking magnesium supplements can be helpful. Many mothers describe these feelings as irrational and usually short-lived; they can be a sign that you need to give yourself a little ‘self-care’ – perhaps asking for some more help during the day so that you can rest or focus on yourself.
Nursing aversion can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt about not enjoying breastfeeding, and make you wonder whether it is a sign you need to stop. There are some helpful information groups on social media where mothers share their nursing aversion experiences, as well as tips and tricks that helped them overcome those feelings. Like anything in life, you may not enjoy breastfeeding every moment of every day; that’s OK. Take things one day at a time, listen to your body and your baby.
Stopping breastfeeding at night
Breastfeeding at night meets a baby’s needs in a variety of ways. For many mothers, it’s the easiest way to settle their baby back to sleep when they wake at night, and they continue to use it for as long as it continues to work. It is not a bad habit and all babies eventually fall asleep and stay asleep without the breast. You may decide that you are happy with breastfeeding back to sleep, but you are feeling pressured by others’ expectations about what your baby ‘should’ be doing.
Some books suggest that after six months babies no longer need night feeds. Not only is this an arbitrary figure, taking little account of the different circumstances of different babies and families, but it also has no evidence to back it up. Sometimes, mothers worry that breastfeeding at night is what is causing their baby to wake up several times. This is not the case. Babies wake for lots of reasons and it is better to think of breastfeeding as a tool that meets the vast majority of those needs. Some sources claim that babies after a certain age don’t ‘need’ breastmilk at night any longer, but breastfeeding goes on meeting a baby’s needs for a long time. Many babies will continue to need the calories from night-time breastmilk, as well as all the other comforts that it brings, for some time after six months, and sometimes well beyond.
Some families may feel that their baby is ready to cut some breastfeeds at night or stop breastfeeding at night altogether. Generally speaking, the evidence seems to suggest that night-weaning is best left until after around 18 months. Many mothers find that gently cutting down feeds at this point is much easier, as the baby is learning to talk and the mother can help to explain any changes. There is helpful information about approaches to cutting down night feeds here. Any changes are best approached gradually and respectfully, so that you can preserve the important close connection to the baby at night-time. As your baby gets older, you will discover ways of being responsive to their needs at night that might not include offering your breast every time. For example, you may find that you are able to try other things like rocking, patting and shushing before offering the breast. These may not work initially, but over time, as your baby develops, you may find that in some cases these soothe him back to sleep. As always, you are the expert on your baby and you’ll be able to assess whether your child is ready to stop breastfeeding at night, or whether it would be easier to try night weaning later on.
Having a baby, and eventually a toddler, can of course be exhausting. Since responding to your baby’s intense needs at night can feel overwhelming, being able to access reliable information about infant sleep and night-time feeding behaviour can help you adjust your expectations. You may be happy breastfeeding your baby back to sleep as often as needed, yet you may feel pressured by well-meaning comments from friends and family about what your baby’s sleep ‘should’ be like. Sometimes spending time with others who understand what you’re going through, and who are supportive or your choices, can help you feel confident to make the decisions that work for you. Chatting with other mothers at a La Leche League meeting, in person or online, about what they found helpful, and exchanging ideas for getting more sleep may help you decide what’s right for you and your baby. Never forget that you know your baby best!
Written by Rhiannon Butterfield, LLL Cambridge. February 2021
i Baby Sleep Info Source (BASIS) – Durham University
ii Brown A, Harries V. Infant Sleep and Night Feeding Patterns During Later Infancy: Association with Breastfeeding Frequency, Daytime Complementary Food Intake, and Infant Weight. Breastfeeding Medicine. 2015;10(5):246-252.
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A newborn baby eats at any time of the day, day or night. As the baby's digestive tract grows stronger, the interval between feedings gradually increases. Moms have a natural question: when and how should you stop night feedings so that the baby sleeps all night? nine0003
8 min. for reading Feb. 17, 2022
Should I feed my baby at night
How many nightly feeds does my baby need
- For breastfed babies, combination breastfeeders and babies with reflux
- Formula-fed babies
How to know if your child is ready to give up nighttime meals
How to wean a baby from night feedings: expert advice
Is it necessary to feed a baby at night while taking care of the baby if you are chronically sleep deprived. But why can't a baby go without food at night?
In the first months, the baby does not have a clear regime, he still weakly distinguishes between day and night: during prenatal development, the baby is used to getting everything he needs from his mother at any time. And most importantly - at the beginning of life, the child grows very quickly and requires a lot of nutrients, while having a small stomach and a still fragile digestive system. For these reasons, the baby cannot go without food for a long time and requires food approximately every 2-3 hours, and pediatricians, in turn, insist on the need for nightly breastfeeding of a newborn. nine0003
Sleep and nutrition patterns, as well as the need for them, are individual for each child. Therefore, if it seems to you that the baby eats little and rarely, or vice versa - too often, consult with the doctor you are seeing.
In addition, night feedings, although they interfere with sleep, are useful not only for the child, but also for the mother. They help to properly establish lactation, because it is at night that the hormone prolactin is produced, which is responsible for the amount of breast milk. nine0003
With proper organization of night feedings, the baby eats half asleep and quickly falls asleep further. To do this, start a night light in the room and be ready to feed as soon as the baby wakes up. Sleep in comfortable nursing clothing if you are breastfeeding.
How many night feeds does a baby need
The smaller the child, the more often he needs to be fed. But over time, the digestive tract gets stronger, and the baby can eat more and endure longer breaks between meals. Below is an approximate number of night feedings, depending on the age of the baby:
1. For breastfed, mixed breastfed and reflux babies:
|Number of night feedings
|breastfeeding on demand approximately every 2-3 hours
|2-3 times as required or every 3-6 hours
|1, possibly 2 times
|sometimes 1 feeding
|usually without night feedings
During growth spurts, your baby should be fed as needed. Such bursts occur approximately at 5, 8, 14, 19, 26, 37 and 46 weeks of life and last about 7 days.
How do you know if your baby is ready to give up nighttime meals? After this period, the need for nightly meals depends on the pace of development, individual needs and the health of the child. If the baby was born prematurely or is not gaining weight well, experts recommend waking him up 3.5-4 hours after the previous feeding and offering the breast. nine0003
If you're not sure if your baby is ready to stop feeding at night, talk to your doctor. The specialist will help you understand and make the right decision based on the physical indicators of your child.
If the baby is healthy and has a good weight, somewhere between 4 and 6 months old, he will begin to get enough calories during the day so that he does not need to feed at night. In breastfed children, this process may be a little slower - up to 6–10 months . nine0003
It is also important to take into account that the refusal of nighttime "snacking" occurs gradually: there are very few cases when a child stops eating at night and immediately starts sleeping 5-6 hours in a row. Usually, babies who are used to eating several times a night wake up out of habit, and it will take time to change this routine. First, the baby will ask for food half an hour later than usual, then an hour, a little later - two, and so on. Step by step, over several weeks, night sleep reaches 6-7 hours in a row. This joyful moment can come at 4 months or closer to 12 months: all babies are unique, and it's not scary or unusual for an infant to sleep much longer without food, while an older child keeps waking up to eat. nine0003
Dentists recommend abolishing nighttime feedings for children older than one year, as food leftovers in the mouth can damage baby teeth. This risk is minimal when breastfeeding.
Also, remember that your child has many other important needs. Perhaps he wakes up and calls you, not so much for food, but for comfort and closeness. What could be more reassuring and safer than the caring hands of parents who feed and cradle? feedings. nine0003
How to wean a child from night feeding: expert advice
Many parents are interested in how to properly wean a baby from eating at night so that it does not become a lot of stress for him. Especially if the baby stubbornly refuses to give up night feeding.
- Start the weaning process slowly and gradually. Slowly reduce your nightly breastfeeding time or give your baby less milk (mixture if formula-fed) from a sippy cup. Try to extend the intervals between
Under no circumstances should the issue of night feedings be turned into a battlefield. The “cry - stop - wean” method loosens the baby’s nervous system and can provoke severe stress.
- Make sure your child eats well during the day. Babies become more active as they get older, and if they get carried away playing or walking, they may skip meals or not eat enough and then try to make up for it at night. Therefore, take scheduled breaks during the day for "silent feeding" in a place where nothing will distract the crumbs from eating. nine0020
If you're not sure if your child is eating enough, check their height by weighing them at the doctor's office.
- Try feeding your baby before bed. If a child goes to bed with a full tummy, they are less likely to wake up hungry in the middle of the night.
- Ask dad to get up at night with the baby. If an awakened baby hears your smell or the aroma of breast milk, this can provoke his appetite, even if the baby did not wake up because of hunger. If you sleep in the same room, it's best to move the crib to dad's side. nine0020
- Phase out feedings one at a time. When the baby wakes up to eat at night, go to him and reassure him, gently but firmly explain that now is the time to sleep, not eat. At the same time, pat and stroke the child on the back or tummy, but do not pick him up. Even if the baby does not yet understand your words, he gradually catches the meaning, and your presence and attention will be soothing to him.
- Try giving your baby water to drink. Babies may wake up at night not from hunger, but from thirst, especially in hot weather or in a room with dry air. If after half an hour the baby wakes up again, feed him, and if not, then he is full and satisfied. nine0020
- If the baby has been crying inconsolably when stopping night feeds for several days in a row, stop the attempt and return to your normal routine for a while. Let the baby calm down and start weaning him again in a week or two.
- Do not stop night feedings during the transition period. For example, when you are going to return to work or go on vacation without a baby. If your baby sees less of you during the day, try to hug and interact with him more in your free time. It is necessary that he clearly feels your connection and care, then the baby is less likely to seek solace in the middle of the night. nine0020
- If the baby continues to require nighttime feeding, try to create conditions in which he does not want to eat. An excellent opportunity appears at 8-9 months, when the baby is already confidently eating complementary foods. To do this, move the usual bowl of porridge to the evening: this way the child stays full longer and may not ask for an extra portion of food at night.
See also: Introduction of complementary foods to an infant
Do not give your baby new foods at night, introduce them only in the morning. Otherwise, you run the risk of observing the reaction to unfamiliar complementary foods instead of sleep. Also, do not give your child meat at night, it is hard to digest, can cause discomfort in the stomach and restless sleep.
Also keep in mind that the decision to not feed at night depends in part on how it affects you. If you enjoy breastfeeding or drinking from a cup at night, there is no reason to stop: at a certain point, the baby will stop asking for food on its own. But if you feel that lack of sleep prevents you from living and enjoying motherhood, and the baby is already physically ready for change, it's time to try switching to a daily routine. In any case, you should do what is best for you and your family. nine0003
1. How often should a newborn be fed?
A newborn needs to be fed every 2-3 hours, i.e. 10-12 times a day. Further, the intervals between feedings gradually increase to 3-6 hours, and the child gets the opportunity to sleep all night.
2. How much should a child eat per day?
The daily "portion" of food for the baby depends on his age and weight. From 10 days to 1.5 months, the baby needs such an amount of food, the weight of which is approximately 1/5 of the child's body weight. From 1.5 to 4 months - 1/6 of the baby's weight, from 4 to 6 months - 1/7, from 6 to 8 months - 1/8, from 8 to 12 months - 1/9.
3. What happens if you don't stop night feedings?
Most likely, the child will eventually refuse them himself. But some pediatricians, notably Richard Ferber , warn that unnecessary nighttime feedings can cause sleep problems. Also, food leftovers after late “snacks” can provoke the development of caries in milk teeth.
- Baby sleep training: Night weaning. By Darienne Hosley Stewart | Medically reviewed by Lisa Dana, M.D. nine0020
- Night Feedings by Age – When Do You Try Night Weaning? By Nicole Johnson, Founder and Lead Sleep Consultant in Sleep Training.
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QUESTION TO THE LASTFEEDING EXPERT: What to do about frequent night feedings? nine0001
Question: My son is 1 month old and has been breastfed since birth. Tell me, what is the norm of night feedings for a child under one year old? My son eats literally every hour at night. It's very difficult, I can't sleep. What to do with such behavior?
Tatyana from Donetsk.
Answered by Ksenia Solovei , Head of the National Movement in Support of Breastfeeding "Milk Rivers of Ukraine", UNICEF partner in the Breastfeeding Support Program in Crisis Situations:
- First of all, the main thing to remember is that it is perfectly natural for a child to wake up several times during the night. The child often wakes up as soon as something starts to bother him - for example, the absence of his mother nearby. And the simplest and surest way to calm the baby is, of course, breastfeeding.
There is no quantitative norm in applying to the breast. All children are completely different and why one breastfeeds at night 2 times, and the other every hour - for sure, no breastfeeding specialist knows. For an infant, attachment to the breast is an opportunity to feel safe, and he does not always suckle the breast because of hunger and the desire to eat. Although this is also important. nine0003
The reasons for too frequent nighttime attachments can be:
1. Lack of attention during the day on the part of the mother, who works or devotes a lot of time to household chores. As a result, during the day the child is rarely in the arms of the mother, rarely applied to the breast. To fill this gap during the day - the child "parts" at night.
Solution: Get help from your loved ones with laundry, dishwashing, cooking and cleaning. If there are no assistants, think about whether you really need a sparkling clean house now when you have a baby and your constant presence is important for him? nine0143
2. The child does not eat during the day. He sucks the nipple all the time, doesn't attach properly to the breast, and doesn't have the ability to suck out a good portion of milk. Therefore, he uses the night for this.
Solution: remove the pacifier permanently. Start breastfeeding your baby more often. Learn to apply properly. During attachment, you need to ensure that the baby opens his mouth wide, and put not only the nipple into it, but also most of the areola. It is important that the lower lip of the child is turned outward, the chin rests on the chest. In the process of sucking, the mouth should be wide open, that is, the angle between the upper and lower lip will be blunt. More. nine0003
3. For physiological reasons.
Solution: take the child to the doctor. Check if the child has gained enough weight in the 1st month? Normally, the increase should be about 500 grams of weight with a slight loss on 3-4 days after birth.
Remember that frequent nighttime feedings are not a whim of a child, but an important need that helps him cope with something that you and I may simply not know about.