From around six months of age, if your baby is developing well, you might decide to reduce feeds at night or night wean altogether. At this age, most babies should be getting enough food during the day for healthy growth and development. On the other hand, if you’re happy feeding your baby during the night, there’s no hurry to stop if you don’t want to. You need to do what works best for you and your baby. All babies and parents are different, so it can be a good idea to visit your GP or child health nurse to discuss your options first.
Babies and children under the age of about three years are perfect little ‘calorie regulators’ and they will usually not overeat. This means if their body needs ‘x’ amount of calories over 24 hours, this is how much they will eat or drink, no more and no less. Frequent night feeds, especially after five or six months can result in what we call ‘reverse cycling’. This is when a baby has more calories at night than during the day. It is usually the result of feeding back to sleep at every overnight waking, rather than reserving feeds only for wakes that are for genuine hunger. It’s about getting the balance right by only feeding at night when baby is hungry and encouraging more calories to be consumed during the day than at night.
What should you do?
You can start by spacing out the feeds you are doing at night and increasing the milk feed volumes during the day. If on solids, you might find that your little one has an increased desire to eat more quantity during the day and if still just on milk, your baby may start to take better milk feeds during the day once you reduce the night feeds.This should help to fill your little one up for longer stretches of night sleep between feeds. It will also help support your child’s biological rhythm to learn to take longer stretches of sleep over night, because food plays an integral part in training your child’s internal ‘body clock’ when it should be asleep and awake.
How to reduce night feeds
Choose a reasonable first ‘feed time’, when you think your baby might be hungry, and do not feed before this time. Between 11pm and midnight would be reasonable, depending on when your baby’s bedtime feed was. If your baby wakes prior to this time, you would settle baby back to sleep without feeding.
If your baby wakes later than this on night one (at 1am for example) then you would make this your ‘new first feed time’ and it would be your first feed time the next night as well.
Feed your baby at this time and then not again until at least four hours later. If baby wakes before this four-hour mark, you would settle back to sleep and then feed at the next wake. Try and stick to at least four hours between feeds.
Once you have two feeds established, to drop to one feed if you are breast-feeding, you can begin by reducing the second feed each night or two by two minutes. So if a full feed is ten minutes for you, you would feed for eight minutes on night one, six minutes the next, and so on until the feed is only a few minutes long and then you would drop the feed altogether. If bottle-feeding, you can reduce the amount in the bottle by 30ml every night or two until you get to around 50/60ml in the bottle and then you would drop the feed altogether.
An alternative would be to ‘push out’ the second feed each night by half an hour until you reach morning. So if the second feed was at 3am one night, the next night if your baby woke at 3am for the feed, you would settle until 3.30am and if baby didn’t settle to sleep you would feed then. Then on subsequent nights, you would settle until 4am, then 4.30am etc. until you arrived at the 6.30/7am goal for wakeup and feed.
If you want to cut the first feed after the second has been dropped, you would do so using the same methods