Night feeds are simply a part of early parenting. All babies need them in the early days and all babies outgrow them in time. Meg Faure looks at managing night feeds and what you should expect at different ages.
Prem, sick babies and/or under weight babies
If your baby is born with higher needs than most babies, for instance if your baby is born prem, is ill or failing to thrive, you will be advised to wake your baby at night. In these circumstances, you may be told to wake your baby three hourly at night or to wake your baby at specific times. This is the only circumstance when babies should be woken at night.
Be sure to keep these night feeds very calm and subdued so that your little one settles back to sleep as soon as possible. As soon as they are on the track to gaining weight nicely, ask your health care provider when you can stop waking them.
Night feeds & newborns
If your newborn is a healthy little one and is gaining weight, there is no need to wake them at night. Allow them to wake on their own. And don’t be tempted to follow advice to wake them for a ‘dream feed’. Dream feeds are not conducive to setting the stage for good sleep long term.
You can expect your newborn to wake 4 hours after falling asleep for a feed and then three hours thereafter until morning. If your newborn does sleep for longer stretches, it is absolutely fine to leave them to wake on their own.
Some babies sleep through as early as 6 weeks and this is fabulous! There’s also no need to worry that they are stretching so long without a feed.
Night feeds at 2-4 months
By two to three months most babies are stretching for 6 -8 hours before needing a night feed and then three hourly thereafter. If your baby wakes more than this, try to cluster feed in the evening before 8pm to top them up so they sleep for longer. Two or three extra little snack feeds at this time can help.
If they wake consistently three hourly at night and yet is gaining good weight, you can start to stretch your little one with a dummy or a little water at the first night waking. Be sure to do all night feeds quietly and calmly and don’t burp your little one for longer than 5 minutes.
Night feeds at 4 -6 months
Many babies regress in their night wakings as they approach 4 months. If your little one was stretching to the early hours before needing a feed and suddenly picks up the 11pm feed again and is generally hungry, it may be that they are not fully satisfied nutritionally. Initially reintroduce the feed they are waking for.
If this night waking persists and your baby is hungrier during the day too, it may be time for solids.
By now your baby will have stopped soiling their nappy at night. It is fine to leave a wet nappy on for the night, if your baby has not poo’ed and does not have a tendency for nappy rashes. By not changing the nappy and keeping night feeds quiet, you have more chance of your little one settling off to sleep immediately after the feed.
Night feeds at 6 months – 18 months
Soon after 6 months of age your baby should be sleeping through the night without needing nutrition. This means 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If your baby needs a feed at 4am, do so quietly in their room.
If your baby over 6 months of age still wakes for feeds frequently at night:
- Introduce or increase the protein in their day meals
- Offer a cluster feed or top up feed after bath
- Pat and soothe them back to sleep if before 12am
- Use white noise CD and a weighted blanket to help them sleep deeper
- Offer an iron supplement if they are anemic
- You may need to break the habit, if your little one wakes repeatedly to snack on the breast throughout the night.
Night feeds in toddlerhood
No night feeds are needed before 6am. If your toddler feeds at night, they are likely to be a fussy solids eater during the day. It is time to explain that they don’t need milk or you can say: “The Kitchen is Closed”. Keep the reason concrete and consistent.
For a step-by-step guide to how much your little one should be eating and when, download Parent Sense. Use the free tracking tool to capture your baby’s feeding schedule or subscribe to get expert tips, weaning recipes & tips, meal plans and prepared shopping lists.