Understanding night feeds is something all new parents want to know. How long do they last? How many times a night is enough? When will they end? The truth is that night feeds are simply a part of early parenting. All babies need them in the early days and all babies outgrow them in time. Let’s look at managing night feeds and what you should expect at different ages.
Understanding night feeds in premature, sick & underweight 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 baby settles back to sleep as soon as possible. As soon as they are gaining weight nicely, ask your health care provider when you can stop waking them. Keep track of your baby’s weight with Parent Sense app tracking functionality.
Understanding night feeds in newborns
If your newborn is a healthy and gaining weight, there is no need to wake them at night. Allow them to wake on their own. 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 habits 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 sleeps 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 no need to worry that they’re stretching too long without a feed.
Understanding night feeds in 2 – 3 month olds
By two to three months most babies can go for 6 to 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. These two or three extra little snack feeds can help them sleep for longer periods.
If they wake consistently every three hours at night and are gaining weight well, you can start to offer your baby a dummy or a little water at the first night waking to stretch the time before another feed. Be sure to do all night feeds quietly and calmly. Don’t burp your baby for longer than 5 minutes.
Understanding night feeds in 4 – 6 month olds
Many babies regress in their night waking as they approach 4 months. If your baby was stretching to the early hours before needing a feed but suddenly picks up the midnight feed again, it may be that they are not fully satisfied nutritionally. Reintroduce the late night feed they are waking for but if the 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’d 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.
Understanding night feeds in 6 month olds & older
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 in the early hours, 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 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
Find out more about the top 5 sleep problems for babies 6 – 12 months old.
Understanding night feeds in toddlers
Night feeds are not 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.
Is your baby ready for solids? Sign up for Meg Faure’s online Weaning Course and wean your baby successfully with sense.